SOMEONE, en passant, remarked the other day: another day, another pedophile; and my heart sank again. It’s got to the point where we can’t ignore the proverbial elephant in the room any longer. All this revolting stuff is coming out of the woodwork and it’s not going away.
It does occur to me, however, that it is passing strange that it has taken the whistleblowers more than 30 years to come out in the open. Didn’t anyone listen to them at the time or were they too ashamed to do anything about it? It must have been an agonising three decades, wondering if you’d ever get something like that off your chest.
It’s been 50 years since I matriculated at the vulnerable age of 15; in those days, in South Africa at least, it was a given that if you could read and write and do simple sums, you were ready for a formal education. It wasn’t that I was a precocious reader or particularly bright, just that I’d been hanging around when my brothers did their homework and I picked things up by osmosis.
There was nothing even remotely attractive about me: three million freckles and not just a sprinkling of what my father kindly called sun- kisses, but what my classmates referred to as bits of burnt mincemeat, red hair like a mad bird’s nest and legs so thin that my brothers called them Wednesday legs; When’s day gonna break?’’ My older brother had freckles, too, but his disappeared when he reached adolescence; when he started shaving, he told me. I thought shaving was the way to go but was caught by my mother with a face full of lather, blade poised; this in itself was a small miracle or else, to add to my woes, I would, to this day, have a long and unseemly beard, probably half ginger. Yuck.
In my last year at school, I had what we called extra lessons with a religious man. He gave me a lift home one day and tried to kiss me. I did what anyone would instinctively do: I gave him a whack on the nose, breaking his glasses, leapt from the car and went straight to my friend and parish priest, who took care of things. On strict instructions from my mother, not a word was said to my father; he’d kill him, she said.
This is surely what parenting is all about — protecting your children and believing them when they complain of untoward behaviour from those who teach.
I was reminded of this the other day when, on the train, I saw a 40- something man with a young Asian girl, who seemed not much older than 15. He was pawing her and she had a fixed smile on her face but looked as though she would like to vomit. He looked like the cat who’d caught the canary. How could he not know he looked like a predator? If there’s one thing the young would tell us, it is that a teenage girl finds utterly repulsive the notion of being touched by someone whose skin is showing signs of rotting.