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
‘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.