Maybe it’s been destroyed or lost, but there used to be a photograph of me about our house, aged eight. It might have been my birthday or maybe it was Christmas, but I’m grinning at the camera like a halfwit. On my head is a cowboy hat and in each fist I’ve got a pistol, both of which I’m pointing inexpertly at the camera. When my family wanted to embarrass me they’d haul it out and the assembled company would laugh their legs off.
Nobody said “We are poisoning this kid and filling him with hate”. I’m glad they didn’t, because although much of my play activity, alone or with others, involved shooting dead dirty varmint Injuns, I didn’t grow up to hate and detest the native people of North America. In later years I taught quite a few of them and I found them gentle, quiet people. I didn’t feel the need to confess that I had once lepped about with six-shooters threatening to fill their fellow-countrymen full of lead. I know if I had they’d have laughed at me for being just one more really stupid white man.
I’m not sure if Willie Frazer ever played cowboys and Indians, but he’s taking very seriously the photograph of that kid dressed in a balaclava and toting a fake AK47. Willie seems to figure this dressing up may well lead to the youngster becoming an adult and looking for Protestants to shoot.
Do me a favour, Willie. I’ve actually done some research into youngsters’ ability to distinguish between pretend and real, and at a very early age – around P2 – they have no bother at all knowing the difference. There’s also lots of research that shows play doesn’t lead to the enactment of the pretend-deed in real life. If that weren’t the case, Nativity scenes at primary school would lead to large sections of the population developing Jesus, Mary, Joseph and even donkey complexes.
Although I can see why you didn’t like it, Willie. I feel the same way when I see clips of the Sham Fight at Scarva every year. Not to mention the re-enactment of the Relief of Derry. But I find it helps if I repeat to myself “Dress-up – unreal; British army patrol – real”.