Times are hard. We’ve had a pandemic, money is tight, our children have had disruption in class. It might seem like things haven’t evolved very much, after all we heard about the Spanish Flu in 1918 when more than fifty million people died worldwide. Soldiers returning from war carried the virus onto trains, into cities and into the country. Pity the poor soldier surviving the horrific conditions of WWI to then have life puffed out by a virus, drowning internally, no one to blame. The economy suffered and there were strikes. People were bolstered up to fight against governments. People partied hard and protested loud. Much as now. Children were seen and not heard.
I imagine a soot speck of life as it was, way back in history.
It’s September 1893 and two boys are being questioned in the local police station. The one boy is small, in my mind. Stooped. Under his nails black. His neck is smudged and grubby. ‘I never saw nothing,’ he says looking at the four bare walls of the police station, the strong late summer sun barging its way through the high window, raining down on the lad’s chubby blush bruised cheeks, not even his bunnet hiding the flush of guilt. ‘It was my idea,’ says a bigger boy, kicking the skirting, eyes shameful as the policeman stands over him. ‘Why would you play such a dangerous game?’ The bigger boy shrugs, rubs his neck, kicks some more at the skirting. The questioning policeman is kindly but firm as he speaks to them, he knows what lads are like, he has two of his own. ‘You could have killed yourselves, or others,’ says the amenable bobby. At that the smaller boy gasps for air. ‘We were never out to kill anyone officer. We knew what we were doing.’ ‘No matter lad, things can go wrong. To put dynamite with fuse wire in a tin can, tie it to a kite and set it free into the air after lighting it is folly indeed. You were lucky that the only harm done was the fright and worry of the local people.’ The boys scuff their feet on the stone floor, hands in pockets. ‘One woman ran in screaming, worried about her young girl who worked in the papermill and thinking the boilers had blown up,’ the policeman adds. The small lad murmurs sorry. He has two sisters who work in the mill, and three brothers down the pit, she would be worried too. Every day without fail she watches them go and thinks about the sixty-three men who died in the pit disaster, only four years before. ‘Be on your way boys, and be careful what games you play in future.’ ‘We will,’ the two lads say in unison and leave the building, making their way to the mines. They were late for work and their pay would be docked.
Money will be tight for a while, in the here and now, children may have lost out on schoolwork, but they are sent to school and not into factories or coal mines. The hope is they will catch up. No one can tell them how lucky they are. We can’t be told how lucky we are. Knowing you’re lucky happens when we see and know how others live or have lived. Life for most of us has greatly evolved.