The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

Some­times, I can’t help feel­ing that we haven’t prop­erly thought through the fact that ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren in the facts of life al­ters their choice of swear words for­ever. Be­fore we in­form them that birds do it, bees do it and even French pres­i­dents do it, chil­dren are con­vinced that defe­ca­tion is the fun­ni­est thing in the world, fol­lowed closely by uri­na­tion. Fart­ing is also fiercely funny, if you are five (or 55; ac­tu­ally, fart­ing re­mains funny even af­ter you find out about the real funny busi­ness). When my own chil­dren were lit­tle, their in­sult of choice was ‘poo head’, though I do re­mem­ber one proud morn­ing when The Boy, branded a ‘dope’ by a fel­low in­mate in the Rain­bow Play­group, re­sponded by im­me­di­ately call­ing him a ‘poo chute’, which is an ahole by any other name, and, I thought, quite a so­phis­ti­cated piece of work for a three-year-old. Back then, the eas­i­est way to make them laugh was sim­ply to shout ‘bum’ or ‘knick­ers’. I once caught the then four-year-old Small Girl and her best friend breath­lessly dar­ing each other to touch The Boy’s newly washed un­der­pants as they dried on the ra­di­a­tor. Hal­cyon days.

By con­stantly re­quest­ing to work with ju­nior in­fants in the school’s paired read­ing scheme, I have man­aged to cheat, just a lit­tle, the cru­el­ties of my own chil­dren grow­ing up. My ju­nior in­fants, like ju­nior in­fants the world over, are mas­sively amused by any­thing in­volv­ing bot­toms. There is a won­der­ful book by Ju­lia Don­ald­son, of Gruf­falo fame, called The Smartest Gi­ant In Town, in which a benev­o­lent gi­ant gives away all his clothes to an­i­mals in need. At one point, he ends up wear­ing noth­ing but a vo­lu­mi­nous pair of un­der­pants with red polka dots and a tat­tered vest. I sus­pect the very ta­lented Ms Don­ald­son knew ex­actly what she was do­ing with those pants, and I pre­sume she knows that it is on this page that all so­cial or­der in ju­nior in­fants breaks down. To com­pound mat­ters in our own school, we ben­e­fit from won­der­fully in­ven­tive story bags (cre­ated and do­nated by a par­ent, Su­san Fo­ley, who can ri­val Don­ald­son for her imag­i­na­tion), which fea­ture hand­made dolls of all the char­ac­ters in the books. So as

While I’ve al­ways liked the fact we Ir­ish swear lib­er­ally, there is some­thing deeply de­press­ing about teenagers eff­ing and blind­ing

well as re­veal­ing the smartest gi­ant’s un­der­pants on the page, I have the plea­sure of dis­rob­ing the kindly crea­ture in per­son. And of course, the best thing in the world is to quite se­ri­ously warn the chil­dren ahead of the re­veal that they shouldn’t laugh at the pants — a stern warn­ing which, of course, means that they laugh all the more. Hon­estly, when you have started your day in the com­pany of four-yearolds in hys­ter­ics over a pair of gi­ant polka dot pants, you know that’s go­ing to be a good day.

Any­way, my own chil­dren, sadly, are all the wrong side of the facts of life, so bot­toms are no longer the fun­ni­est show in town. Now they in­sult each other with de­press­ingly fa­mil­iar swear words, no dif­fer­ent from the ones adults ca­su­ally scat­ter. By adults, of course, I chiefly mean their par­ents, whose own salty lan­guage leaves a great deal to be de­sired (it now seems likely, for ex­am­ple, that I will be re­mem­bered for noth­ing else but the phrase, ‘Clean up af­ter your f****** dogs, Thurles’). I did at­tempt, when they were lit­tle, to mod­er­ate my own swear­ing, but The Hus­band was un­will­ing to make any such con­ces­sions so even­tu­ally I caved in as well. The some­what in­evitable re­sult is that all three of them use too much bad lan­guage, with the older two vy­ing for some sort of Olympic record in the sport of sailors.

I wish it weren’t so. While I have al­ways quite liked the fact that we Ir­ish swear as lib­er­ally as we do, and I gen­er­ally be­lieve that potty talk adds to the tex­ture and rich­ness of lan­guage, there is some­thing pro­foundly de­press­ing about sit­ting down to din­ner with a cou­ple of teenagers eff­ing and blind­ing — and ‘What the f*** are you do­ing in my room?’ is now of­fi­cially my least favourite phrase ever.

So let’s give a quiet cheer then for one Général A**e Bis­cuites, who popped up on French TV news last week and was in­stantly all over Twit­ter like a rash. In a dark world where bot­toms are no longer funny, the good gen­eral re­minded me that bot­toms and bis­cuits to­gether will al­ways be com­edy gold. I would share the good news with my ju­nior in­fants, but I fear they would lit­er­ally ex­pire.

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