Overheard in the street:* a parent (or guardian) and child:
Child: I’ve got a headache.
Parent: You don’t have a headache. You’re seven. You can only get headaches when you’re older.
Local news time: a teenager was murdered last week, just by the doorstep of Great Great Aunt Mabel’s house. Great Great Aunt Mabel didn’t have anything to do with it, though, as she died in 1983. Nevertheless, I’ve never been allowed to forget, by The Mother, every time we pass, who lived there. “That was your Nanna’s Auntie Mabel’s house, next to the bookmakers’”. My own memory of the house is at once faint and vivid: sneaking into the scullery to play with the coal in the coal-scuttle. Auntie Mabel was the last householder in the family still to use coal for heating, back in the heyday of post-punk and Scargill. She moved into a sheltered home a couple of years before she died; in my memory, the glass in the front doors of the home was always being smashed by vandals. She died cleaning; found on her hands and knees by her bed, still holding her dustpan and brush.
* Post House Wynd, Darlington, in case you were wondering
The big news of the day: convicted child-killer Ian Huntley will not get parole until at least 2042. It’s even bigger news here, because it counts as a Local Story. After lunch, it was all anybody in the office could talk about. According to legend, Huntley had done some business at the office a few years ago, whilst he still lived in the area. There’s no trace of it in our databases, but naturally everybody who has worked there since that time claimed they had a distinct memory of him, even though he would have been instinguishable, then, from almost everyone else who has rung the doorbell.
“Oooh, they should lock him up for good,” people said, “after what he did.” “Forty years isn’t enough!” said other people. Everyone seemed convinced: there was no way a 40-year-plus sentence was long enough for him. Everybody was very sure of themselves.
I kept quiet at the office, because I’m doomed to never feel sure of myself on issues like this. No doubt all these people talking are far more experienced than the judge, and no doubt they all know far more about Ian Huntley than the judge does too. Unfortunately, I don’t. I have no idea about criminal sentencing, and I’m entirely willing to admit that Mr Justice Moses probably knows much more about it than I do. All I know is that forty years and more is a very, very long time.