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Let a thousand flowers bloom

Class 5 are listening to the story. It's the one about that daft bear who wants to give the moon a birthday present and goes into the mountains to speak to the moon. Of course, all he really hears is an echo, but that satisfies him and so he gets a hat and gives it to the moon by hanging it on the branch of a tree. It blows away and is lost. Finally, bear and moon reconvene their midnight meeting in the mountains and conclude, "I love you". It's got to be American.

My four-year old niece has a truly nauseating song which she learned at her day-care centre in Canada. The theme of the song is "Each one of us is a flower, Growing in life's garden, Each one of us is a flower, Growing up tall and strong". And so it goes on its dreary way, all about how there is enough sun and rain for everyone - which may well be true but leaves a few unanswered questions, such as why do so many of the infant flowers starve to death in those foreign places unlucky enough somehow not to be in life's well-cultivated garden?

Over Christmas, I scandalised and delighted my niece by making up ever more scurrilous versions of this song, beginning with "Each one of us is a digestive system, Doing a poo in life's cistern" (the sciento-childish version) and ending with "Each one of us is a rat, Caught by the leg and dying slowly in life's trap" (the sub-sub-Macbeth version).

And I thought of lots of other versions, such as, "Each one of us is a flower, Having sex with as many bees as we can" or "Each one of us is a flower, Being eaten up by slugs Who are then eaten by birds" or "Each one of us is a flower, Its head snapped off by the casual whim of a passing child" - but none of them rhymed.

Such were the subversive thoughts which passed through my mind as I sat with the rest of Class 5 on the carpet and listened to the rich voice of Mrs Peach telling us about Bear. Such were not the thoughts of Class 5, however. In front of me sat two boys, Nicholas and Demetris. They had an earnest conversation about how they had heard the story before, in Class 1: "But we were never in Class 1." "No, but we were in another class last year." "That was Class 4 who were in Class 1." "Class 1 are Class 4 now." "Listen to the story, it's the same one."

Afterwards they had the same conversation backwards: "We had that story in our last class." "That was when we were in Class 2." "That was when Class 4 were in Class 1." It was a baby version of an academic argument about provenance. Further in front, two of the girls were listening with complete absorption, giving timely "aah!"s along with the teacher and generally not only empathising but declaring empathy.

Fenella, she who used to be so balky about saying her name, was one of them. This year she is conspicuously eager to take part but quite often gets hold of the wrong end of the stick. It is as if she is not really used to communicating with adults - and having seen her with her mother in the local supermarket I can believe this is true. The mother is very affectionate and the child is both beautiful and beautifully turned out, but the mother is clearly preoccupied and hardly ever responds to anything the child says. That's my snap judgment after 10 minutes' observation.

However, much was my surprise when, after a few minutes' working with the puppets to make a playlet, Fenella, who held the Daddy puppet, made him say when he came in from work, "What have you made us for dinner, darling?". She then added in her own rather growly voice, "Did you hear what I made my Daddy say?".

"Do you mean 'darling'?"

"Yes, darling is a nice word. But they don't like each other any more. " And she gave an embarrassed laugh.

Pondering on this, I watched as she "aahed" over Bear's love words to the Moon and the Moon's affirmative reply, and I reluctantly understood the purpose of that daft old Bear. Sometimes it helps to think of yourself as a flower in life's garden, I suppose.

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