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As Time Goes By: Childhood Wonderland

Eileen Perrin, recalling her 1920s childhood, awakens hundreds of memories in one luxuriously well-packed paragraph.

Look out for more from Eileen in a fortnight's time.

How can we teach the children to become more aware, to become more caring? I see so many youngsters, when I am in London visitng museums. They are so wrapped up with their chatterbox friends, oblivious to what is around them.

At best, they are trying to make something from their set project, often not of too much interest to them. But mainly thinking about what they can buy to eat or take home.

I count myself fortunate that in childhood I was shown every kind of thing, to wonder at and think about. What a vast miscellany.

The way a bee is hidden as it goes into an antirrhinum flower; the state of the tide along the Embankment; Cleopatra's Needle; clogs worn by the crew on Dutch ships tying up at wharves near London Bridge; swifts under eaves; shop signs; shapes and names of loaves; different kinds of cheese; buttercups and daisies from a train window; eels, kippers and smoked haddock - how they are smoked; the use of the long sharpening steel hanging from a butcher's waist; Piccadilly flower-sellers out in all weathers; sweeps (black from head to foot); how to clean shoes; how to disbud chrysanthemums; the hot potato man and the chestnut seller with glowing fire baskets on their barrows; the winkles and watercress man on Sunday mornings; an old ex-WW1 seaman who played Italian love songs on a battered gramophone that rested on a pram; peanut shells crunched on the floor under the seats at the music hall; children standing outside pubs late at night; sugar weighed up in thick blue paper bags; tea in giant black tins on high shelves in Talintyres grocer's; small round baskets of cracked eggs at Sainsbury's; and the postman's special knock.

Not distracted everlastingly by a TV screen, I had time by myself in quiet rooms to think, eventually reading books the psychology of human behaviour. These led me to the beginning of understanding myself and others.

Children need to be taught to look; to be aware of everything around them; to see the bad as well as the good, and, by learning to question, come to care about everything.



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