'It's only a little knife', said Donny

29th September 1995 at 01:00
There's a lot of difference between rising five and rising six-years-old. Compared to the new reception children, all the new Year 1s seem shockingly large. "I got no problems in the playground now," Jake informed me, swinging his lunch box with a jaunty air. His previous problems were all now having their own problems in the relative jungle of the junior school playground.

He got no problems in the classroom either. Mrs Peach, their new teacher, is not anticipating problems. Home come their reading books, every day. Home come their library books, every week. The class exudes the confidence of people who know the drill - packed lunch, home dinner, PE today or not, don't need a sweater if it's really hot and DON'T forget to send in your slip to say you're going to help, Mummy. Yes, the new term is all shiny and bright. But, of course, that's just the surface.

Take Gemma. Gemma is a strikingly pretty little girl, with luxuriant tumbling black locks, a sparkly mischievous face and fidgety little limbs. She is also strikingly silly, unable to concentrate and quite often in fits of giggles. An outsider might wonder why no one seems to lose patience with her and why even when they shake their heads, they smile. Considering everything, Gemma is doing well. Gemma's mother died last summer, after a long battle with leukaemia. It was the day of the school trip, a hot day, and Gemma was sitting with the other children at the theatre when her grandmother came in to tell the teachers. Two months later, Gemma is doing well - but who really knows how Gemma is doing?

Then there's Donny. I think the polite words for boys like Donny is "challenging". He's not that keen on female authority and even when you are in the middle of doing something with him - drawing, writing, drama - will always ask you to change it to his activity - drama, writing, drawing - for what seems like the sake of it. We were doing drama last week, acting out the folktale of the Hobyahs and I asked what the children would do if they met a monster - not that there are any monsters, we agreed, doubtfully.

Some would call a grown-up, some would run away, but Donny would use the knife his big brother had given him. It's only a little knife, said Donny, but his Dad has a big knife. That's for cooking is it? I hoped. Yes, he conceded, his Dad's knife was for cooking, or cutting meat, but his Dad had given his big brother a whole lot of knives, some big, some small, and they were all for killing people.

Oh dear, are you sure? He was sure. But it doesn't seem a good idea to kill people, I urged. Donny shrugged. Well, I persisted, it's not a good idea to kill people, especially if they are not attacking you. He shrugged again. I grew firmer. "You mustn't do things to other people which you don't want done to you, must you, children? You don't want someone to kill you, do you, Donny?" No, he didn't. "So you shouldn't kill other people, should you, children?" No, you shouldn't. They all shook their heads solemnly. Except for Donny. He shrugged. And there was a distinctly cynical look in his five-year-old eyes.

So we went on with the tale of the Hobyahs, and mopped and mowed in a satisfyingly monsterish way. And it ended happily as it always does, one of the best endings in literature, when the little old man and the little old woman cut the kidnapped little girl Lucy out of the Hobyahs' sack and sew up little dog Turpie instead. When the ghastly Hobyahs woke up in the evening (for the Hobyahs, you must know, slept in the daytime) and thumped the Hobyah sack, calling in their odious voices "Hobyah, Hobyah, Hobyah, we'll have Lucy for our tea", it was little dog Turpie who leapt from the sack and gobbled up each and every one. And that is why there are no hobyahs now. So there is nothing to be afraid of anymore, children.

But I wonder if Donny has already met a few Hobyahs. I think all of us may have. Don't you?

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