I think I’m a fairly rational person and when it comes to being politically correct I do tend to feel this country can be a little over the top. That’s a sweeping statement and covering a lot of topics but one of those in question would be the fact I can’t take a photograph of my own child when at places like soft play centres. Yes, I do understand why but on the whole, if you’re in a place where only other people with their own children are frequenting and you want to take a photograph of your own child, I kind of think it’s a bit loopy and hysterical to have the rule that you mustn’t. Still… This is the day and age we live in I guess.
A few years ago I took a picture of some nursery nurses in a playground who were larking about on the swings and completely neglecting the children they were in charge of. In an open public place like this it is perfectly within the law to take a picture and I did so to show the nursery managers how badly their staff were behaving. They didn’t seem to care one jot when I took it in to them on my way home so I sent the picture to the local paper. It was printed with a story and I received mostly good but some negative feedback for having sent it in. One parent was up in arms that I had take a picture of his child on a swing and seemed not to care about the reason why I took it. His child wasn’t being looked after by the people he had paid to do that job and to me it seemed completely crazy that what he cared about more was his child being in a corner of a photograph in the paper. The even sillier thing was that the child in the picture wasn’t his child at all showing he was being ridiculous for no reason and ignoring the most important issue because of hysteria. I vaguely knew this man from my area and knew his daughter was actually on the climbing frame at the time; the baby (who was much younger than his daughter) in the picture was someone else’s. It made me laugh that he was SO upset yet he hadn’t even identified his child correctly, she wasn’t even in the frame. All the children in the photograph were fuzzy and unidentifiable as were the adults (it was taken on a very inferior phone) and the purpose of the picture was to highlight that this nursery were taking children to a park and then abandoning them so they could have a chat and stand up on swings themselves. I stand by my decision to take that picture and would do it again.
It’s a bit like the fact some people are crazy upset because London transport Oyster cards track your every move. Why be upset? If you’ve nothing to hide then why do you care about being tracked and if something were to happen and you were to go missing wouldn’t you want the authorities to know where your last movements had been? If there is an important issue behind a picture being taken and you being tracked for a greater good then I see no bad in that. Similarly if I am in soft play and want to take a picture of my own child then I see no harm in doing so? Yes I might share it on social media but come on, why would I take a picture of some other kid and use it on Facebook? At the end of the day I don’t think your kid is anywhere near as cute as my own and frankly I wouldn’t waste the space on my data card… It’s surely all about common sense!
So, I’m not against taking pictures of children in public places and I also realise that if someone takes a picture of their child my child might be in the back ground. Who cares? Whoever is looking at their pictures isn’t bothered about the child in the back ground they’re bothered about their own offspring. But… Something happened to us yesterday when we were in the London Transport Museum which made me feel very, very uncomfortable indeed and I was pretty shocked at how the museum handled the situation.
Now I am me, I write a blog and my children model professionally so their pictures are in lots of places lots of the time. This is my choice (and theirs to a certain extent) but that doesn’t mean I am happy for my children to be in anyone’s picture no matter who they are. We’ve established I don’t care if they get in the back ground of your picture at soft play but yesterday I was pretty freaked out when a Jordanian couple took a picture of my daughter deliberately without my permission? What’s that all about?
We were in the museum which has a one way system around it and Florence was looking at some life size horses pulling a cart. I was a meter away helping Jimmy do the stamp trail and was aware of a couple standing close to her but when I looked back after a split second of concentrating on Jimmy, the man, who was about my age, had squatted down and put his arm around Florence while the woman took a photograph of them on her iPhone. My body physically went cold all over and I just knew, as her mother and with intuition, that this situation was not a good one. I immediately said ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ and they defensively said Florence had got in the way of their picture so I demanded to see it. Sure enough he had his arm around her and I said again ‘What did you think you were doing? How dare you touch my child and photograph her’? They said it was a mistake and they had only included her in the picture because she got in the way which is very odd in itself. Any normal person would wait for the child to move and certainly wouldn’t squat down to put an arm around them. Florence’s face was scared and anxious and it made me very, very uncomfortable. I told her to delete the picture and when she hesitated I told her if she didn’t then I would do it for her. I must have made my body language show no fear because she did as she was told.
I told them this wasn’t acceptable and asked where they thought it was appropriate to photograph and touch children that didn’t belong to them? They were in this museum which is highly geared up for children without any of their own and the whole situation was just very strange. The woman, in particular, was very defensive and told me in her country it is acceptable so I was ignoring the cultural differences. I told her whatever is acceptable in Jordan had no bearing as she was in the UK and at this point the couple, who seemed nervous and angry, started arguing together in their own language. I was desperately searching for a staff member but couldn’t find one and fled to the next level with the children. The way the museum is laid out means you can still see the floor above when you go below and I could see them trying to make their way back out again but going in the wrong direction. At some point they saw me and turned around again to go the way the museum moves. At this point I found a staff member and the Jordanian couple caught up with us. By this point they were smiling, relaxed and apologetic. A complete turnaround from the few minutes before and this too made me uncomfortable.
They told the story to the staff member as if it was all a big misunderstanding and again talked about cultural difference. There was something though which wasn’t quite right and I asked to see a manager. The couple followed me to the information desk and when the two managers came down they stood right next to us. I explained what had happened and both the female managers agreed it wasn’t right and the children and I left to try and enjoy some time on the ground floor while they spoke to the couple. A while later the managers came to me and said they had spoken to them but thought they had just made a mistake. One of the managers explained that she is Greek and in her country it is acceptable to hug a child that isn’t yours. Again I pointed out that we were in the UK. They told me they believed the couple had just made a mistake because of cultural difference and as they had only been in the UK for 4 months they were giving them the benefit of the doubt.
They were giving them the benefit of the doubt? Over my child’s safety which had been put at risk in their museum? I pointed out that if this couple had ulterior motives then they would of course say they were good with good intentions and the manager told me I couldn’t accuse them of anything sinister. I pointed out that I wasn’t accusing them but question had been put on their motives for being in this busy museum on a Saturday while it was filled with children and their primary concern should not be giving benefits of doubt but eliminating any shred of it. I would have expected them to ask the couple to leave at the very least. At best their behaviour was extremely odd and at worst it was predatory. Had they been completely innocent then I should think this would have served as a lesson to them. Jordan is not a backwards country and the fact they have been in the UK for 4 months makes me not really buy their story of being unaware of cultural differences.
At the end of the day if they wanted to abduct a child then a museum as busy as busy can be with lots of children might be an ideal place to try. They took a picture and they could have used this for all sorts of reasons? To befriend the child, to prove they knew the child, to use for something undesirable, who knows but there are lots of unfriendly options as well as harmless ones and frankly I’d have rather they weren’t in the museum after this event. The two staff members, however, were adamant they wanted to give the couple a chance and would track them as they went around. Well, I wasn’t prepared for them to take a chance on my child. Absolutely not. It made me feel so uneasy that I felt we had no option, under the circumstances that they had put the doubt aside and focused on not upsetting the couple rather than upsetting us, but to leave. We go to this museum a lot. A LOT. My children love it but now that I know they don’t have children’s safety at the forefront of their agenda it has thrown question over us visiting again which is a real shame.
I don’t think I’m hysterical, I think I’m rather normal when it comes to this sort of thing and I do, as I’ve said, think we can be over the top about being politically correct in this country but something about this incident left a very bad taste in my mouth. My intuition told me to ring the warning bells but because they said all the right things to the managers, and of course could have been perfectly innocent, they were left to peruse the museum again. My point is what if they weren’t perfectly innocent? Why didn’t the museum err on the side of caution? If I’d have been them I’d have alerted the police to the incident and other museums in the area because at the end of the day if there is ever any doubt, no matter how small, over someone’s motives for being surrounded by children that don’t belong to them, then I think that’s worth being very firmly on guard.