Musing on perverts and possums

Tell you what I wouldn't want to be right now: an old man with white hair. Because you don't look like Santa, you look like a pervert. No more the avuncular gent; man of a thousand jokes and ditties, smiling at the antics of youngsters, dispensing sweeties and cheek pinches – do that now and you'd get a kick in the shins and a subpoena.

Not like the 70s, is it? The 70s were a man's world. A decade when television entertainers were given keys to mental asylums and 'a woman has the right' was the beginning of a joke that ended with 'to be barefoot and pregnant in my kitchen.' When, as Dunedinite Stu Fleming says, “UK children's Saturday TV consisted of Rolf's Cartoon Club, (hosted by Rolf Harris, Order of Australia/ CBE), Jim'll Fix It (hosted by Jimmy Savile, OBE/Knight Commander with Star), and Its a Knockout (hosted by Stuart Hall, OBE, one of the first to be charged with multiple historical sex offenses) and we were scared of Daleks.” You'd be right in wondering if there exists a single TV host/celebrity from this era who isn't a pedophile, and if the Queen might not be a bit of a bad judge of character.

Maybe the answer lies in the tenor of the times. People thought differently then, sleazy old men were just a thing, like a dog in the corner that might bite you without warning. You'd keep an eye out for it, but wouldn't take it seriously. Its just a dog.

The problem is though, if that scabby mutt bites and bites over years and years (licking its chops with glee every time shock turns to forgetting); a little harm here, a few tears there, the cumulative effect is a great deal of sorrow and collective pain, innumerable victims. 'Why wasn't it put down years ago?' people ask. And, 'Why didn't you say something when it bit YOU?' Only now that it is mostly toothless and grey about the muzzle does the world feel brave enough to shout, “Down, Sir! Bad dog!”

Oh, what a barney we had at a family dinner last week, when conversation turned to Harris. Funny, all the women present (ranging in age from 37 to 76) could recall at least one childhood creep who'd copped a feel, 'accidentally' brushed their new breasts or squashed up against them in a hallway, and yet not one of us, man or woman, could agree on the seriousness of Rolf's crimes.

“Its a witch hunt, hysteria whipped up by operation Yewtree,” said one. “Everyone's just so eager to be outraged.”

“I was felt up by a friend of the family who gave me 2/6 afterward, and it didn't ruin my life,” said another.

“I bet you wouldn't be so ambivalent if he'd gone on to do the same to your daughter,” said the family stirrer.

“I'm going to kill him,” said the family defender, disappointed to hear the perpetrator was already dead.

Despite differing opinions, the consensus was we just wouldn't stand for this kind of molesty carry-on today. Those of us who know how it feels to be young, confused and ashamed (the behaviour of others somehow your fault) will be damned if we'll let the same thing happen to our daughters, nieces, neighbours. Unfortunately, the sheer number of serious weirdos previously hidden in plain sight has made us all a little nuts. Scared of what we have already let happen, we've gone too far the other way, via the law of unintended consequences.

Which is why 2014 is not a man's world, rather a world where television advertisements feature good-looking morons who stick sanitary pads all over themselves and pretend to be spacemen or short, bald doofuses just lucky there is a woman around to remind them to breathe. Men are the butt of every joke, 'Men are crap' the constant message. But hang on. (Most) men are lovely. We like them. Remember?

To get away from the yuckiness, the economist and I escaped to Purakanui and stayed the night, during the middle of which, a loud thud sounded from the backyard. I woke to sunrise and the sight of the economist holding a very large, very dead possum by the tail. Rigor mortis had frozen its limbs in a regrettable splay. It looked like a fur-coated Grandpa asking for a hug.

“This is what you do with Australian pests,” said the economist, heaving the body over the bank, where it landed in a tree, upside down, sort of crucified. No, I wouldn't want to be an old man right now, or a possum.

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AuthorLisa Scott