Various Talks and Reflections

KIDS (1997) – meeting a paedophile

Kids was one of the few films I didn’t generate myself. Adam Barker at Blast Films asked whether I would like to make one of a trilogy about photographers. My son Dylan Martinez and my close friend Sarah Ainslie are both photographers so the subject was close to my heart. I agreed. My film was about photographing children and there was initially pressure to look at the contentious subject of sexualized pictures of children. Jock Sturges and David Hamilton were names that came up. We didn’t film them because in the end I wasn’t interested in replicating what I felt were essentially exploitative pictures and Hamilton’s were crap anyway. Instead we did have a section about Sally Mann who had taken controversial pictures of her children and Wendy Ewald who works with children to take pictures of their dreams.

Before deciding not to follow this route, Paddy Wivell – my researcher at the time, who has been a television director in his own right for many years now – and I went off to visit someone he was told would be of interest to us. I this wrote after the meeting. I haven’t been able to extend understanding to adults who justify sexually abusing children. In my life I’ve seen too much of the lasting damage it does. But I am aware that since there always has been a proportion of the population who are sexually attracted to children – what is to be done?


The Northern line train emptied out as it pounded further and further down to Morden via Bank until Paddy and I were the only passengers in the carriage, now rattling so loudly we could hardly hear each other speak. We staggered out at the end of the line feeling sick.

The cabbie was an emaciated ash-faced cove sitting in a cloud of grey smoke with a fag gripped in his bony fist. I tried desperately to open the back window until he snapped that he had fixed it so no passengers could open the windows because ‘they messed about too much’. I looked out at the empty street, green at the gills, the street was eerily empty apart from a young woman pushing a pram. She turned slowly and faced me. She was horribly, terribly disfigured, her entire face a mass of scar tissue with her skewed eyes glistening like slits in a monster mask. I don’t know what, if anything this means, I only know that it happened.

We were heading off to meet Rickie. I was unclear about exactly who he was - ‘someone who used to sit between the clerk of the court and the magistrate’ was one explanation. Apparently he has an extensive knowledge of paedophilia and wanted to check us out before possibly introducing us to his ‘ped’ contacts. We found Number 10 nestling anonymously on a corner and rang the bell. After a time a large club foot appeared at a crack in the door and an ancient disembodied voice introduced herself as ‘Mother’ and invited us in saying that Rickie was out doing his shopping. The phone was cut off because he’d failed to pay the bill.

The house was a detached, pebble dashed suburban nightmare, dirty inside and with a sterile garden. Mother manoeuvred herself around in an electric wheelchair. ‘I’m ninety four you know’. Mother had smudged glasses and curious, bright eyes and was nursing a badly twisted claw like hand with all the fingers curled backwards and forwards around each other. I liked her.

Mother advised Paddy not to bother getting married and told me that every night she prayed, asking God to take her but he didn’t bother to do it. She pointed at a clutter of cardboard boxes in the corner. ‘I wish he’d clear those up’, then invited us to look at the garden. I peered into a sludgy green pond full of snails and tadpoles wriggling around and then somehow she had me in the potting shed searching for jars so I could take some tadpoles home.

Rickie arrived back with his friend as I was squatting over the pond and Paddy helped them carry a model boat they liked playing with at the local park. Rickie had a substantial paunch, white hair and a friendly face with twinkly eyes and red, voluptuous lips - his mother had told us he was sixty three. He spat when he talked, a fine spray of wetness surrounding him.

After the tadpoles had been caught and he had advised me to retrieve some of his dank virulently green weed to aerate my pond we repaired to the dark brown sitting room. Rickie glared at his mother.

’You want me to leave you alone’, she said and obediently buzzed off into the darkness of the filthy kitchen. Rickie offered a drink and I reluctantly agreed to a coffee and went to use the loo. Shit was smeared around the seat and one of (Mother’s?) nappies lay open on the floor.

I sat jammed next to Rickie in my own little brown armchair while Paddy sat on the sofa in a dark corner and kicked things off by mumbling a question about what pictures paedophiles might find erotic. Rickie jumped in his chair, looked at his watch and turned around, tweaking the lace curtains so he could see out onto the dead street. “Schools come out in ten minutes. If they take our pictures away from us all we can fantasize about is the reality. It’s better to fantasize over a completely unavailable sexual child than about the reality…”

It suddenly became clear to us that the ‘place between the magistrate and the clerk’ is where the defendant sits. Rickie is a paedophile. I could feel Paddy squirm on his seat and didn’t catch his eye for the next two hours. Both of us made encouraging noises and chipped in to keep the floodgates open. I could see Mother backing out of the kitchen and rummaging around on the hallway floor at intervals.

“If you fantasize about the reality, in the present climate, well…that’s when ‘accidents’ happen. You see kids are designed to be attractive and adopt submissive poses - it’s a natural instinct. But if the act happens then you have the possibility of getting ‘rid of the evidence’. The figures haven’t changed much, only seven to ten kids are murdered every year. It’s the present climate.” Ray mimed ‘getting rid of the evidence’, he looked frightened about getting caught and then rubbed about in mid air with his chubby hands, erasing the evidence

Suddenly I no longer wanted to drink my coffee. It slowly congealed in its greasy, stained cup.

“It’s not illegal to be a paedophile. The only difference between a paedophile and another person is that peds are more honest about their sexual responses to children.”

“Is it nature or nurture”, I enquired politely. “To have such an interest in acting out those sexual feelings?”

“Well, I would hate to think it was genetic but on the other hand we are only a whisper away from being hunter gatherers. A lot of natural parents died in those days so it was very useful to have some people who are genetically inclined to nurture non-genetic children. Now the best pair bonding situation we have the in the whole biological world is the sexual pair bond and that could be the best way of bonding an adult to a child you see. Trapping, hunting blah blah blah.” Rickie droned on and on.

Rickie thinks that now there are so many single mothers there may again be the need for males who are genetically programmed to take a strong sexual interest in children, willing to be their non-genetic nurturers. “There is a biological need for peds”.

These days parents are neglectful of their children, not materially but they don’t get that ‘emotional nurturing which is required.’ So you either get emotionally deprived children locked up at home, not allowed out because of the fear of peds, or you get gangs of youths roaming the streets.

“When kids find someone willing to offer that nurturing they may well initiate (spatter spatter) the sexual bond. You see now that kids are appraised of the fact that there are adults who are sexually interested in them they either think ‘you filthy beast’ or ‘hey, I’ll have some of that.’”

“So in the present climate it is more dangerous to pick up a child but far easier.”

“What do you think the age of consent should be?”

“Well it depends”, says Rickie. “If it’s a pleasurable experience then a person can consent at any age. You see at four years old some children want penetrative sex while some don’t want penetration at fourteen. It depends. A four year old can certainly be stroked and cuddled, and yes it can be masturbated…children are very sexual beings. Even babies can get stiff. The sex comes out of your relationship with the child. ”

He later said that all the fear made meaningful relationships difficult because the child couldn’t tell anyone.

Rickie remembers being sexually active from being about five, making his penis stiff, looking at little girls etc. His mother told his father he’d been caught looking at a little girl. He mimed the looking, reminding me of those curious Japanese men staring up women’s vaginas in Araki’s photographs.

Eventually Rickie lumbered over to the boxes Mother wanted him to clear out. They were full of newspaper and magazine clippings of children. “Upstairs I’ve got a big collection.” He’s been arrested for them but they’ve not found anything. He showed us a magazine photo from a Peter Gabriel CD of a naked boy curled up on some bullrushes…”Isn’t that gorgeous.”

He raved, spraying his fine spray over the carpet about the erotic fascination of choir boys. “There’s something special about the boy treble contralto soprano. You know that voice will change, that it has a transient beauty. Agghhh…then there’s that indefinable throaty, husky quality. It adds an indefinable, indescribable something a little extra to his voice.”

He picked out a picture from the Independent (24/August/l996) of a back view of four adults in their thirties. “Don’t they look disgusting”, his lip curled and his tummy wobbled.

“But far more sexually suggestive than choir boys is advertising. The Colgate ad, the ‘Minipops’ advertisment ‘I never saw it but others went mad about it’, the Chippendidies…children’s television, yes Grange Hill. Grange Hill is so real, those school uniforms aghhh…

“Isn’t this a beauuutiful boy. Isn’t this boy lovely!”

Rickie coos showing me a picture of an elfin boy, head and shoulders, a cheeky grin and pointed chin.

“A lovely boy”, I agree.

Rickie takes his thumb away from the byline and chuckles. “It’s the young John Major.”

“Oh the yobbos these days have a terrifying narrow view of sexuality. They are the people who burn our houses, smash our windows. Most peds are out to their neighbours though. They’ve seen us getting raided”. Rickie tried to get to his feet. He’s got something wrong with his leg, wears a surgical stocking under his jeans, socks and sandals. He can’t get up and Paddy and I, normally both absurdly eager to help old ladies across the street both remain rooted to our chairs. I don’t want to touch him. He disgusts me.

Rickie knows. “In periods of uncertainty like these, society needs scapegoats. It’s like Nazi Germany with the Jews. Peds are today’s Jews and everything the toilet press thinks about us, evil, filthy beasts etc we think about them.” He looks at us. “You hack journalists.”

We grin inanely, like we do at everything he says.

Mother wheels in looking worried. She’s had enough shuffling about outside.  “Did you get any Cabbage?”

“Yeees Mother.”

Rickie then gets a six pint plastic milk carton and we faff about putting my tadpoles and weed into the carton before he gives us a lift to the station.

“I hope you’ll come and visit again”, says Mother. She’s chopping cabbage with her one good hand and a blunt knife on a dirty ledge on her wheelchair.

“I hope so too”, I lie.

“I hope you enjoyed yourselves.”

“What does your mother think of all this?” I ask Rickie as he drives us off in his bashed up car full of plastic bags stuffed with newspapers.”

“Oh she’s reconciled”, he replies. “She’s had to be.”

Paddy and I stand by the lake at St James Park, a little early for our meeting at the ICA. I think of the tadpoles as paedophiles now. I don’t want Rickie’s little sperm like things wriggling around in my garden. I don’t want frogs to remind me of him. I want to have a shower and a large Jack Daniels. I empty Rickie’s tadpoles into the lake.

One of the big ones swims frantically in the shallow water by the edge and then disappears from sight down into the sludgy green water.

Penny Woolcock