My 5-year old daughter’s favourite bed-time book is the ‘Puffin Book Of Utterly Brilliant Poetry’. It has contributions from Spike Milligan:
Today I saw a little worm / Wriggling on his belly / Perhaps he’d like to come inside / And see what’s on the telly.
…Roger McGough and Mr. Michael Rosen himself, amongst others. It’s worth having kids if for no other reason than to justify buying this book.
Last night, whilst waiting for the start of the Liverpool versus Arsenal Carling Cup quarter-final that never was, we were reading through the book and Ellie stopped me at a page she doesn’t normally. It’s the first Benjamin Zephaniah poem she’s asked me to read, is titled “Walking Black Home” and goes like this:
That day waz
A bad day,
I walked for
I did not
Sometimes it’s hard
To get a taxi
When you’re Black.
Ellie’s at a stage where she asks more questions than Anne Robinson. “I don’t understand,” she complained. So I did my best to explain what being “black” meant. She denied knowledge of any living “black” people, which came as a surprise as I’ve picked up my daughter from school enough times to know that she shares a class with a good handful of non-white children (one was playing the part of one of the Wise Men in their recent nativity play…I always get the names mixed up…’Frank’ something or other). It then dawned on me I was speaking to the world’s youngest and strictest literalist. “They are brown, not black,” was the explanation for her – and my – earlier confusion. “Yeah, well it’s the same thing,” I countered. Except to a few billion Asians and Africans, of course.
After we’d sorted out colours, I next had to clarify the message in BZ’s poem. A tricky one. The best I could do went something like this:
“Some people – horrible people – try to make fun of other people if they are different. They say and do nasty things just because other people might be small, fat, or just have a different colour skin. The man who wrote the poem is telling a story about how he wasn’t able to get a taxi to take him home just because he is black. The drivers didn’t want to take him. Isn’t that silly? It doesn’t matter what colour is on top, does it? We’re all the same inside, aren’t we?”
Not great, and you’d think years of blogging would have taught me how to dumb things down a little better than that, but it had to do. Anyhow, Ellie seemed to get the message.
“Yeah, that’s silly, Dad. We’re all the same, aren’t we?”
“Yes, Ellie,” I said, happy enough that the message had got through.
“But it’s still better to have white skin though, isn’t it Daddy?”
“Well, why do you say that, darling?” I asked, by now a little anxious that I’d reared a white supremacist for a daughter.
“Because it means we can get taxis whenever we want.”
As it happens, she’s bloody wrong on that score. Round here, you’ve got more chance of picking up a Van Gogh at the church fete than you have of a taxi arriving at the correct location at the time you booked it for.
And where the hell was BZ when he was snubbed by the local taxi drivers, anyway? I’ve never been to a town or city in the last 20 years where fewer than two-thirds of drivers were black.
Or “brown”, as Ellie would say.