Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010


"Japanese children are so well behaved," I told my sister last night. "Honestly. They`re so sweet and they`re not violent in the slightest."

And this morning they decided to attack each other.

Twenty five years, I`ve been playing What`s The Time, Mr Wolf. On and off, obviously. I`ve done things in between - sleeping, eating pizza - but assuming my first game was at roughly the age of four, and my last game (possibly ever) was this morning, that`s very nearly a quarter of a century of sporadically running away from wolves. Twenty five years, and today was the first time that any kind of school nurse has ever come out of her office, put her hands on her hips and given me a look that says: and they put you in charge of children?

This morning, my English lesson was like the Battle of Hastings, except I don`t think anybody is going to sew a tapestry about it. I walked them through the rules - get as close to me as you can, and when I spin round you have to run back to base before I catch you - but apparently what they heard was: this is a twenty minute opportunity to put your classmates in hospital. There was blood, there were tears, there were bitten lips, there was vague concussion. The cracks of little foreheads resonated around the playground, inevitably reaching the Headmaster`s office; the screams of pain were indistinguishable from the victory screams of those who had caused them. I had cunningly amended the language, in a half-hearted effort to teach them something ("What`s the time, Mr Wolf" was replaced with "What vegetable do you like?" and "It`s 2 o clock" became - ingenuinously and oddly, when screamed at top notch - "I like carrots"), but I don`t think one of the children had a clue what they were shouting. All they cared was that they were outside, it was sunny, and as soon as I spun round and shouted "Vegetables!" it meant: try and kill each other.

"You`re supposed to run back!" I kept shouting, having spun round as I was supposed to. "What are you all doing?"

Six of the girls were standing absolutely still in the middle of the playground, waiting to get `caught`. Three boys had disappeared in the wrong direction and were kicking the hell out of each other. Four children were lying, howling on the floor, and being jumped over by the unbothered remaining warriors. The rest were pushing, shoving, thumping, spinning each other around by their t-shirts, bleeding from the nose and creating as much noise as their vocal chords could muster. And after a lesson doing Japanese History, you can bet that they mustered a fair amount.

After five minutes, I gathered them together and tried to explain the rules again.

"When I turn round," I told them, via the power of charades, "you run back to base. In straight lines. Do you understand? Not in circles. Not over each other or under each other. Not around the playground. Not around me. Not via punching your friend. Just run in a normal, bog standard line. There is absolutely no need to be breaking each others noses. Okay?"
"Okay," they all said.

And then they promptly did it again. By the last ten minutes, I was simply picking up the wounded from the floor, moving them to the side, shouting "Harai, we`ve got another one" and going back to collect more. I felt a little bit like Forest Gump in the Vietnam war.

"I`m so sorry," I said afterwards to their teacher, bowing as low as I could. "I`m so, so sorry. I`ve never seen Mr Wolf turn into The Lord of the Flies so quickly."
"Oh, no," she reassured me, bowing back. "It was ... fun."
And then we both looked at a classroom full of bruised, bleeding, panting, howling children - clutching their legs, their ankles, their heads, the walls and shouting "again! Again, Holly Sensei! That was awesome!" - and decided, without actually saying anything, that we`d be playing Snap next lesson. Something involving cards and perhaps, if we are feeling risky, dice. Something that doesn`t involve cringing with my hands across my eyes, praying with every ounce of me that children don`t start dying in front of me.

As far as I know, What`s The Time, Mr Wolf is supposed to involve one wolf and lots of scared children; not lots of wolves and one scared teacher. And the blood and bruises are supposed to be imaginary: not real and in front of the school nurse.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that children are always little monsters, given the right conditions.

Even the sweet little Japanese ones.