Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Mildly hypocritical, mildly prudish reader seeks newspaper for fun and possible long term relationship. From the age of ten onwards I read the Times every day and learnt a lot from it. I was the sort of child who instructed her elders and betters on any complexities of the situation in South Africa that they might have missed. Having survived being strangled I was on course to be the well-informed person you see today. I remember the Times, and particularly the columns written by Bernard Levin, with gratitude.

Decades have passed. My oldest child is twelve. You might think that I would make sure to have a quality newspaper hit the mat each day. We do not. Why not? Several reasons, but to my suprise I find that one of the most important is that they are all too salacious.

Since I am complaining about that I had better mention that there will be some discussion of sex in this post. Nothing the average twelve year old hasn't known about for years, but probably mutually embarrassing for parent or child to know the other has read. That's the whole point, actually.

When I was a kid I learned much the ways of the world - sex, drugs, crime and so on - from reading the paper. The information came in gradually, casually and mixed up with other topics. Good.

However, thirty years ago an article about prostitution, for instance, would be wrapped up in a package of high-minded concern for a social problem. Possibly this concern was fake, mere cover for a way of giving readers a thrill while allowing writer and reader to pretend to be respectable. More likely motives were mixed. Certainly I frequently read such articles in the spirit of one looking up the rude words in the dictionary. But if hypocrisy it was, then so much the better for hypocrisy. It compares well with the crassness of today. A month or two back the Sunday Telegraph had an article about that countrywoman who became a prostitute to pay for her daughter's riding lessons. It wasn't the fact that the story was covered that I objected to but the detailed descriptions of her encounters with various clients, including clients who took pleasure in violent abuse. I would rather not have that topic for family discussion over breakfast, thank you.

And that was the Telegraph - once upon a time written by respectable Tories. The Independent and the Guardian are full of writers anxious to assert how comfortable they are with various fetishes. Quite apart from the explicitness, I do not wish my children to grow up to be bores. Should I then go back to my old friend, the Times? It's probably the best bet of the qualities, but I find it ominous that David Aaronovitch has joined the staff. I greatly respect Aaro's writing on the Iraq war but every fifth article he wrote for the Guardian concerned his relationship with his right hand and I have no reason to suppose he will be any different in the Times.

I'm certainly not advocating censorship, just saying that a paper that went back to offering all the news that's fit to print would have my subscription sewn up. I would like it to be a major paper, though. I have nothing against the various Christian papers - I am always happy to learn of a successful Alpha Course in Cheam - but that isn't what I want as a main news source. Too sectional. Too wholesome. Too admiring of Christian Aid. I want the cosmopolitan feel of a newspaper that I know is also read by several hundred thousand of my compatriots at least.

How many other readers are there like me? My guess is that quite a few parents who don't particularly care about sex in the papers on their own account suddenly develop prudish tendencies when their child reads about it. As a result many children may not be getting started on the newspaper habit.