This week I travelled up to North Wales to see Grandma with my 13-year-old daughter, the first time we have done this trip just the two of us. At Oxford services (Westbound, M40) we went into W H Smith for the usual magazine and crisps, and on approaching the magazines were confronted with a display of lads’ mags featuring topless women sitting with legs wide apart. Sighing, I began my job of moving them all to the top shelf and turning them back to front. My daughter grinned at me and raised her eyebrows, I shrugged my shoulders and grinned back.
Five minutes later I observed the shop manager angrily moving them all back. I approached her.
‘I moved those because they are in the direct eyeline of any ten-year-old’ I said.
‘Well you shouldn’t have done that, we are acting within the law by placing them here’.
She looked and sounded Eastern European, her accent made disdain and contempt sound like poetry. I rather envied her that. But I think it was her careless disrespect that made me continue the conversation in a voice loud enough for everyone in the shop to hear.
‘And I am acting within the law by placing them on the top shelf’.
‘We are allowed to place them here. You have no right to move them’.
‘I am a parent, and those magazines are in the eyeline of my children’.
‘That is your parental responsibility. You shouldn’t be letting your children see them’.
‘So what do I do? Blindfold them? Not allow them to look at the magazines?’
‘You should control your own children. That’s not my responsibility’.
‘I resent the fact that you are suggesting I am not controlling my children, when they have a legitimate right to the freedom to browse the magazines’.
‘Well it’s up to you as a parent. You control what they see on the internet’.
‘We are not talking about the internet. We are talking about a family shop with a public display which you tell me I have to keep my children away from. How does that work?’
By this time the whole shop had come to a standstill. Next to me were a quiet and gentle looking mother with her daughter aged about twelve, and nearby a slightly chubby young man who looked like a typical ‘white van man’. The mother and daughter gazed at me with interest, White Van Man looked up with amusement every time I spoke. My daughter had disappeared to the checkouts at the other end of the shop.
Shop Manager was gesticulating and moving away as if to say ‘this subject is closed’.
‘You should ask before you move things. Why didn’t you ask?’
‘Because when I ask, I am told what you are telling me, and nothing is done, so this is my only option’.
‘It is the parents’ job to be responsible for their children, not mine’.
‘Parents could do with a little help. You can choose where you place these magazines, and if you choose to put them on a low shelf the only way I can take my parental responsibility is by moving them’.
With a shrug of her shoulders Shop Manager disappeared through a Staff Only door.
Twelve-year-old girl approached me shyly.
‘Thank you’ she said ‘I agree with you’.
‘Someone’s gotta say it hey?’ I said with a smile, and went to find my daughter.
She was standing in the checkout queue and as I approached she gave me a look which was a cross between excruciating embarrassment and huge pride, the huge pride just coming out on top because, I think, I hadn’t been observed by any of her friends.
White Van Man came up behind us.
‘Good for you’ he said ‘That parental responsibility thing is bollocks’.
‘Thanks’ I said, ‘It’s about choice isn’t it..?’
‘Yeah’ he said, matter-of-factly, ‘Yer don’t want those sort of pictures jumpin’ out at yer everywhere yer look’.
My daughter watched this exchange grinning from ear to ear.
We got back to the car.
‘Right’ I said. ‘Magazine, check. Packet of crisps, check. A little bit of feminist action, check. Off we go!’
‘Yay!’ said my daughter, settling down with her magazine and opening her bag of crisps, still with a huge beaming smile on her face.