Talking across the years

Aug 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Ministry

Children are the best critics in the best sense of ‘best’ and ‘critic’. They will call things as they are and tell you exactly what they think; and so it was last night. A ten year old stood in the car park, beside her mother.

‘Ian, that service was very long’.

‘It was’, said the bishop, my companion and the preacher at the service. ‘Were you very bored?’

‘A bit’, said the ten year old.

‘How are the school holidays going?’ I asked

‘Too fast’.

‘Are you not looking forward to going back to school?

‘Not really’, came the glum reply

‘I’ll tell you about how I felt at the end of the school holidays when I was nine’, I said

‘There was this puddle across the road from our house. It was a big hole caused by tractors and lorries turning into a lane and when it rained it filled with water. It was a great puddle for jumping. I remember standing there one Sunday evening, feeling really horrible. We only got six weeks for our summer holidays, but I thought that six weeks would last forever. I remember jumping backwards and forwards over that puddle and feeling very sad. My holidays were gone and there was another year of school starting the next morning. Do you ever feel like that at the end of the holidays?’

‘Yes,’ said the ten year old, ‘the holidays always go much faster than the term time’.

‘Do you know’, I said, ‘for years afterwards that puddle could frighten me. No matter how old I was, I could be pulled back to being a nine year old having to go to school the next day. You don’t have anywhere like that, do you?’

‘No’, replied the ten year old.

‘And you don’t really feel as bad as I did about going back to school, do you?’

‘Not really. It’s just that holidays are much better’.

‘I don’t think anyone would disagree with you about that . . . Where are you going for secondary school?’

The conversation progressed on to whether it was better to stay in your community for school, or to go away to boarding school. The ten year old’s mother talked about the advantages and disadvantages of each option, both being available because in Ireland the government pays the salaries of all teachers and grants are available to members of the Protestant community to allow them to attend a school of their own tradition.

We concluded our conversation and bade each other ‘good night’. One wonders in forty years time, what the ten year old will make of an eccentric old clergyman who was frightened by a puddle.



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  1. The morning of the return to boarding school usually involved me getting into my grandmother’s bed and playing I spy or something similar for a while. I can remember as though it were yesterday the feeling of dread as the time to get up drew closer. I can clearly recall thinking that if i lay very still no-one would notice the time.

  2. The weekend before the return always seemed like a barrier against the waiting reality, once it was passed, the gloom descended.

    Now I wonder if some of the staff didn’t feel the same – that religion of wretchedness and hatred of anything enjoyable can’t have made term time a bundle of laughs for them.

  3. I wasn’t unhappy there Ian. The girls school was evidently a better and happier place than the boys school; fortunately for us. I missed my siblings constantly, we are very close even now, it was that which was my problem.

  4. The girls’ regime seemed altogether more benign. There were staff at the boys’ school who seemed to delight in cruelty and bullying.

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