Primary schoolchildren of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your dayglo shame. On the Underground, you see them, and dawdling round the corridors of museums, innocent little children, dressed up in neon bibs like the cone-stackers on motorways at midnight.
What is the reason for this? I grew up in the distant reaches of Zone 6, and with what now must be viewed with untold recklessness, we would travel – non luminescently – to as faraway places as the London Planetarium and somehow, miracle of miracles, successfully navigate re-entry to Upminster without a single one of us ending up chained to the wall in a dungeon basement somewhere.
The numbers on crime committed against children by strangers in public places are so infinitesimally small as to be statistically unanalysable, which means that the nation’s streets are no more dangerous for our small people than they were 50 years ago, decades before the first luminous stitch of cloth was ever sewn. All that’s changed is our attitude.
Maybe it is yet another manifestation of this curious new dawn in which the older generation appears to be in thrall to the younger one, and not the other way round, as it should be. Where a 17-year-old kid who’s not bad at sailing is lighting the Olympic flame instead of Muhammad Ali; a world in which the stricken aeroplane pilot in Lord of the Flies, had he survived, would be consigned to running about after Ralph and Piggy. When you start to feel inspired by the potential of children, that’s when you’ve given up on your dreams.
Perhaps it is merely for teachers’ convenience. Imagine the fear of doing a headcount on the coach and finding yourself one down (although, in fact, the more terrifying reality, as I once found out chaperoning summer-schooling Americans round London, is ending up with one too many, especially if that one is a Korean from a Learn English Abroad Camp at which he’s evidently not top of the class).
But if that is the case, it’s too high a price to pay. What must the little ones think, as they incline their necks to stare at the hooked incisors of giant flesh-eating dinosaurs, all the while convinced that there has never been a more frightening time to be alive than now? That the Natural History Museum is so perilous a place that unless their refulgent personage is permanently burned on the back of Miss Mullis’s retinas they will simply vanish?
So parents, if you have a say in such matters, perhaps you could request that next time your prized possession goes to stare at the artefacts of ancient Egypt or some such, is there any chance they could in fact not be forcibly kitted out as though they were off to mainline Calpol at an Eighties warehouse rave? You never know: they may still return to tell the tale.