Going for the longer burn

6th November 1998 at 00:00
We don't just remember gunpowder, treason and plot any more. Not in our house, anyway. We also remember realpolitick, so it seems. Ginny's school has been giving its 10-year-olds a very worldly take on Bonfire Night, from what I've been hearing. "King James wasn't very popular, Dad, so he tricked some Catholics into fireworking him so all the Protestants would be glad he wasn't killed and everyone would support him in Parliament."

I had no idea that Machiavelli had become so firmly entrenched in key stage 2. But then my daughters wear their sophistication proudly. When I was Ginny's age, there was no such thing as sex education, which meant we could sing carols about Christ not abhorring the virgin's womb and have absolutely no idea what it meant. Most of us thought womb rhymed with "bomb", anyway.

Whereas today's 10-year-old can dispute the literal impossibility of virgin birth and locate the womb on a computer-generated diagram of the body, even if she's still a bit unsure about abhorring it.

Life rushes our children forward today. I hadn't heard of broken homes until I was 12, when it turned out my new best friend came from one. Nowadays Ginny's school library books seem to be full of heroines whose dads have left home to live with a glue-sniffing hippy and her 20 children.

Even watching Blue Peter can turn into a debate over whether presenters should snort illegal substances, and as for newspapers - those solemn tomes which held me in such awe as a child - my daughter has nothing but contempt for them. "The tabloids killed Princess Diana, Dad, then they broke up the Spice Girls by libelising Geri."

Yet I sometimes fear that when the girls talk of becoming "sophisticated" what they actually mean is going overnight from believing everything - like seven-year-old Tom - to doubting everything. Wisdom itself gets bypassed.

Last week, Ginny and Sarah were mocking Tom's belief in Jack Frost but neither of them could tell me how those patterns on the window were really caused.

Cynicism is easy. It's a question of not believing on principle what you're being told. Knowledge takes longer. It requires going to the dictionary and looking up "abhor". It involves actually caring whether words like fireworking and libelising really exist.

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