Friday, November 05, 2010

Teaching The Gunpowder Plot

I was really impressed to hear that the London fire brigades were threatening a walkout on Bonfire Night-that's so fantastic. American labour unions, take note. Anyway, I thought it would be worth explaining to Danny what all the bonfires are about.

I could see the child's eyes glazing over with boredom at what he must think is some sort of quaint story of early, poorly planned terrorism. The gunpowder was, after all a bit on the old side, and there's question whether it would have gone off at all.

"So, did they chop off his head?"

Children. They can't wait for the narrative to take the proper course, they skip ahead to read the conclusion first. So impatient, these youngsters. "No, actually he was hanged...but then he was drawn and quartered."

No sooner the words left my mouth than I knew I'd have to define, "drawn and quartered" to a not-quite-six year old. I'm pretty sure that my mother, faced with a similar question would have come up with something about being drawn on with quarters, or perhaps drawn by a horse through a series of quarters. She was better at thinking on her feet than I am. Besides, you can't santise everything for the wee ones-giving happy endings to Greek myths, and the like.

We've all been slightly under the weather of late with sickly bellies and sinus congestion. I looked at my son, already pale from the cold, and wiping at his nose with the handkerchief thoughtfully embroidered by his granny that read, "Monday" on this, a Friday-and I thought, "should I?" Again, a better mother would change the subject, or offer some nonsense...

I fully expected to see the blood drain from his face, possibly even a gag, but history is filled with unpleasant things, and we still had ten minutes left to our social studies lesson. I told him. He didn't believe me. I told him again, and he declared it terrific, and not in the spectacular sense of the word. I noticed sincere disappointment when I told him the practise has fallen out of popularity along with the guillotine. I fully expect to find him skimming history books later, looking for further examples. What is it with children, and their fascinations with the gruesome? This is the child that does not care for horror writing (I told him Lovecraft cries every time he says that) or movies for that matter-but will delight in Mary of Scotland getting her head lopped off. Having your liver eaten by an angry eagle is also perfectly OK, along with every other grotesquenesses of mythology...but not a horror story. I don't know what will happen when this kid accidentally picks up a copy of A Distant Episode and starts reading. Maybe I'd better go hide it now. Stick to a good beheading, and being drawn and quartered.

-and no, I'm not building a bonfire, or shooting off fireworks, though I'm pretty sure the fire department would come out if I needed them, as they are volunteer.

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