Meeting a monkey

May 2, 2013  |  reflection  |  Share

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I was on a train to Brighton a couple of weeks ago when an enormous, drawn out shout started coming from down the train in front of me. Slowly over the top of the seat emerged a pair of hands, then some arms, then a head, and finally the whole body of a boy of about six came toppling over and crashed onto the seat in front of me.

He shook himself off, and then poked his head through the gap between the two seats in front of me.

“Hello”, he said, grinning, “my monkey is strangling me.”. He then introduced me to the monkey (a toy) and we had an enjoyable chat for the next ten minutes or so about monkeys, what the motives of that particular monkey were, the trip he was going on and life in general.

The boys mother was a few seats down from me, keeping half an eye on him but completely comfortable with him striking up conversation with a total stranger and not looking like she had any intention of stepping in or making any comment on the situation. It struck me how unusual this was, and then how sad it is that such events are so unusual in the world I live in.

Even sadder was that the man sat next to me, who was probably in his early 20s, obviously found it really difficult and uncomfortable to join in with this conversation. Given my background I was happy to chat away with this boy, and I think in some senses I felt I had a fall back if someone questioned my motives, as if saying I was a teacher would make acceptable something that would otherwise not be seen as such.

My neighbouring traveller tried to join in, but seemed visibly unsettled by the ambiguity as to whether it was socially acceptable to engage with the conversation this child started. Had I not been there joining in I think he would have felt compelled to largely ignore him or to brush off his attempts to start a conversation.

The train arrived, the boy joined his mum to get their luggage together, and we got off. As I walked down the platform the boy shouted goodbye to me, I turned and waved, his mother smiled at me, and I was struck by the fact that I was walking away from a moment that should have been totally natural, yet was sadly remarkably unusual.

Image: CC BY NC SA Scorpions and Centaurs

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2 Comments


  1. Simon Wainwright

    Great story Oliver.

    What this seems to highlight is an assumption from adults that by talking to a child they will be considered by others to be innapropriate.

    I think in reality most people, as I’m sure there were on your train, will have thought nothing of a child having a conversation with an adult.

    We seem to have created a perceived anxiety of judgement by others. This has sadly resulted in childrens natural instinct to enquire, and share their world being suppressed by fear and uncertainty.

    All credit to you for engaging in a public space and also to his mother for allowing the freedom for her son to do what should come naturally to every child (and every adult too!).

  2. A lovely story and Simons response really resonates. Without wanting to sound too Byron-esque encounters like this should reaffirm what we are striving for in building a real social experience and education for our children. The world is no more dangerous than it was 50 years ago yet 24/7 global media convinces us otherwise. This fosters the premise “the world is amazing but a small portion of it can be dangerous so blocking all of it will safeguard my child” An argument sustained when defining oline safeguarding too and one being propogated by sections of government and media to determine technical filtering of domestic internet connections. Was watching Terence Davies lovely film The Long Day Closes, a pastiche of memories from post war childhood and of him as a boy standing outside a cinema asking strangers to take him in as the film was not a U-rated and he wanted to see it. Can you imagine that today?

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Oliver Quinlan: Learning, teaching, technology by Oliver Quinlan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.oliverquinlan.com.Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.oliverquinlan.com/blog