Author Andy Griffiths asks students at the Ainslie School how to use a rubber duck to save yourself from a flooding shower. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
In the course of their vital work, fearless, intrepid journalists often find themselves attending events of traumatising ghastliness the average citizen never experiences. One of my recent traumatising experiences, while newsgathering, has seen me referred to a psychotherapist who specialises in the cases of reporters who have been exposed to extreme horrors that have left them emotionally scarred.
We will call her, concealing her real name for professional reasons, Dr Dorothy Boadicea. At our first session this time (although in my long career I am a veteran of her sumptuous rooms) I arranged myself along the length of her stylish consulting couch, expensively and irresponsibly upholstered with the skins of Cavalier King Charles spaniels. After I had described my symptoms to her (the nightmares that have me waking, screaming, in the middle of the night, the rash that comes and goes, the dramatic hair loss, etc) her questioning began.
Boadicea: ''So where have you been and what have you seen this time, Ian? Have you been to some ghastly war zone, or perhaps to Nauru to witness how our government is torturing refugees by making them live in a tropical hell?''
The Traumatised Columnist: ''Far worse than that, Dot. I've been to the Ainslie School, a primary school, to see the whole school attending an occasion featuring Andy Griffiths, the best-selling author of books for children.''
Boadicea: ''OMG! He's so famous! Isn't he the author of What Bumosaur Is That? The Day My Bum Caught Fire, Zombie Bums From Uranus and other children's classics, most of them with bottoms themes?''
The Traumatised Columnist: ''Yes, that's him.''
Boadicea: ''On the face of it, Ian, there shouldn't be anything traumatising about a children's author speaking to a primary school but obviously something about it has left you deeply upset. How ashen-faced you look! And what a lot of hair you've lost since I last saw you! Try to describe for me what it is that's doing what we psychotherapists call 'rattling your cage.''
The Traumatised Columnist: ''Perhaps it's old-fashioned of me, and a sign of my age, but I care deeply about books and writing, and about what children read, and it pains me to see young children with such gluttonous appetites for such dreadful books, and for their author. You should have seen and heard, Dot, the gibbering fanaticism of those children. They adore the author and his books. They listened, enthralled, to his talk with all its bum and poo stories. Bottoms and their functions are very, very important to Griffiths's genre, and indeed in some his books his autobiograpy reports that he lives in 'a bum shelter' [a bomb shelter] in the city of 'Smellbourne'. In Zombie Bums From Uranus the bums that inhabit a planet make it uninhabitable with their farts, their methane emissions. In one of the stories he told his enraptured audience (which included a swag of enraptured teachers) how one day when he was three and having a bath he was attacked by three floating nuggets of his poo but defeated them by eating them. His story about how funny it looked when his dog Sooty was run over by a car 'and all his guts came out of his mouth' was a kind of last straw for this humourless dog lover.''
Boadicea: ''But, and by the way I'm a dog lover too, as you can see from my new couch, what is it about all this that has, figuratively, caught your penis in the Mousetrap of Life?
The Traumatised Columnist: ''I think it is that I'm horrified, as someone who learned to read from children's books whose authors and publishers didn't feel the books needed to be gross to be appealing, to see the nation's children revelling in gross books and their parents and our schools enabling it. From memory there's not a single fart emitted in the whole of Dickens or, in spite of its ambiguous title, in the whole of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows. Daniel Defoe's eponymous Robinson Crusoe, in spite of being on a desert island with lots of thinking time never once becomes preoccupied with his bottom or, thank goodness, with Man Friday's. What does it say about our nation, its parents, its schools, like Ainslie School, that they encourage and facilitate indifference to fine books and rapt rapture at Zombie Bums From Uranus? At Ainslie School, Dot, I felt I saw our nation dumbing down before my very eyes. And as a book-loving, reading-loving patriot, this has caused me great pain.''
Boadicea: ''What are you reading at the moment, Ian?''
The Traumatised Columnist: ''I'm reading The Complete Idiot's Guide To Buddhism, the kind of intellectually-stimulating book I'd have no interest in now if, as a child, I'd been brought up on books about bottoms and farts.''
Boadicea: ''But that's excellent news, Ian. As you'll discover, the Buddha encourages a Middle Way between extremes of behaviour and belief, and with the Buddha's help and mine (and I'm afraid today's session has come to an end) I think you'll find yourself becoming much less agitated. Meanwhile I'll write a note to your Editor asking him to be a little more sensitive about the assignments he gives you. No one of your great age and bookish upbringing should have go to through the hell you went through at Ainslie School.''