Jigs and Reels/The Spectator

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== The Spectator ==naraina


Not long ago, at the height of the media paedophik frenzy, a pensioner friend was attacked by a neighbour. The reason? Because he liked to take his daily walk past the school playing fields and watch the children playing football. This harmless old man was so frightened by the attack, which was vicious and unprovoked, that he now hardly ever leaves his house at all. I find this more depressing than words can say. All over the country, it seems that children are being taught to see all strangers as potential aggressors; and more and more adults are karning to give children a wide berth in the fear that they may fall under suspicion. This story owes much to Ray Bradbury's haunting tale, 'The Pedestrian .

"Недавно, на почве всеобщих волнений по поводу педофилии, произошел такой случай: на одного пенсионера напал его сосед. А почему? Потому что тому нравилось прогуливаться каждый день мимо школьных спортплощадок и смотреть, как дети играют в футбол. Этот безобидный пожилой человек был настолько напуган неоправданным жестоким нападением, что теперь и вовсе почти не выходит из дома. Создается впечатление, что по всей стране детей приучают видеть в любом незнакомце потенциального агрессора, а взрослые все больше стараются держаться от детей подальше, чтобы не попасть ненароком под подозрение. Эта история многим обязана захватывающему рассказу Рэя Бредбери "Пешеход"."

EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING AT TEN-THIRTY, MR LEONARD

Meadowes would put on his overcoat, his red scarf and his ancient trilby and set out on his daily constitutional. Past the corner shop, where he would buy a copy of The Times and occasionally a quarter of Murray Mints or Yorkshire Mixture - past the deserted churchyard with its lopsided gravestones and thick wreaths of hemlock and trailing convolvulus, past the charity shop where he bought most of his clothes, across a main road blaring with traffic, through the small wood where he used to walk his dog, and into the lane which bordered onto the school playing fields. He wore trainers for the walk, as much for comfort as for discretion, and if the weather was fine, he would sit on the wall for twenty minutes or so and observe the children at play before turning back through the wood in the direction of Dare's cafe and his usual buttered toast and pot of tea.

Каждый день ровно в десять тридцать утра, за исключением выходных, мистер Леонард Медоус надевал плащ, красный шарф и древнюю фетровую шляпу, а затем начинал свой ежедневный моцион. Мимо магазинчика на углу, где он обычно покупал газету Таймс и - иногда - горсть леденцов Мюррэй Минтс или Йоркшир Миксчер; мимо пустынного кладбища с покосившимися надгробиями и толстыми венками из болиголова и кудрявых вьюнков; мимо магазина подержаных вещей, где он покупал большую часть своей одежды; пересекая главную дорогу, оглушающую автомобильным ревом; сквозь небольшой парк, где он, бывало, гулял с собакой, - и на аллею, проходящую мимо школьных спортплощадок. Для прогулки он надевал спортивные штаны, которые были не только удобны, но и практичны, и, если погода позволяла, он сидел минут двадцать на перегородке, наблюдая за играющими детьми, а затем поворачивал обратно через парк по направлению к кафе Дэарз, где его ждал привычный поджаренный бутерброд с маслом и чайник чая.

Today, in late October, the sun was shining, and there was a smoky sweetness in the air like falling leaves. One of those perfect days of which the English autumn has so few, sun-warmed like an apricot, tangled with blackberries, crunchy as cornflakes underfoot. Here by the playing fields it was quiet; a dry-stone wall at the edge of the trees marked the boundary, and beyond it the grass was still summer sweet and freckled with daisies, rolling gently down a soft incline towards a square brick building shining mellow in the sunlight.

В этот день светило позднее октябрьское солнце, а в воздухе туманной дымкой витал сладковатый запах опадающих листьев. Один из тех дней, которых так мало дарит английская осень, солнечно-теплый, как абрикос, с вкраплениями ежевики и хрустящий, словно хлопья под ногами. Здесь, возле спортплощадок, было тихо; каменная стенка по краю парка обозначала границу поля, а за ней трава все еще сверкала летней свежестью и веснушками ромашек, мягко сбегая по склону к подножию квадратного кирпичного здания, окрашенного солнцем в теплый дынный цвет.

Ten-fifty-five. In five minutes, he told himself, it would be break-time, and children would shoot from the school's four doorways like fireworks - red, blue, neon-green - hair flying, socks at half-mast, voices raised and soaring like kites into the soft golden air. Twenty minutes of break-time: of freedom from rules and constructions; of fights and bloody noses, treasures lost and bartered, outlaws and heroes and whispered rebellions and shrieking, dappled, grubby-kneed bliss.

Десять пятьдесят пять. Через пять минут, сказал он себе, будет перемена, и дети вырвутся из четырех дверей школы, как праздничные фейерверки, - красные, синие, неоново-зеленые - с развевающимися волосами, приспущенными носочками, а голоса взмывают, как воздушные змеи, прямо в небо. Двадцать минут перемены. Двадцать минут свободы от правил и уставов. Время драк и разбитых носов, проигранных и обменянных сокровищ, изгоев и героев, мятежных заговоров и визга - воплощенное счастье с исцарапанными коленками.

Once, Mr Meadowes had himself been a teacher. Thirty years in the classroom, in the smell of chalk and cabbage and mown grass and socks and wood-polish and life. Of course, in this year of 2023 there were no more teachers after all, computers were far safer and more efficient - but the school still looked so familiar, so real in the sweet October light that he could almost ignore the chain-link fence that reared mightily above the little wall and ran all the way around the playing field, the lightning-bolt electrification symbol and the lettered warning - school


- NO UNACCOMPANIED ADU LTS - bolted to the post.

But Mr Meadowes was remembering his own classrooms; the scarred wooden floors stained purple with ink and polished to a lethal gloss by generations of young feet; the passageways soft with blackboard dust; the flying staircases of books; the graffitied desks with their furtive slogans; the crumpled worksheets, confiscated cigarettes, copied homework, arcane messages, and other forgotten artefacts of that lost and long-ago state of grace.

Когда-то мистер Медоус и сам был учителем. Тридцать лет, проведенных в классе, среди запахов мела и капусты, подстриженного газона, носочков, мастики для пола и жизни. Конечно сейчас, в 2023 году, учителей больше нет - компьютеры гораздо надежнее и эффективнее, но под этим теплым октябрьском солнцем школа выглядела настолько родной, настолько реальной, что металлическая сетка, натянутая над маленькой стенкой вокруг всего поля оставалась почти незамеченной, как и табличка на столбе со знаком электрификации - молнией - и предупреждением: ПОСТОРОННИМ ВЗРОСЛЫМ ВХОД ВОСПРЕЩЕН.

Of course, it wasn't really like that: nowadays each pupil had a workstation with a plastic desktop, a voice-activated monitor, an electronic pen and a computer-generated tutor with an ageless and intelligent face (a prototype selected from thousands of designs by the Centre for Generational Awareness to inspire confidence and respect). All lessons were taken from the workstation -- even practicals were performed under virtual conditions. In the barbaric old


105 �JIGS & REEL?


days, children had been scalded by steam during poorly supervised cookery lessons, acid-burned in chemistry, had their bones broken in various sports, skinned their knees in asphalt playgrounds and were bullied and victimized in countless ways by their human teachers. Nowadays, all children were safe. So safe, in fact, that sightings had become quite uncommon. And yet they still looked much the same as he remembered, thought Mr Meadowes. They sounded the same. What, then, had changed?

Mr Meadowes was so deep in his thoughts that he did not notice the sound of a security van approaching along the lane, or hear the recorded alarm-signal - Children! Danger! Children! -- as it clattered towards him. It was only when the vehicle stopped right in front of him, its turret light strobing, that he saw it and was startled from his thoughts.

'Don't move! Stop right there!' said a metallic voice from inside the van.

Mr Meadowes took his hands out of his pockets so fast that his bag of sweets spilled out, scattering across the lane like coloured marbles. Beyond the chain-link fence, the children were coming quietly out of the school buildings in twos and threes, some huddled over electronic gamesets, some glancing curiously at the security vehicle with its illuminated turret and the old, old man in the battered trilby with his hands raised and his palms outstretched like an actor in one of those old films, where everyone was in black and white, and men on horseback held up stagecoaches and Martians stalked the barren lands with Death Rays at the ready.


106 �THE SPECTATOR


'Your name?' demanded" the vehicle stridently.

Mr Meadowes told it, keeping his hands clearly visible at all times.

'Business or profession?'

'I'm - a teacher,' admitted Mr Meadowes.

There was a whirring sound from inside the vehicle. 'No business or profession,' said the metallic voice. 'Marital status?'

'Er - I'm not married,' said Mr Meadowes. 'I did have a dog, but--'

'Unmarried,' intoned the vehicle. Though the robot voice was completely uninflected, Mr Meadowes seemed to hear a kind of disapproval in the word. 'Can you explain to me, Mr Meadowes, your purpose in loitering outside a clearly marked restricted area?'

'I was just walking,' he said.

'Walking.'

'I like to walk,' explained Mr Meadowes. 'I like to watch the children playing.'

'And have you ever done this before?' said the machine. 'This walking and watching?'

'Every day,' he replied, 'for fifteen years.'

There was a long, hissing silence. 'And are you aware, Mr Meadowes, that personal contact (including physical, audiovisual, virtual or electronic) between an unsupervised adult and a child or young person (that being defined as any person under the age of sixteen) is strictly prohibited under the terms of Clause 9 of the Generations Act of 2008?'


107 �JIGS & REELS


'I like to hear their voices,' said Mr Meadowes. 'It makes me feel young.'

The silence from the machine was somehow even more damning than its toneless voice. Mr Meadowes remembered a rumour (from the old days, before the things had become so familiar that no-one even noticed them any more) that the security vans were controlled remotely from a central computer, without the input of a single human operative. 'Surely there can't be any harm in that,' he said helplessly. 'I mean - don't we all enjoy watching children at play?'

There came a new sound from inside the vehicle and a door opened, revealing a metal-panelled interior. 'Get in, please,' ordered the robotic voice.

'But I haven't done anything wrong,' protested Mr Meadowes.

'Get in, please,' repeated the voice.

Mr Meadowes hesitated for a moment, then entered the van. It was a small, dark metal box with a tiny window of reinforced glass, a bench in the middle and a grille set into the back panel to protect the operating system. 'Now if you had a child of your own--' said the voice, and Mr Meadowes realized that, after all, there was a man in the driver's seat on the other side of the grille; a man with a microphone and an electronic clipboard who looked at him with disgust and a furtive kind of pity before turning back to the controls.

The door closed softly. The vehicle set off again along the lane, and the light that filtered through the grille was freckled and golden. The man in the driver's seat did


108 �THE SPECTATOR


not turn round again, ev"en* when Mr Meadowes addressed him.

'Where are we going?' asked Mr Meadowes at last.

'To the Centre for Research on Generational and Psychosexual Maladjustment.'

They passed down the lane and through the little wood; across the main road where his dog had been run over, eighteen months before; past the streets of identical terraced houses - his own among them - and the arcades of identical trees. They drove right out of the city, along a broad, sweeping expressway lined with multicoloured billboards behind which, every now and then, Mr Meadowes glimpsed the familiar and all-engulfing concrete rubble of the wastelands.

A few minutes later, they passed a row of derelict buildings. A church - closed now for safety reasons, like all others; an old flat-screen cinema; a couple of bookshops; the remains of a park with swings and a bandstand; and at the end of the row, a large and still-lovely building of soot-mellowed stone, bearing the faded sign: St Oswald's Grammar School for Boys: 1890-2008.

'That's my school,' said Mr Meadowes as they passed.

In silence, the van rushed on.