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Fear and Water Pistols10 March 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
The other day, a man was attacked by a fox just outside Tesco in Orpington, Kent. Even though the man was an imposing civil servant, the fox wasn’t put off, because it was after his shopping bags. In the end, the civil servant gave it a garlic baguette.
The number of foxes in urban areas is rapidly increasing, and an expert was on hand to inform us that a water pistol is the best way to scare off a fox.
Before you know it, you’re required to carry a water pistol. The authorities are good at this: they love pointing out potential dangers. My own first taste of this was going through the traffic exam in primary school, around 1973.
As part of the traffic exam, your bike got checked: lights, bicycle bell, tyre pressure and ‘general condition of the bicycle’. A course was laid out on the public roads, and at each turn you would take care to use your arm as an indicator because examiners were sure to be hiding in some nearby bushes.
Up to that moment I hadn’t been bothered by traffic, but suddenly I cycled home full of anxiety.
The traffic exam had its merits, but nowadays it’s all gone a bit over the top in primary schools.
‘What have you been doing at school today?’
‘Today we had a taste lesson.’
‘Yes, it’s about what to eat to stay fit: not too many sweets and so on, and plenty of vegetables, because fat people die younger. Afterwards we did a project on factory farming and the danger of Mormons.’
‘Hormones,’ I correct him, and I ask, ‘Do you have other similar lessons?’
‘How to pimp my mobile: it teaches us about the use and abuse of a mobile phone. We also have sessions about the dangers of the internet.’ He thinks for a moment: ‘Lessons on organ donor registration and, of course, climate change: you should always turn off the light at home when you go to sleep, otherwise the ice caps will melt. This Monday we started on homosexuals; Miss says it’s very important to be understanding about gays and that there are at least four in our class.’ With a naughty smile he adds, ‘We investigated that during the break.’ He sighs: ‘Well, of course, now we have an extra session: How can we stop bullying?’
‘Anything else?’ I venture.
‘This week we talked about smoking and drugs. That was after the lesson about predatory pimps which was followed by one about sexually transmitted diseases. That last one was fun: Miss used a broomstick to unroll a condom.’ He thinks again: ‘We also have lessons about honour killings.’
I look a bit puzzled.
‘Two members of our class are from Turkey.’
He has run out of time because he needs to prepare a project entitled How do I recognise ADHD?
As a youngster I was afraid of lots of things: water, strange men, diseases, war and gnomes in general. But it all turned out for the best.
Well, not quite: I travel with a torch when taking the Eurostar through the channel tunnel. You never know, and only last week a train full of ‘top models’ got stuck in the tunnel and the electricity failed. Although this might not be as bad as it sounds: ‘I have a torch,’ you whisper to the lady next to you, Poppy Delevigne, the 24-year-old Vogue cover girl.
On public transport I always memorise the escape routes. Similarly, I prefer to sit at the back of theatres for an easy exit. If I got mugged or came eye to eye with a terrorist, I would hit out immediately, because ‘that’s not what they expect’.
Yet I don’t believe all these extra lessons would have made a difference. They only cause more anxiety: before you know it, you an adult are carrying a water pistol around. In cases of really significant danger, the authorities act less swiftly: come on boys, we’ll frighten Iran with water pistols.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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