Monday, January 07, 2008

you got to pick a pocket or two

A group of girls huddle around me in the playground; and to take our minds off the wind and the puddles underfoot I ask about their Christmases: were they good? What did they get?

They all agree that it was good, and they got good things. They tell me about their upcoming holidays, and then one asks me: what did I get for Christmas? My mind goes immediately blank. Ermmm...what did I get for Christmas? I know I had presents, I know I liked them, what the flipping eck were they? I dredge about in the muddy pool of my memory.

I got an ukulele book, and a book about criminal children, I tell them. Oh, and some cake tins. They look distinctly unimpressed, so I look at them very seriously and tell them that 150 years ago children of their age could be put in prison or transported, for very minor things such as stealing spoons, or bread. I do not mention the death sentences, the cruelty and futility of penal punishments, or the degradation that meant many children were relieved to get into jail so that they'd be fed and clothed for a while.

Edith looks at me suspiciously. 'That doesn't mean you can lock us up', she says.

'Doesn't it?' I smile, 'What a pity. Someone go and get me the bell.'

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