I am slightly fascinated by how parents dealt with their children in historical times. How did they react when their little ones threw a tantrum at Ye Olde Goose Fair? Did they even have tantrums back then? My suspicion is that tantrums were in fact invented at some time in the 1950s when televisions became common. They are probably only just pre-dated by children themselves; before then babies just turned straight into tiny adults and were sent immediately down the nearest mine.
One parental tactic that I know was popular in the olden days was scaring the shit out of your children to ensure good behaviour. This was usually done with tales of monsters and bogeyman. I’ve researched some of these in what has turned out to be Wikipedia’s most frightening webpage and the roster mostly includes angry men with sacks, a few cannibals and in some cultures Nigel Farage. My own favourite is a goblin from Belizean folklore whose outstanding features include backwards feet and a lack of thumbs.
It seems that weaponising your children’s darkest fears against them to keep them in line has fallen a little out of fashion, probably because it’s counterproductive and sadistic. Having said that, we do appear to have created our own bogeyman which currently has the measure of the Major. His name is Keith.
Before the emergence of Keith, the closest we came to employing this strategy was the introduction of an imaginary and sinister elf sent by Father Christmas to monitor the Major’s performance with a view to potentially withholding his Christmas presents. This works fantastically well until the elf’s posting finishes on Boxing Day and anarchy descends again. We’ve also experimented successfully with the Birthday Parrot, who hovers about on a drone surveillance mission in the lead-up to the big day.
But Keith is different. Keith lives in the adjacent apartment to the holiday home we rented in Spain. We met as he pottered about on his front terrace as we arrived. He was very affable, just as it said it would be in our information pack. There was nothing untoward about Keith. His feet were on the right way and he boasted two thumbs. The only remotely suspicious thing about Keith was that he habitually watered his plants in only a pair of black pants.
But when we threatened the Major with Keith after he refused to accompany us to the swimming pool, he turned ashen and duly complied. I must stress that we didn’t tell him that Keith was going to take him away in a sack or cook him and eat him and wash him down with a nice Rioja.
We explained that Keith would pop by and read him a story. The prospect was so cringeworthy to the Major that his obedience was guaranteed. And so Keith loomed for the remainder of the holiday armed and ready with his children’s books and so the Major behaved. And there was Keith sitting menacingly at the back of the plane home armed with a copy of The Hungry Caterpillar. And by a startling coincidence Keith has a second home in the next road to our home, furnished with the entire Roald Dahl back catalogue.
There’s no need for a flesh-eating Latino pixie while you’ve got a kindly man with some children’s literature waiting in the wings.