Discussing matters of life and death with your six-year-old sonby Jeremy Clarke / April 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
I spend every weekend in the company of my six-year-old son. Lately, to give myself some respite from his incessant and tiring questions, we have been watching a lot of Walt Disney videos. The Jungle Book, Snow White, Fantasia, Aladdin, Pinocchio, Bambi-you name it, we’ve seen it. One I particularly enjoyed and which I hadn’t seen before was Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Part animation and part film, it tells the story of three cockney evacuees who are billeted with a novice witch at a remote cottage beside the sea somewhere in England. After a series of adventures on a flying bed, the children and the witch are taken hostage by a party of Nazi commandos who have taken over the cottage in order to set up a secret signalling post in readiness for a full-scale invasion. Mark and I had no idea the Germans had landed until we suddenly saw two of them creep up behind a mild old station-master, drag him into some bushes by the throat, and… well, whatever it was they did to him, it made him gurgle horribly. Although he didn’t comment on it at the time, the blatant viciousness of these Germans must have made a great impression on Mark, because when I tucked him into his bed that evening, he made me check all the doors and windows in case some of them tried to get in and murder him in the middle of the night.
I explained to him that he had nothing to worry about because the war happened a long time ago and since then the Germans have all said sorry and gone to live in their own country, which is called Germany. “How far away is that?” he asked. I went and got the atlas to show him. “That’s not very far,” he said dubiously. To reassure him, I told him that although Germans certainly used to be “bad,” they have turned over a new leaf and are now generally regarded as “good” and unlikely to invade anybody in the foreseeable future. Sensibly, he has become inured to his father’s inane simplifications and prefers to trust in his own instincts, especially with matters of life and death; he still refuses to compose himself for sleep until assurances have been given that all relevant doors and windows have been secured against Nazi intruders. But although Mark is terrified at the thought of…