BY MANDY BALDWIN
In the wake of the slaughter of innocents in Manchester last week, a teaching pack has been issued to schools to ensure that children don’t react healthily to events by developing a simple and strong moral sense that killing kids at concerts is unquestionably inexcusable.
Let murder and mayhem break out all around us, let men who broke bread with – and mourned, and still honour – killers be idolised as saviours of the meek, but let not an opportunity for warping the souls of infants be missed.
As they are already being watched intrusively for signs of belonging to any one of a Heinz 57 varieties of gender identity instead of for whether they can read and count, or just eat crayons and hit other children, this will further addle their minds: almost as much as it addles mine. I’m constantly alarmed by the worship shown for labels by those who demand that nobody should be categorised, and sickened by the ready acceptance of evil I see in those most likely to claim the moral high-ground.
And just as I was feeling most nostalgic for the days when the freedom to simply be was paramount, and men who killed children were the bad guys, another bomb-shell dropped with the announcement that John Noakes, Blue Peter presenter of the ’60s and early ’70s, had passed away at the age of eighty-three.
Those of my age will know what a loss this is – just as the loss of Space Oddity David Bowie stole our teens, the passing of John Noakes places our childhood firmly in the past, along with the values which underpinned the show. This is a tragedy, because they were damned good values.
In the world of Blue Peter, at the time I remember it best – watched on dusky winter afternoons with a hot mug of Bovril after a cold walk home from school – it was important that the three presenters seemed to have fun and liked each other, but also gave the impression of standing no nonsense.
They were grown-ups. I was ten years old, and I didn’t require them to pretend to be my own age. One of them wore a skirt, but she was a woman, and this was not a triumph for feminism – it’s just that Valerie Singleton was a nice, clever lady. Nor was it necessary for Valerie to be the one who was variously fired out of a cannon, sent up tall buildings with grappling irons, or hurled into icy ravines in order to make the point that she could have done these things if she so wished – we already knew that. Anyway, those things were John’s job.
Kindness and politeness were the order of the day, as opposed to an anxious obsession with not ‘offending’ anyone – which actually bears no relation to kindness and politeness but enables bullies to rudely silence others by threat of tantrums. Children and adults from around the world were introduced, showing their special skills and talents, and we were encouraged to admire them, without it being found necessary to imply that home-grown talents and culture were in need of enrichment.
There were regular fund-raisers for the hungry and needy around the world, and we could be proud of ourselves for collecting bottle-tops in a good cause, rather than being taught to blame ourselves for the plight of the suffering. There were dogs and a cat who co-presented, we fretted if they were ill, laughed at John’s efforts to control the irrepressible Shep, and learned how best to look after pets, because it’s more important to love creatures who are helpless and in our care than it is to bend morality by tolerating those who don’t love them.
Giant steps for mankind were celebrated, triggering our interest in the wider world, even the world beyond our own world, with regular updates on exploration and discovery, from ice-floes to deep-space to bottomless ocean ravines. While we were taught that it was wrong to pollute, dump rubbish, or cause damage, we were taught these things from the point of view of wonder, rather than blame. We should not harm nature, but neither were we Earth’s enemy.
Splendid objects could be made from things which might otherwise end up in the rubbish-bin – toy houses, and rocket-ships, and the annual Christmas decoration. No wire coat-hanger was sacrosanct. A box or cupboard could be found to save washed yoghurt pots and washing-up bottles; string and glitter and glue and double-sided tape could be found, and some surface covered in newspaper, and the resultant object of beauty hung proudly over the door along with the mistletoe. But this was creative fun, not self-righteous sorting of rubbish in order that waste-services can use our millions of hours of free labour in garnering raw materials for processing and profitable resale.
I’m getting way to old to say things like this with impunity, but it really was far better to be a child back then. Word is there was more dissension going on behind the scenes than we ever knew – but that’s as it should be. We didn’t need to know the personal lives of the adult presenters any more than we needed to know the minute details of any other grown-up. They were supposed to set a good example, to give us something to aspire to, and show us it was the best fun to be a kind and interested person in the big wide world outside the front room where we watched John and a zoo-keeper battle an irate defecating elephant.
Thank you all so much for those days, and John, if somewhere you and Shep are bounding together in a Heaven beyond our understanding, I hope you know how much you are missed.
RIP John Noakes, 1934 – 2017