Saturday, January 10, 2009

As PC parents say traditional nursery tales are too frightening ... why fairy stories should be scary (because that's what children want)

Snow White is what the BBC would call 'hideously white'. And as for her seven friends, well it is hardly PC to make unpleasant allusions to their height. No doubt, it is horribly sexist to tell little girls that their greatest happiness could be found in marriage to a handsome prince. And do we really want to scare the kiddies with stories of grannies who turn out to be big bad wolves? Shouldn't Cinderella be rejoicing in the fact that her father married more than once - and how very 'lookist' to notice that the two awful step-sisters are ugly!

Yes, it has happened. Fairy stories - those wonderfully rich guides to life for centuries - have finally been ditched. Researchers have discovered that parents no longer read them aloud to their children because they are 'too scary' and because they are 'politically incorrect'. Some 3,000 British parents have been surveyed, revealing that more than a quarter of mothers now reject fairy stories in favour of books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

I have nothing against that tale, which is a good preparation for life in the food-obsessed Britain of Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. It is a charming book, in which readers are invited to open flaps and see that the caterpillar has consumed a list of sensible fruit and vegetables. But having read it about 250 times to my youngest child, I can say that it isn't particularly interesting. Whereas, as soon as any of my children have been old enough to enjoy collections of fairytales, I have been happy to read to them for hours and hours.

I wish I could meet those parents who think that they are helping their children by withholding knowledge of Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother's fascinating teeth, of Hansel and Gretel, or Cinderella or Rapunzel. These stories, which are replicated in almost all the cultures of the world, have been part of the shared experience of childhood for generations. Many of them were collected up by a pair of ingenious German brothers, the Brothers Grimm, during the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

The Grimms were really interested in the origins of European languages but in the course of their research they realised there was a rich fund of folk stories being handed on from generation to generation in the country districts of German-speaking Europe. They found much which horrified them, just as it would shock social workers today - incest, child murder, bullying, abuse of all kinds. Many a Baby P or Shannon Matthews story in the Black Forest villages was found, as were many teenage pregnancies, and many abusive parents or grandparents among the boot-faced Teutonic peasantry.

The point is that the stories were not a way of covering these things up. They were a way of projecting children's and families' fears and coming to terms with them. Children are born into a world of fear. We do them no service by trying to eliminate that from their lives. One of the most basic of all fears is the fear of the dark. Any child has it. Fairy tales pepper the darkness with threats - with witches or fairies who come and steal children away during the hours of shadow. By concentrating entirely upon the Very Hungry Caterpillar's very boring diet before bedtime, we do not stop the shadows being scary.

We merely fail to confront our children's fears of the dark or investigate those areas of childhood that for generations we all found frightening. We live in a world where the abduction and abuse of children are common occurrences. Hansel and Gretel, lured to their fate by an old lady who lives in a house of sweets, could be real children. Their stepmother in the story wants to get rid of them, encouraging their father to take them into the woods to get lost. Maybe in today's world their stepmum's latest partner would want them to get lost in a bleak modern high-rise flat, but their fate is the same.

Children are right to fear the break-up of their families - it is the central, most awful phenomenon of our day. I say that in full penitent consciousness that I am a divorced father who walked out of a marriage when my first two children were teenagers. Lucky children get on with their parents' new partners. The huge majority in such cases face very great difficulties and they do not have the emotional vocabulary to deal with it. That is why the fairy story - of the wicked stepmother or the 'granny' who turns out to be a wolf - are so helpful: they allow us to project our fears about family break-up.

Mankind is a story-telling species. Our national cultures, our sense of who we are as groups are sustained by great myths. Our religions are a set of shared stories. Fairytales are also an absolutely vital part of our shared life together - only this time not as big cultural or national groups but in the most basic group of all, the family.

Twenty-first century women have advanced, it should be acknowledged, beyond the fantasy that they are kitchen drudges who will one day turn into princesses by capturing the heart of the most handsome prince in the world. But that does not mean we would live richer lives without any knowledge of these stories whatsoever. The lessons given out by fairy stories are not bad ones, whatever some timorous parents might feel today. Goldilocks was idiotic to invade the three bears' house, and learnt a useful lesson about other people's property in the process.

The story of Snow White, even when sentimentalised by Walt Disney, remains one of the most enchanting ever told - but it is also useful. The apple offered by the witch, the drug offered by a friend before a night out clubbing - what's the difference? Snow White is my kind of girl, eternally dreaming of the prince who will magically awaken her - but, before that, being the cheerful companion of grumpy, sneezy old men such as myself.

Rapunzel is - to use a word which is overused perhaps nowadays - 'empowered' by her lovely long hair. The envious older woman tries to hold her back - how many daughters know that to be true when they think of the possessive part of their own mother's love for them? By literally letting her hair down, Rapunzel escapes and finds happiness. That isn't just a fairy story for millions of girls who have escaped the constraints of a tyrannical mother/witch - it's what really happens.

Fairytales teach us from an early age that family life is complicated and often painful. They are not sentimental but they reinforce the idea that love is central to life, both as the glue which binds good families together and as the means by which we can escape or transcend the bondage of bad family life. I can honestly say that if I was forced to throw away all my books and keep just one, I would hang on to a collection of fairytales, not merely for their entertainment value but for what they teach about life.


Britain's obsession over "bin sinners"

Overfill your garbage bin and you'll be treated worse than a shoplifter

Families who overfill rubbish bins are to face bigger fines than those imposed on drunks or shoplifters, the government has told local authorities. New guidance instructs councils to impose fixed penalties of "not less than 75 pounds " and up to 110 in what the opposition has attacked as a "new stealth tax". The offences for which householders can be fined include leaving ajar the lid of a wheelie bin, putting out a bin the evening before collection or leaving the bin in the wrong place.

Although the government has previously claimed that it leaves local councils to decide on the level of fines, the Fly-capture Enforcement manual, produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stipulates that fixed penalties for offencesinvolving "waste receptacles" must range from 75 to 110 pounds. It suggests a standard fixed penalty of 100, adding that "if a notice is not paid, it is essential it is followed up". The penalties are higher than the 80 pounds on-the-spot fines levied by police for offences ranging from being drunk and disorderly to shoplifting.

Local councils have been sharply criticised for taking harsh measures against trivial misdemeanours. Earlier this year, Gareth Corkhill, a Cardiff bus driver, was given a criminal conviction after being taken to court when he refused to hand over a 110 pounds on-the-spot fine by council inspectors who found the lid of his wheelie bin open by 4in.

Eric Pickles MP, the shadow local government secretary, said Labour was creating "an army of municipal bin bullies hitting law-abiding families with massive fines while professional criminals get the soft touch". He added: "It is clear Whitehall bureaucrats are instructing town halls to target householders with fines for minor breaches. "Yet with the slow death of weekly collections and shrinking bins, it is increasingly hard for families to dispose of their rubbish responsibly. It is fundamentally unfair that householders are now getting hammered with larger fines than shoplifters get for stealing."

The environment department, headed by Hilary Benn, said on-the-spot fines were "intended to be an alternative to prosecution". A spokesman said: "Local authorities wanted flexible fines that they can relate to the severity and frequency of the offence and offender. Ultimately the fines are there to act as a deterrent." According to Phil Woolas, the environment minister, local councils face extra costs of 3.2 billion over the next five years to fund recycling measures, which would equate to a 150 pound council tax increase. [If it costs money to recycle stuff, what's the point?]


Why Jack couldn't climb the beanstalk: How health and safety rules even affect British children's pantomine

Once upon a time, preparing for the panto was a lot of fun for the amateur dramatic group. Everyone would muck in and even if the scenery was sometimes a little rough around the edges, all would soon be forgotten amid the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd on opening night. But now health and safety regulations have turned just getting the show on to the stage into such a performance in itself that members of the Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company in the West Midlands are living in fear of being shut down before the curtain goes up.

A mind-boggling list of 20 conditions not only orders them to ensure all scenery is free from sharp edges, but also warns them to keep records of the interval ice cream to ensure it is stored at -18C. On arrival at the venue, they should also check each day that milk for the cast's tea is being kept at less than 8C.

One year, even 'Jack' was restricted on how far he could scale his beanstalk. The beanstalk was 30ft tall but Jack would only have been allowed to climb 4ft from the ground provided he wore a harness. So the idea was abandoned and he just gazed up at it instead.

Meanwhile, they are called on to marshall the actors in their forthcoming production of Dick Whittington, which is due to open on Saturday, with near military precision. One chaperone must be provided for every 12 children under 16 performing in the show, and they also have to ensure that cast members do not enter the props storage area in case they get tangled up or struck by objects. The directive also states they must escort youth members to and from the stage, in accordance with chaperone procedures, and inform the audience before the performance if pyrotechnics are to be used. All users of curtains and drapes have to be officially listed, and once the performance is over, the am-dram group must board the orchestra pit over as soon as possible to stop people falling in.

Today Graham Smith, the group's chairman, branded the rules as 'health and safety gone bananas'. 'It's an extremely large amount of work for us to handle. It's difficult enough getting the rehearsals, costumes and scenery organised without all this red tape on top,' he said. 'The amount of forms we have to fill in is a nightmare. 'What worries me is that with all this to do, we could forget something and someone will stop us from performing. It's putting everyone on edge. 'We put three shows on a year and it used to be a lot of fun. Now you've almost got to be a lawyer to do it and I've had to stop taking principal parts to cope with it all.'

Mr Smith, 59, a training manager, also claims that Brierley Hill Civic Hall's backstage facilities are 'poorer than Cinderella's kitchen' making it all the more difficult to meet the health and safety requirements. One of them is that separate dressing arrangements for all performers under 16 have to be agreed with venue managers, but he said: 'In order to accommodate the adults and children in a cast, all local groups using the hall have to spend hours creating extra dressing room facilities by putting up tents and curtains. 'When I was in the chorus of our last show, Oliver! in October, I had to get changed in a store room and go into the toilets in the foyer for a wash after the show. That's how ridiculous it is.'

The 100-strong am-dram group, which was first formed 60 years ago, has also bought a freezer because it does not trust the reliability of the venue's, Mr Smith said.


Single father turned away from British swimming pool... because health and safety rules say he can't supervise his two sons

A single father was left stunned after he was turned away from a swimming pool when staff told him he could not provide proper supervision for his two sons. Phillip Smith and sons Jake, aged five, and Aiden, three, were not allowed to enjoy a swim at the leisure centre because under-eights must be accompanied on a one-to-one basis by adults. He was told sessions were available for single parents with more than one child, where there is extra supervision available, but these were early in the morning at weekends or during school hours in the week.

Mr Smith, 37, from Killamarsh in Sheffield, who is separated from his sons' mother, accused the leisure centre of 'discriminating against single parents'. He said: 'As a fireman, I'm highly trained and expected to be able to provide first aid at emergencies. 'To say I cannot cope with looking after my two sons at a swimming pool is just mad.'

After they were turned away from Sheffield's Hillsborough Leisure Centre, Mr Smith took his sons to nearby Ponds Forge instead, where they were both allowed in. Mr Smith said: 'A change of policy is in order. I do feel strongly about discrimination in any form. 'This policy limits the options of single parents to an unacceptable level when they have every right to take their kids swimming whenever any other parents might wish to go. 'I discussed the situation at length with the duty manager explaining that I am a firefighter and well able to supervise my own children. 'The manager refused to do anything but hide behind policy.'

Sheffield International Venues, which runs both venues, said different policies on parental supervision were in place at its pools 'based on facilities present and a risk assessment'. An SIV spokeswoman said: 'All three Sheffield International Venues with swimming pools follow recommendations from the Institute of Sport and Recreational Management (ISRM) regarding guidelines for parental accompaniment of young children. 'Policies do vary from venue to venue and are based on facilities present and a risk assessment following the institute's guidelines. 'The recommendations are designed for the safety of children in swimming pools and are in no way discriminatory to lone or single parents. 'They are there to encourage and facilitate parents and other childcarers, including single parents, to safely bring their children swimming. All venues are committed to ensuring the safety of all customers.

'At Ponds Forge children under the age of 8 years must be accompanied in the water at all times by a responsible person (16 years or older). 'Children under the age of 4 years must be accompanied by a responsible person (16 years or older) on a one-to-one basis unless they are using the baby pool area only. 'In this case Ponds allows one adult to supervise two under 4's. Children aged between 4 & 7 years must be accompanied by a responsible person on a maximum two-to-one basis. 'Hillsborough Leisure Centre operates on a one on one basis for children under the age of eight since there is no separate toddler pool. 'However, special sessions are held in off peak times where this rule is relaxed to make it accessible for lone and single parents/carers.'



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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