27 April 2014

The Pure Gold Baby

                    by Margaret Drabble

The children appear before us, the children of Stirling Hall Nursery and Plimsoll Primary and Highbury Barn. Ollie, Nick, Harry, Chloe, Ben, Polly, Becky Flora, Stuart, Josh, Tim, Tom . . .

We had all thought that Sally's Ollie was the bad boy, for whom we feared the worst, but Ollie, after years of teasing Anna and committing other minor misdemeanours, had made good. He now owns a company selling organic vegetables, and a chain of up-market market gardens. He pioneers new eco-friendly planet-preserving glossy shining crops whose leaves deflect and reflect the violent sun. He is a success story of our time.

Big brother Stuart was Sylvie's drop-out boy as a teenager, but he dropped in again, and he;s now a highly paid if moody and dark-tempered barrister. He wears old-fashioned clothes but sports a pigtail. It's a strong message, a strong look.

It was pretty Josh Raven who had hit the headlines, for all the wrong reasons.

I'm afraid to say that we blamed Sylvie and Rick Raven for taking Joshua out of the state schools, to which we were all so loyal, and sending him to a private school, where he was bound to get into the wrong set. How smug we were and how self[righteous. What ideological prigs we were. Yes, he got into the wrong set -- drugs, theft, fraud, remand, court, conviction, jail. The choir-boy turned crook, the toxic luminous lamb, the public-school swindler. It was quite a story. We blamed the school, we blamed Sylvie and Rick for sending him there. The had to blame somebody. It was hard to blame Josh, whom we had known when he was so very little, when he was in a state of grace, before he went to the bad. We had known him as a baby in a pushchair, as an angel in a nativity play, as a child gazing rapt at modest indoor fireworks at Christmas. There had been no harm in him then, no sign of Original Sin.

Young Harry Grigson, Harry with the strawberry birth mark on this face, had also been blame less. But at the age of twenty he had climbed into the lions' den at London Zoo in Regent's Park, confident that he could lie down with the lion like a lamb. There was no harm in that faith, only delusion. The lion mauled him and he nearly died. He now spends his days in an institution, on one of those many institutions. It is not as pleasant as Halliday Hall was in the old days. The doctors say he is schizophrenic, but what is in a word? He is heavily medicated. We don't know if he still hears voices. We haven't seen him in years

* * * * * *

Our little children, what becomes of them? They set off so innocently on their long journey. It is hard to bear, it is hard to grow old and see the children age and suffer. It is hard to see them grow bald, and estranged, and some of them lonely.

* * * * * *

from Margaret Drabble, The Pure Gold Baby (2013).

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