A story that Mixes fact and fiction, humour and serious topics, by Diana Holbourn
So far, only about two thirds of the story is here. This is a work in progress. It's really still in draft form; it needs to be proof-read before it can be finalised. Still, it's not bad.
Part One: Becky's Life From Birth to University at Six Years Old
Becky's mum talks so much that Becky had already learned to talk quite well by the time she was born, which was not all that long after the start of the new millennium. She taught herself in the womb - we think she must have done; and we're guessing she managed it because of the amount her mum talks, but we can't be entirely sure. There might have been a bit more to it. But mere seconds after she came out of her mother, she said, "That journey was the worst experience of my life! Now what's this scary place I've been rudely pushed out into?"
Becky's mum was shocked to hear her talk, and so were the nurses and doctors. It was all the more remarkable because she'd arrived three weeks before she was due. Every one of them thought they must be going mad. But mother-love must have been stronger than the shock, because Becky's mum picked her up and gave her a cuddle. Becky said, "That's better. But what's this 'milk' stuff I've heard you raving about, saying you'll give me some? Let's try it."
Her mum couldn't believe what she was hearing. But she was young and inexperienced, and wondered if she'd missed out on a bit of education at school where the other kids learned that babies can sometimes talk straight from the womb. She'd never known it before. Certainly her little brother hadn't done that; he hadn't talked till well after his first birthday. But she thought perhaps boys were just a bit slower than girls. But then she asked a nurse, who said she'd never known a baby talk that soon either, and that it was unnatural.
Becky's mum, possibly still in a drugged haze from the pain-killing medication she'd been given while she was giving birth, thought a name that meant 'Unnatural' would be appropriate for her new daughter in that case, but she couldn't think of a name that meant that, so she settled for calling her Rebecca instead, a name that apparently has something to do with a tendency to tie knots in bits of string. Later she was glad she'd called her that, since she realised a name that meant 'unnatural' sounded uncomplimentary.
When Becky's mum took her out of the hospital, Becky was scared. She'd been used to living in a tightly enclosed warm dark little space in her mum, and now she felt lost in this totally different environment. Neither her English nor her understanding of the world had developed enough by then for her to have understood what her mum and the nurses had been talking about when they'd said she'd be going home soon. As her mum walked outside the hospital with her in her arms, Becky said in alarm, "Mum, what the heck is going on here?"
Becky's mum was startled; she didn't use language like 'heck'! She wondered where Becky could have learned it from. She thought it must have been either her eldest sister or one of her brothers, who must have been talking very loudly one day before Becky was born.
As Becky looked around her in the coming days, she saw people walking around, and thought, "I'd love to be able to do that!" So she asked her mum to teach her.
Her mum said, "I think you're too young to walk; you can't even hold your head up by yourself yet. Your muscles aren't strong enough. I'll teach you when you're ready."
Becky wasn't sure what her mum was saying, but thought it must have something to do with not being strong; and though she didn't like to hear it, because there were two strong things she had already developed - her will and her pride in her abilities, - she had to concede that her mum had a point. So she said, "OK, just teach me to walk a few steps holding onto you for support."
Her mum tried, holding her up, shuffling very slowly around the floor on her bottom so she could easily reach her, trying hard not to jerk her off balance as she moved. Between them, they actually succeeded after a while to enable Becky to walk a few tiny slow steps. Then Becky insisted they try and go further; so they did. Becky insisted and insisted all day, so they carried on practising, till her mum thought she could do with a break from such persistent insistence. But still, by the end of the day, Becky was managing to hobble gradually around the room on her little legs, with her mum carefully holding her up for support. Her mum was very proud of what she'd achieved, and praised her for her progress.
Becky had found it tiring though after a while, so she decided it would be best to stop insisting on walking from then on, and just lie back and let her mum do all the work of getting her around and fetching and carrying for her till her muscles were stronger.
Becky's English was far from perfect; after all, how could it have been very good when so many of the words people use are for things she'd never seen in her life. Besides, she hadn't heard the words all that clearly in the womb, what with all the gurgling going on in her mother's stomach and the sound of her heart beating. She'd had to work things out as best she could. But there were some early misunderstandings after her mum brought her home from hospital.
For instance, when she was still in her mum's womb, she'd always noticed that the gurgling sounds coming from her mum's stomach increased after she said words like 'dinner', and she assumed that after people said those words, they must have to say the following words making that sound, because she didn't realise they were only involuntary stomach rumblings, not at all made deliberately. So sometimes in the few weeks after her mum brought her home, after she used the word 'dinner' herself, Becky tried to imitate those noises as best she could. Her mum laughed. Becky didn't understand why. Soon though, she noticed that her mum didn't make any noises like that after all - at least none that were audible from outside her - after she said words like 'dinner', so she thought the noises must just be private noises, only audible to people on the inside; and she stopped trying to imitate them.
After a while, Becky got used to her new world, and began to enjoy it sometimes.
When Becky was a few weeks old, her mum was having dinner one day, when Becky said, "How come You get lots of different foods to eat, but all you give me is milk? Milk for breakfast, milk for dinner and milk for tea. I want something different sometimes. I like milk, but it would be nice to try eating some of what you eat."
Her mum told her she was too young, that it would be months before she could start eating the same kinds of food as her, because her digestive system wasn't developed enough.
Becky said, "OK, but then, could I have milk that tastes of your food sometimes? Tell you what: Eat foods with very strong flavours, and then maybe the flavours will come out in your milk; it'll still be milk, but it'll be a bit more similar to the foods you're eating."
Becky was already displaying the imagination that would later lead her to invent a couple of things, and come up with ideas for solutions to some of the world's problems.
Her mum said, "But you don't even know if you'd like strong flavours!"
Becky said, "But they're not going to be as strong once they've travelled all the way into your milk, are they, once they've been diluted by whatever else is in it, and by whatever else they get diluted with while they're travelling down your digestive system. I mean, I bet you eat lots of things that taste of things I don't even get any of the flavour of now. Your milk often tastes the same, even though you have different things for dinner. So if you eat strong flavours, I might taste them better, but I'll probably only be able to taste them a little bit. It might still be nice though."
So at Becky's insistence, her mum started eating garlic, curries, and other foods that have got strong flavours, even ones she didn't much like. The adults around her protested at her garlic breath; but Becky announced that she was pleased with the new flavours coming out in her mum's milk.
A few weeks later, Becky's mum one day sat her on her lap in front of the kitchen cupboards, pointed to everything in them in turn, and told her the names of them. Not satisfied with that knowledge, Becky asked what was in each kind of food. Her mum said, "If I told you, you wouldn't understand. You wouldn't know what those things are. I don't even know what some of them are myself!"
Becky said a little impatiently, "It wouldn't matter; I could find out on the Internet."
Her mum kissed her and said, "But you don't know how to use the Internet. You're only about a month old!"
Becky told her mum to teach her how to use it.
Her mum tried to think of how she could first teach Becky to type, and then show her what to do on the Internet - or would she have to teach her to read first, she wondered. It seemed a huge task, but Becky insisted she wanted to start learning that very day.
Then Becky told her to tell her what was in the foods in her cupboards, so that when she'd learned to use the Internet, she could look up what they were. Her mum doubted very much that Becky would remember any of them in five minutes, let alone after the months of lessons that would surely go into teaching her to use the Internet. But obediently she picked up a packet of food, and started reading the food label.
Becky realised she was reading from the packet, and had an idea, saying: "Hey! If the packets in your cupboard have labels with the ingredients of the food in them, how come there aren't labels on your breasts to tell me what the ingredients of the milk I'm drinking are? I think there should be some."
Her mum said, "But milk is just milk. Just one thing."
Becky said, "It can't be. You can make your breast milk taste vaguely of different things by eating different foods, so there must be different ingredients in there every day. I want you to put labels on your breasts every day telling me what ingredients are in your milk that day."
Her mum said, "But you wouldn't be able to read them. Anyway, I don't know what bits of the food I eat end up in my breast milk. It would take a scientist to work that one out."
Becky said, "I don't know what a scientist is, but if you can buy them in the shops, let's go and get one."
Her mum said, "No, they're people."
Then Becky pointed to some bulbs of garlic, and asked what was in them. Her mum said she didn't know - they were just garlic, not made up of ingredients; a garlic plant just grew them.
Becky said, "But they must contain ingredients! This is like just now when you said breast milk was only one thing, and I proved it isn't. I bet you're making the same mistake again. What are plants made of?"
Her mum said she didn't know, and Becky insisted she look it up on the Internet and then explain it to her. So her mum tried.
That day, her mum started teaching Becky to read and type. It took months, but by the end of that, Becky could use the Internet herself, and understand quite a bit of what she read there.
When Becky's mum first took Becky to a mother and baby group, Becky tried to strike up friendly conversations with the other babies. When none would talk to her, she was a bit upset, and protested to her mum, "They don't want to be my friends! They won't talk to me."
Becky's mum explained to her that none of the other babies knew how to talk yet, telling her she was very unusual.
The other mums heard Becky talk, and were amazed. One felt sure it was a trick - she thought Becky's mum had probably imitated the voice of a baby, and recorded herself saying things, and hidden the device she'd used on Becky, and it was now playing back. She picked Becky up, and started looking inside her clothes, and feeling her all over carefully, like a prison officer might when searching a prisoner for contraband.
Becky indignantly shouted, "Oy! Get off!" Since her mum was talking at the same time, the mum searching her knew Becky's mum couldn't be some kind of super-powered ventriloquist, and that no recording could respond to new situations as they happened like Becky just had. So she had to accept that Becky really could talk.
The other mums asked Becky's mum how on earth Becky managed to talk when she was so young! Becky's mum said she had no idea, but that maybe it was because she talked so much herself that Becky had managed to teach herself in the womb before she was born.
A few months later, Becky's mum took Becky to the doctor to have some vaccinations. Becky didn't like the sound of the procedure at all! They saw a new doctor who didn't know Becky could talk.
The doctor was about to give Becky an injection, when she shouted, "Why do you have to stick that thing in me? Surely in this day and age they should have invented a way of giving vaccinations without hurting people!"
The doctor was shocked. He jumped and staggered backwards, dropping the syringe on the floor. Scared he was losing his mind and imagining things like babies talking before they were even toddlers, he blundered out of the room quickly, not looking where he was going. He just thought he had to get away!
As he rushed out, he bumped into a nurse who was carrying some bottles of blood and used syringes, having just done some blood tests. The bottles and syringes flew out of her hands and fell to the floor, as the doctor lost his balance and fell over. Some of the blood splashed up onto the feet of the local rampant hypochondriac, who was there for the fifth time that week to complain that he was scared his cold might turn into the dreaded flesh-eating necrotising fasciitis virus and start eating him alive. He looked down and saw drops of blood on his shoes, and thought he must have some other terrible disease. He screamed! He rushed into the doctor's surgery, leaping over the doctor in his rush, who was still lying on the floor. It was as if he'd suddenly forgotten the doctor was the person he was supposed to be speaking to, and just thought speaking in the surgery was the important thing to do.
As soon as he was inside the surgery door, even though the doctor was still outside it, lying behind him, he shouted, "I must be dying! I must be dying! Look! My feet have got a terrible bleeding disease!"
Becky had seen everything that had happened, and said to him, "Don't be silly! It's just some of the blood that splashed onto your shoes when the nurse dropped the bottles of blood she was carrying after she must have done a vampire act and sucked the blood from some poor patients! Terrible things seem to go on in here!"
The hypochondriac was shocked to hear a baby talking, and thought there must be something even worse wrong with him, some hideous brain disorder that made him imagine things! Scared, he rushed out of the door, just in time to knock the doctor over, who was just getting up after having fallen over before when he bumped into the nurse. The doctor landed on his foot. He was still scared he had a hideous bleeding disease, and felt sure that would make it worse, so he shouted, "Ouch! Hooligan! What did you do that for? I think you must be trying to kill your patients! I'm never coming to this surgery again!"
With that, he rushed out of the surgery. The doctor got up, a little bruised, but thinking to himself that at least one good thing had come of the chaos.
Becky's mum reassured him that he didn't have to be scared when Becky spoke to him; she was just unusual and had learned to talk very early. He thought that was strange, but accepted it, thinking that if it meant that chronic hypochondriacs were scared away, it had to be a good thing.
Though Becky was very advanced in some ways, she still did quite a lot of things ordinary babies do. It's just that she could explain why she was doing them, unlike most babies, who just scream or laugh or spit and so on.
For instance, when her mum first tried to feed her baby food, the first time she'd ever had solids, Becky picked up the plate and threw it across the room. That's a common baby thing to do. But Becky explained,
"That food tastes horrible! And how do you expect me to chew those bits up when I'm not used to it - and what are those bits anyway? I don't think I'll like food with bits in! Your breast milk doesn't have bits in! At least not usually. Why are you making me eat stuff with bits in? ... And anyway, throwing it across the room is fun. Look at it all smeared up the walls."
Becky burst out laughing.
Her mum eventually persuaded her to eat baby food, and then to move on to adult foods. She grew to love some things, especially sugary ones.
As Becky listened to the family talked, she picked up quite a bit of information about the world around her.
When she was nearly a year old, her mum said to her one day, "How would you like a baby brother or sister?"
Becky said, "No thanks. Just think how noisy this house would be! I mean, I make enough noise myself crying and having tantrums; what would it be like with two of us?"
Her mum smiled and said, "You've got a point there. But if I ever do have another baby, they might be a good playmate for you. Tell you what: how about if I let you name him or her? What name will you choose?"
Becky said, "Well there are a lot of names that I just think are silly. Flower names for example; why would anyone name a kid after a flower? All flowers do is stand there all day looking pretty. If I had a kid, I'd want it to do far more than that, using lots of talents and skills. Tell you what. Here are some baby names I think would be good. What about:
"'Hope you're good at maths'?
'I want you to be an engineer'?
'Make lots of money and spend it on the family'?
'Top of the class with any luck'?
"How about one of those, Mum?"
Becky's mum didn't really like the sound of any of them. But she thought there would probably be plenty of time for Becky to think of other names, so she didn't argue.
Becky's first birthday was coming up, and her mum asked her what present she'd like. Becky said,
"I'd like a chair you can sit on and pull a string, and it flies way up in the air and you can fly across the tops of all the houses looking down at them, and then it'll fly over the sea so you can see what it's like and all the diddy seagulls below you, and then it just comes back again, without you having to do anything, when you've had an adventure."
Becky's mum said a person would have to be brave to fly in one of those, but that she doubted such a thing existed, and asked Becky what other present she'd like.
Becky said, "OK, I'd like a little car that you can teach me how to drive, so I can go on the roads with everyone else, faster than everyone else!"
Her mum said she didn't think that would be possible, and asked her what else she'd like.
Becky said, "OK, I'd like a cloud shooter, so when it rains or it's all cloudy and I want the sun to shine, I can shoot all the clouds out of the sky so the sun will come out."
Her mum said she was sorry but she didn't think that was possible either. She asked what else she'd like.
Becky said, "Allright, I want lots of bottles of a special liquid I can drink when I've been eating chocolate and other nice food, and it will stop me feeling full so I can eat a lot more. Or even better, it'll put all the nice things I've been eating back together again and make them come back into my mouth as good as new and I can eat them all again. Or maybe it can be something I can pour on the table and it forms into nice sweets I can eat."
Becky's mum shook her head and said she was sorry but she didn't think such things had ever been invented.
Becky said, "OK, just buy me some sweets then. ... And toys. ... And colouring books. ... And reading books. ... And paints."
Her mum said she would.
There were several babies in the house on Becky's first birthday. They had great fun running around the place. They were all shouting and screaming with laughter, and sometimes temper. Becky thought the noise didn't sound as bad as she'd imagined it would, and said to her mum, "Mum, I've decided that I wouldn't mind you having another baby after all; and if you're going to, don't just have one; that might be a bit boring. Have about seven at once for me to play with."
A few days after Becky's first birthday, her mum felt sure she could handle going to school, she was so advanced. So she wrote a letter to the education authority, saying she wanted her 1 year-old in school because she was very bright. To her disappointment, she just got a short letter back telling her to be patient and wait till Becky was the proper age. So she visited them. She wanted them to see Becky in person, so they'd have evidence that she was bright enough to go to school.
An education officer spoke to her. At first when she said her baby could talk and do other things that meant she was bright enough to start school even though she was only 1, he thought, "What kind of a crackpot have we got here!" But then, Becky started talking.
She said, "Did you drop your lunch today? You've got a blob of what looks like peanut butter on your desk! And you've got a coffee stain on your sleeve. You have been careless today! What happened, did you accidentally dip your shirt in your cup when you leaned over to get something?"
The education officer didn't know whether to be astonished or embarrassed! He said, "Gosh, you have got a bright child!"
Becky's mum asked, "Does that mean you'll let her go to school?"
The education officer said, "It isn't just me that makes the decision; I'd have to speak to others. Anyway, she'll need to have a basic knowledge of other things besides talking." He decided to give Becky a few tests:
He asked her, "Becky, what's 1 and 1?"
Becky said, "One and one what?"
The education officer replied, "1 and 1 anything."
Becky said, "Oh, two anythings, I suppose."
The education officer decided to try something slightly different, and asked Becky to count to five.
Becky said, "Why, do you want me to smack you? Why, what have you done? When my grandma counts to five, it means she's saying I'd better stop what I'm doing quickly because it's naughty, and that if I haven't stopped by the time she gets to five she'll smack me. What are you doing that you want me to make you stop?"
Her mum was embarrassed, and a bit worried that the officer might report the family to social services, who might take Becky away, so she quickly said to reassure him, "She doesn't smack people hard."
The education officer thought she meant that Becky doesn't smack people hard, and said, as his face went red with embarrassment, "I don't care! I don't want her to smack me at all!"
Then he decided to give Becky a different type of test, and said, "Would you like to draw me a picture? I'll get up and you can use my desk."
Becky said, "Great! I can draw on your desk? Mummy doesn't let me draw on the furniture, or anywhere except on paper. I drew a nice picture on the wall by the phone once, and she told me off and rubbed it straight out! I was annoyed. It was a good picture!"
The education officer was even more embarrassed, and so was Becky's mum. The officer blushed some more, and said, "Ahem, sorry, I meant I'll put some paper on my desk, and you can draw on that."
Becky drew a picture of a monster, and said, "This is my mum first thing in the morning."
Her mum didn't know whether to be even more embarrassed, or whether to laugh, or be annoyed; so she somehow managed to do a bit of all three.
The education officer was impressed, and said, "Wow, I think Becky really could go to school. But there might still be a few problems: Even if Becky can do the work, she'll be too small to be able to compete well with other members of her class when they do sports; and when they do team games in P.E. and things, no one will want her on their team, because she won't be able to compete with their opponents as well as the rest of them can; so she might get to hate exercise, and feel left out and lonely; and if she's put off exercise, she'll get unhealthy. It's far healthier if she plays and does sports with kids of her own age."
So they agreed that Becky would go to school for most of each day, but her mum would take her out sometimes each week to go to mother and toddler groups, and other activities for toddlers. Also it was decided that her mum would stay with her all the time at school to protect her from any rough play or bullying, since she was so much smaller than the other kids.
Even though she missed a bit of school, from the time Becky first went to school a few months after her first birthday, she was always top of the class.
A few weeks after she went to school, they moved her up a class, because she kept saying, "I learned all that months ago!", when the teacher tried to teach her to read and write and do sums and things.
The first day she was at school, she got a bit hungry. Her mum was still breast-feeding her a couple of times a day, being fond of breast-feeding, and not wanting to give it up till Becky was a bit older; and she got out a breast in the classroom and began to feed her. All the other kids stopped what they were doing and clustered round to watch, some shouting, "Can I have some milk?" The teacher didn't like the disruption to her class, and asked Becky's mum to go out if she wanted to breast-feed her in future. Reluctantly she agreed.
But despite interruptions to lessons for a breast-feed or two a day from then on for a while, Becky was a success at school. When she moved up to the next class, she became top of that too.
And when Becky went to the mother and toddler groups, she taught some of the other toddlers what she was learning in school, when they weren't bashing each other with toy cars and things. In fact, aggression levels dropped as they tried to concentrate on what she was trying to teach them.
From the time Becky first went to school at the age of one, she was such a quick learner she kept having to be transferred to a higher class, three in one year! At first, the children in each new class thought it was strange having someone so young learning with them, but they got used to it.
Becky learned much more quickly than everyone else. But sometimes, she made things awkward or embarrassing for the teachers.
For instance, one day they were learning maths, and the teacher asked her, "If you filled a bath up to a nice level which was 90 litres, and the water was flowing in at eight litres a minute, but running out at five litres per minute, how long would it take you to fill the bath up?"
Becky replied, "What? For one thing, my mummy runs my baths, not me; and for another, if she ran my bath and the water was just going down the plug hole, I wouldn't say, 'Oh, this bath's going to take a long time to fill up; I'll just calculate how long it'll take, and then can I go and play for however long it'll take, Mum?' I'd say, 'Silly Mummy, you've forgotten to put the plug in!'"
The teacher was a little embarrassed, and said, "Ah, yes, maybe. But we're not talking about reality here; just pretend these questions make sense and work out the maths."
In a history lesson, the teacher asked Becky, "Who won the Battle of Hastings?"
Becky replied, "Which one? Why do people talk as if there was only one? There might have been lots over the years. For instance, me and my mum's brother Philip had a mini one last year; we'd gone to the beach, and I'd built a lovely big sandcastle. Philip came along and clumsily kicked it, and it fell to bits! I was annoyed, so I chased him into the sea. I chased him quite far, till my mum rushed in to get me, because she was worried I'd get out of my depth and drown. But Philip carried on going. Then a wave came, and he jumped as it got him, and his swimming trunks slipped off. It was hilarious! He was too embarrassed to come out of the sea till we found them! I think I won that battle!"
Every year, each class in the school did a nativity play. The first Christmas Becky was there, she was so much smaller than the others, they made her baby Jesus, even though she was a girl, and a bit too big to look like a newborn. She just had to lie in a crib on straw, and cry or do a bit of baby talk from time to time.
They were in the middle of the play, with all the parents watching, when one child accidentally moved a bit of straw, and it nearly went up Becky's nose and made her sneeze. Suddenly, the parents heard little baby Jesus shout, "Oy, watch what you're doing with that straw!"
Back in class, Becky and the others were having a German lesson one day, when they learned that the word for poison in German is 'gift'. Becky thought that was funny. She'd learned that privet hedges are poisonous. The next day, she played a trick on her teacher. She picked a big bit of privet hedge from outside her house, took it to school, and put it on the teacher's desk, saying, "Here's a gift."
The teacher wasn't sure she wanted a big branch of privet on her desk, but she politely said, "That's nice of you; thank you very much."
Becky smiled and said, "No it isn't nice. I was talking part German. I've just given you some poison. I wondered if you'd guess what I meant. Privet hedges are poisonous."
The teacher laughed.
the class was having an English lesson one day, and the teacher was trying to teach them the difference between verbs and nouns. She said to Becky, "Give me four nouns."
Becky picked up four pencils, toddled over and gave them to the teacher.
The teacher said in surprise and impatience, "What are these for?"
Becky said, "You asked me for four nouns. 'Pencil' is a noun. I've given you four of them."
Becky liked science, especially when they did little experiments. But the teacher wasn't always interesting, so she day-dreamed sometimes.
One day the teacher wanted to know if the class had been paying attention, and asked, "Rebecca, how would I make an electrical circuit board?"
Becky said, "Is that even possible? I mean, I could tell you how you can make the class bored, but surely it's not possible to bore something that isn't alive."
The teachers thought Becky could sometimes be rude. Later in life, she would look back and feel a bit sorry for them, realising she might sometimes have hurt their feelings, a concern that didn't ever cross her mind when she was young and inexperienced and didn't realise people ought to care about each other's feelings.
One day she'd said something insulting to a teacher, and the teacher muttered under her breath as she turned away, "You can be an obnoxious little brat sometimes!"
Becky didn't know what the word obnoxious meant, but didn't like the sound of what the teacher had said. She looked up the word obnoxious in the dictionary. She wasn't happy when she discovered its meaning! She decided to get her own back.
The next time the teacher told her to do some work she didn't like the idea of doing, she said, "You can be an obnoxious old teacher sometimes!"
Not all the pupils knew what the word obnoxious meant, but Becky's description of the teacher as old and the shock on the teacher's face made them all laugh. The teacher told Becky off. Becky said, "I was only using a word I heard you use to describe me the other day. It's not fair that you think you're allowed to use it and not me!"
The teacher was embarrassed that Becky had heard her call her obnoxious, but she said sternly, "Don't argue!"
She made Becky stay in at playtime and write, 'I must not be cheeky to a teacher' over and over again, and phoned her mum to complain.
After writing, 'I must not be cheeky to a teacher' several times, Becky got bored, and started writing, 'I must be cheeky to a teacher' instead.
When the teacher told her to give her the piece of paper she'd been writing on, Becky was a bit nervous, wondering if the teacher would find out what she'd been doing. But after reading the first few lines properly, the teacher just skimmed the rest, and didn't realise Becky had skipped a word in most of them.
Becky knew she was lucky to get away with it, and didn't try such a thing again. In fact, she was fairly well-behaved most of the time at school.
Despite the awkward moments, Becky was always top of the class, and completed junior school at the age of three.
From the time Becky was only a few weeks old, her mum started taking her to the church she'd been taken to by her own parents every Sunday as she was growing up. The fact that Becky could already talk could sometimes be a bit embarrassing for her though. Becky would make inconvenient observations and say other things in a loud voice, that her mum thought a lot of other people must surely be able to hear.
For example, when Becky was just a couple of months old, one of the church deacons was reading to the congregation from the Bible at the front of the church, and he'd just said, "Jesus said," when Becky immediately asked in a loud voice, "Mum, can I have a feed?"
Another time when he was reading to the congregation, he said, "Jesus said to the crowds who followed him," and just then, Becky said, "Oh no, I forgot to bring my toy car. I wanted to play with that."
She didn't do such things deliberately; they were just coincidences; she just hadn't yet got the hang of the idea that people in the congregation are supposed to be quiet in church when other people are talking; ... or maybe it was that she hadn't yet discovered a reason to take the rule seriously, so it kept slipping her mind.
Becky was usually allowed to bring toys to church. Her mum had to experiment a bit though, before she found ones that weren't disruptive in some way. One day the priest had just begun talking, and said, "Here are this week's notices", when Becky pushed a toy car, and it whizzed across the church, and she shouted, as if she was taking over the announcing of the first notice, "My car's just zoomed away! Can someone get it please?"
Someone did. Becky hadn't yet become able to walk on her own.
Then there was the time when the priest paused for breath in the middle of his sermon, and Becky said loudly and clearly, "I'd love to make a huge big tower of all the hymnbooks in the middle of the church, and then blow on them to see if they fell over!"
Her mum told her not to do it right then and there.
Everyone who heard them started laughing, and the priest, who'd been about to say something tremendously serious, wondered whether to, or whether to wait. He ended up pausing for a few seconds, and then saying it.
When Becky was a couple of months old, they sang the hymn, The Lord's My Shepherd, which begins:
The Lord's my shepherd
I shall not want.
Becky shouted over the hymn, "This is an ungrateful hymn! Why are we singing it? It says to God that we don't want him!"
Becky's mum was too embarrassed to continue the conversation, so she ignored the comment. But a month or two later, they had the hymn again. Becky recognised it just as the introduction was starting, and shouted for everyone around to hear, "It's that ungrateful hymn again! Why do we sing it Mummy? Especially in church, where people come to tell God they like him or something. Why are we saying we don't want him?"
Her mum said, "It doesn't mean we don't want God; I think it means we won't want anything."
Becky said, "Anything includes God; so it's still just as ungrateful!"
Her mum said, "No, it means anything else."
Becky said, "Then that's silly! Everyone probably wants things. Like this morning when I wanted a feed, but I had to wait ages for you to come out the bathroom. You didn't come out the bathroom any sooner than normal because the Lord's supposedly my shepherd - if the hymn knows what it's talking about! So I had to wait and want some milk anyway! And what about uncle Phil? He says he wants a massive steam engine in his garden, but he's never going to get that, because it wouldn't fit. So he's going to go on wanting forever."
When Becky was older, she realised she'd probably taken the words of the hymn more literally than they were meant. She still thought they were strange though. But at the time, she was convinced they were just daft!
She was still shouting over the hymn as she continued,
"Or does it mean that the Lord isn't everyone's shepherd and he isn't Phil's, and it's just the people he's the shepherd of who don't want anything? But then that's silly; even if the Lord was uncle Phil's shepherd, he'd still never fit the steam engine he wants into his garden!"
Becky's mum was growing ever more embarrassed, and said sternly in a loud whisper, "Becky, just be quiet and sing!"
Becky asked, "How can I be quiet and sing at the same time?"
Her mum was even more embarrassed, and said, "I mean stop talking and sing."
But Becky didn't think the hymn was sensible, and she didn't want to sing something she thought was silly, so she just kept quiet.
Becky sometimes did sing to hymns though. It wasn't always what she was supposed to sing, however. Sometimes she sang a completely different tune, and sometimes different words - in fact her mum swore she once heard her singing a pop song. People around Becky were sometimes confused, and faltered in what they were singing, wondering if they were singing the wrong thing themselves and Becky was singing what they were supposed to sing. Some even recognised the tune or words she was singing and joined in with her.
Becky's mum asked her why she would often sing the wrong thing. She said she just liked the other tunes and other words better. Her mum suggested she wait till after church to sing them, but she said she wouldn't want to do it then; she just wanted to improve on the hymns as they were singing them.
When Becky was just over a year old, a new church deacon had just begun to read one of the Bible passages for that day out loud at the front one day, when he stumbled over his words and got some letters the wrong way around, saying, "Jesus croaked to the spowds" instead of "Jesus spoke to the crowds".
Becky burst out laughing, and shouted, "You made a mistake!"
The deacon should have just ignored her and carried on as if nothing had happened. But instead, he shouted back, "Well, you come up here and do the reading if you think you can do better!"
Becky said, "Allright", and rushed up to the front of the church. The deacon was so surprised he just stepped back and let Becky take over. She read the passage herself, very nicely. Those who didn't know her were surprised to see a one year-old reading it!
Becky caused a sensation in church one day! In fact, she seemed to do it quite often. One reason for that was that she wasn't shy at all about speaking her mind, despite the horrified looks of some of the congregation! Perhaps she thought the amused looks of others and the laughs more than made up for it.
One Sunday when she was about 15 months old, Becky said to the priest as she walked out of the door after church, "I was yawning all through your sermon today! You should have tried to make it more interesting!"
The priest said, "Really? It's hard making up a new sermon every week, you know."
Becky said, "Yes, but I bet you could have made this one better if you'd really thought about it."
The priest felt offended and said, "Well, if you think you can do better, how about you do the sermon next week?"
To his surprise, Becky said she would.
He expected her to forget about it during the week, but the next Sunday, she said her sermon was ready and she was still happy to do it. The priest wasn't sure what to do, but felt sure that if he let her start, she'd soon lose her nerve or run out of things to say, so he'd be able to take over. So he said she could.
She sat on the altar in a baby buggy, and the microphone was lowered to her height.
Later in life, she would look back on what she was about to do and feel a little bit sorry for the priest, thinking she shouldn't have done it because it probably hurt his feelings. But at the time, she didn't even realise adults have feelings that can be hurt; she didn't have the life experience to understand that it's best to be considerate of other people's feelings. Still, a lot of people enjoyed what happened in church that day, though they were a bit shocked at first.
To the priest's embarrassment, Becky began by saying: "I'm taking over for a while, and I'm going to teach a lesson on fair shares. Not all of you need it, just certain people I've noticed. First of all, I'm going to admit to something bad I used to do."
All the congregation pricked up their ears with interest.
She continued, "Now sometimes my grandpa cooks a family dinner and there are roast potatoes left after everyone's been served, and I used to shout, 'Can I have them? Can I have them?' and want to put all of them on my plate. But mummy would always say, 'No, it wouldn't be fair if you had more than everyone else; ask everyone if they want some first, so you can all have a fair share if they do'.
"Now there seem to be people here whose mummies never taught them that. I'm talking about the priests. I've noticed that every single week at communion, they eat a bigger bit of that thin bread stuff and drink more wine than everybody else! What makes them think they deserve the most? It isn't fair.
"So today, we're not going to have a sermon. We're going to have a picnic in the church. And everybody, including the priest, is going to eat the same amount, to get into practice. Everybody go home or go to a shop, and bring back or buy about three sandwiches and three cakes, - that's three for you, and three each for any children you're with. Then come back, and we'll all have a feast.
"But before we start eating, if anyone sees someone who hasn't got any food, or not much, since they might not have been able to get any, offer them something, if you've got as much as you want yourself. Enough people have to offer them something that they end up with three sandwiches and three cakes. And give some to the priest, who can stay here while you go, but he mustn't have any more than anyone else. I'll take note of what he's eating, to make sure he doesn't accept things people mistakenly give him after he's eaten some so some people think he hasn't got much.
"OK, I'll see you back here when you've got them."
Not even Becky's mum knew she was going to say that!
At first, people were uncertain; a few stood up hesitantly and started walking out, and a few more followed, while most didn't move. Then Becky shouted a bit impatiently, "Well go on then!"
More people got up, and soon lots more followed, till everyone was walking out of the church together.
Soon no one was left. The priest was alarmed, worried no one would come back. He said to Becky in a worried voice, "I didn't want you to clear out my church!" Then, feeling concerned and embarrassed, he went and hid for a while, scared that other people might wander in and start asking him awkward questions about why he wasn't taking the service and no one was there.
But about half an hour later, they all came back again and had a picnic. A lot of them had been planning to make their dinners straight after church, and some had a few things already prepared; but they all decided that since this was a special occasion, they'd be happy to eat their dinners later when they had more appetite again.
The priest was given exactly three cakes and three sandwiches, as Becky had ordered.
Everybody had a lovely time. Even the priest started enjoying himself after he'd been given some nice food, and some people started having conversations with him.
People were chatting and enjoying themselves for so long, the priest decided there was no time to end the service in the usual way, and he didn't think he'd be able to stop everyone enjoying themselves anyway. So he just sat and watched.
But Becky had a final message. She held up a teddy bear to get attention and signal silence, and then banged a toy car on the lectern, and said loudly into the microphone:
"OK, stop for a minute: One lesson I want you to take away for the future is that if you come across people who are hungry, or are deprived of the good things in life in some other way, or if you see them or hear about them on television or in the papers, have a think about whether they deserve their fair share too. And if you think they do, ask yourself what, if anything, you can do to help them get it."
Then she let them get on with enjoying their food. Several people came up to her and told her that was the best church service they'd ever been to in their lives.
When they'd finished eating and chatting, they all went home. A lot of them left rubbish behind them, and the priest thought he'd better clear it all up. As he did, he said to Becky, "Next week, do a sermon on the importance of not being a litter-bug!" Then he quickly said he was joking, in case she said she would and took over for another week.
Then he explained that though it was nice that she was concerned about fair shares, he wasn't being greedy every week, but he only had more wine and bread than everyone else because that was the way the communion ritual had always been done, as far as he knew.
Becky observed, "That's not a good reason to do it, is it!"
The priest thought about it, and had to agree, but said that since it was what everyone expected, and no one had ever said they minded, he'd better carry on. So Becky said OK.
She thoughtfully decided that in future, if she remembered, instead of just assuming people were doing things that seemed unfair for bad reasons, she'd check first. She offered to stand up at the front of the church for a few minutes the following week and tell people she'd discovered that the priest hadn't been eating more than the others because he was being unfair after all, but just because he'd been told to, and that people could learn the valuable lesson from that that they shouldn't automatically think the worst if they thought something didn't seem quite right, but they should find out more facts before jumping to conclusions.
The priest thanked Becky, and said that would be a nice idea. So Becky did.
But regardless of the fact that it had been held for a misguided reason, the church picnic had been a great success, and was remembered fondly for years. And people had a good think about the lesson Becky had taught too.
After Becky took over the church service one morning after the priest challenged her that if she could do a better sermon than him she could try it, only to regret what happened when she welcomed the opportunity, you might have thought the church organist, who saw what happened, would have learned a lesson. But apparently not; a couple of months later after church one day, when she was about one and a half years old, Becky wanted to tinker around on the organ. The priest let her, and she started picking out the tunes of hymns she'd remembered, and messing around playing things she was making up. Several people complimented her, saying she was clever to be playing hymn tunes. But the organist was a bit nervous that she might break the organ or something. She came over and told her that children weren't really supposed to play it.
Becky said she didn't see why not, and the organist said adults could play it better than children.
Becky said, "Not all of them. I bet some children can play it better than adults. I don't think you play it very well. I've even heard you play wrong notes, and you don't play very nice chords at all! I bet there are children here who could play it better than you. I'd like to make the music better in this church."
The organist, feeling offended, said, "Oh well, if that's the way you feel, have a go at doing it yourself next week!"
Becky said she'd love to.
... She hadn't agreed to play the organ the next week, just to arrange the music.
The organist hadn't seriously meant she could take over, but the next week, Becky reminded her what she'd said, and told her she was going to do the songs. The organist thought it might cause trouble if she argued, so she decided to just let her; and besides, after the church picnic Becky had arranged before, she was interested to see what Becky would do. So she agreed.
Becky had been listening to some of the songs in the music collection her auntie Diana had on her computer, and decided to copy several of them onto her mum's laptop, which she took into church the following week. She found the lyrics on the Internet, and printed out copies, putting some in each pew before church.
At the time when the church would normally sing the first hymn, Becky took the laptop to the front of the church, took the microphone the priest normally used, and announced that that day, they were going to sing pop songs, with special lessons in them, so she wanted them to think about the words they were singing. Then she played a song.
The first song she played was called Sarah Smile by Sarah Whatmore, which, from reading between the lines, seemed to be a tragicomic tale of a wife telling her husband she was unhappy and thinking of leaving, while he, apparently completely oblivious to what she was saying, kept telling her to smile for him. Becky said it was a lesson in how important it is for people to listen to each other.
Another song was called By Your Side by Sade, with heart-warming lyrics like,
"You think I'd leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees
I wouldn't do that
I'll tell you you're right when you want
Ha ah ah ah ah ah
And if only you could see into me
Oh, when you're cold
I'll be there
Hold you tight to me
When you're on the outside baby and you can't get in
I will show you you're so much better than you know
When you're lost and you're alone and you can't get back again
I will find you darling and I will bring you home
And if you want to cry
I am here to dry your eyes
And in no time
You'll be fine ..."
Becky told the congregation that that was the attitude they should all try to have towards each other.
(Diana had a soothing yet mildly bouncy remix of the song called the Neptunes mix, and it was about the most jazzed-up thing they'd ever sung in that church.)
When Becky played the first song, the people in the congregation were reluctant to sing. But Becky stopped the song and encouraged them. Then she said that if they liked, she'd play a couple of verses of each song first so they picked up the tune, and then play it back from the beginning so they could sing. After a while, quite a few of them were joining in.
Becky's mum hadn't said anything during the service, since she didn't like to talk during it; but afterwards, she said to Becky,
"What did you do that for? I was so embarrassed! Those weren't hymns, they were pop songs, and some of them were even love songs, written for girlfriends or boyfriends!"
Becky said she knew that very well, but that they all had lessons in them that some people in the congregation might need to learn. She said that after all, wasn't learning lessons the point of church? She said those songs were better things to sing than some of the strange hymns they sung, like the one that said "The Lord's my shepherd that I won't want"!
Her mum said she had a good point; and when she thought about it, she realised it had been a very good idea.
Lots of the congregation enjoyed singing pop songs instead of hymns, and told Becky so. She wasn't invited back to lead the singing again, but even the priest, though surprised, said it had been a good day.
When Becky was nearly eighteen months old, a new couple moved in next-door to her family. Becky's mum saw the woman around, and they got chatting.
Becky's mum invited her in for tea one day. The new neighbour said she was a psychic medium, and that if Becky's mum liked, she'd invite her to her house and give her a free psychic reading.
Becky's mum was interested, so she agreed, thinking it might be a bit of fun, and curious to see what went on. She thought it would be interesting if she really could find out things about her future, and thought that even if it was a disappointment, at least it would have been free so it wouldn't matter much.
When she and Becky went round there, the woman who'd said she was psychic created a calming atmosphere with dim lights, incense and gentle music, before doing the reading.
Becky's mum seemed impressed with what she told her, and discussed the reading with Becky after they went home. She said:
"Wow! I didn't really believe she'd have a real psychic gift, but she said things she couldn't possibly have known before, because I've never told her. She knew I've got a brother with a little boy, and said the boy's got a good future ahead of him! She even knew his name! She actually told me his name's Toby! And she knew my brother's called Phil too! I'm really impressed!"
To her surprise, Becky was disappointingly unimpressed. Not only that, she seemed to suspect there was some kind of trickery going on. Just the thing to spoil her mum's good mood! She said, "Mum! The other day when the medium came round for tea, while you were out making it, she looked at some of your photos. She saw some with Toby in them. Then she asked me a few questions about the family, and I told her something about some of the people in it, including Toby and uncle Phil. That's how she got to know about them!
"As for her saying Toby's got a good future, that's a safe prediction - something would have to go dramatically wrong for you to decide that couldn't be right! And it'll be years before you can determine whether it's true, so there's probably no way you can disprove the prediction and discredit what she says for a long time to come, and by the time it's possible, you might have forgotten she even said it, or she might have moved away from here!
"For another thing, there are so many ways it could be interpreted, it would be difficult to prove it wrong. Even if Toby dies in three years' time, you could still think the prediction was right, because between then and now, he might go to a good school, and he could be top of the class and enjoy himself. Even if he grows up to have no job and no hope but he lives a decent life, you could interpret the word "good" to mean that in his future, he'll be a good person! You might believe the prediction's true for years and trust that woman, just because you've interpreted it in your own mind in a way that makes it sound convincing!"
Becky's mum had started to feel a bit hot-and-bothered, and said, "Becky, must you say horrible things? Toby's only a little boy; I don't want to think about him dying!" She didn't like the idea that Becky might be right about her having fallen for a trick either. She wished there were times when an 18-month-old didn't seem so worldly-wise and clever, and depressing. She said,
"Maybe you're right about the reason the medium knew Toby's name. But she got some things right she can't possibly have known before, because she talked about people I haven't got photos of as well, and you don't even know them yourself, so you can't have told her about them. I mean, before you were born, I had a friend called Frances who married a Turkish man and went to live in Turkey, and the medium told me that, and told me I'd been worrying about whether they were happy together and whether she was being treated well, which I have been. She even told me her name!"
Becky said, "No she didn't. At least, not before you'd helped her along a lot. You've forgotten what you said to give her clues. The medium said, 'You've been worrying about someone recently', ... well for a start, that's a safe guess! From some of the conversations I hear you and other mums having together, I reckon everyone must worry about someone else sometimes, even if it's just a little bit.
"Then she said, 'I can't quite get the name; I think it starts with a letter in the first half of the alphabet,... E? ... H? ... G? ... F perhaps.' You nodded your head a bit and sat up straighter when she said 'F', since you'd probably been thinking of someone whose name begins with F; and those were the kinds of clues she was probably looking for to tell her which letter to stop at. Then you helped her guess the name without realising; she said, as if she was trying to decipher the signal she was getting from her spirit guide or wherever these things are supposed to come from, 'Fay? ... No, Fiona? ... No, Francesca?' ... And then you gave her just what she was hoping you would by saying, 'Frances'? She said, 'Yes, Frances!' as if she'd almost known it all along really. Then she called her Frances from then on, and you obviously forgot that you were the one who virtually told her that was the name in the first place."
The washing had been on, and Becky's mum noticed it had finished, and told Becky she was just going to put it out, relieved to have a break from the process of being disillusioned. Considering there was no sun, and it wouldn't be all that long before it got dark, the washing didn't have much chance of drying that day; but it was warm for that time of year, so Becky's mum thought there was a chance.
Becky went outside with her, and saw there was a little bird perched on the washing line. She said, "Oh look at that little bird! It looks happy! It seems a pity to disturb it."
Becky's mum quipped a little impatiently, "What do you think I should do then, just spread out the washing on the grass and hope it dries? Somehow I don't think you'll be very happy if you end up with mud on your clothes!"
Becky grinned and said, "Nor will you! You'll have to wash them all again!"
Becky's mum gave the washing line a little tug and announced, "Come on birdie, it's time for you to fly away now!"
It did so.
She told Becky to wait till she'd finished hanging out the washing before telling her more about what she thought of the medium, so she could give what she said her full attention.
They were both quiet for a few seconds, and they heard a few birds singing. Becky said thoughtfully, "Have you ever seen a bird in a bad mood? I can't remember ever noticing any grumpy birds. Do you think birds ever get depressed? I mean, you hear them chirping the same cheerful-sounding songs whether it's just been raining, or we've just had a storm, or whatever. ... Well at least, I can't remember ever hearing them sound any different. Hey, what do you think a grumpy or depressed bird song would sound like?"
Becky's mum smiled and said, "I don't know. Maybe it would be slower or something."
Becky replied, "Or maybe it would go a bit croaky like crows; I suppose someone with a bit of imagination might say crows sound grumpy. Or if birds were feeling really really grumpy, maybe their songs would even sound like frogs croaking. If they weren't that grumpy very often so you'd hardly ever heard them before so you didn't know they made frog sounds when they were really grumpy, you might say to me one day, 'That's funny! It sounds as if there are frogs in the sky outside! Flying frogs!'"
Becky's mum smiled again and said, "Actually, I'm not even sure I know what frogs sound like. I can't remember ever hearing any. Have you heard some then?"
Becky said, "Actually I don't think I have; I've just read about them croaking, and tried to imagine it. ... No actually I think I did hear them on the radio once."
She joked, "Just imagine if frogs only croak because they're always grumpy all the time, and if they cheered up, they'd start singing like birds. Then if we ever went past a pond with cheerful frogs in it, you might say to me, 'Hey, stop; let's go back and have a look at that pond; I'm sure I just heard birds happily chirping in it. They must have all learned to swim!'"
Becky's mum grinned and said good-naturedly, "You do come out with daft things sometimes! Actually, that reminds me: I think I heard somewhere once that there are different kinds of frogs, and some of them do make noises a bit like birds."
Becky said, "Imagine if when birds were in a bad mood, they'd sing in a minor key. Imagine if whenever they had something to be grumpy about, like it beginning to rain, they'd start singing songs that sounded sad. So you might be indoors doing something, and then you might suddenly hear them singing a sad song, and say to me, 'Oh no, I'd better go outside and get the washing in quick; it sounds as if it's about to rain!'
"Hey, imagine if when people had their radios on in the garden, birds would start copying the music; so instead of just chirping, they'd start singing pop songs! And just imagine if they learned some sad songs, and every time it was about to rain, or there was going to be a storm or something, they would start singing the sad songs, so it would be a signal to people like you that you'd better go and get the washing in! Or just imagine if they taught themselves to sing songs in harmony. Wouldn't that be good!"
Becky's mum smiled and said, "I don't think I'd be too impressed if I heard them singing sad songs in harmony when I'd just put the washing out!"
Becky said, "I don't suppose birds can be impressed themselves when it starts raining. Or maybe they don't mind it. I wonder why they're happy to put up with it! I wonder if it takes more for them to get depressed than it does us. And what about other animals? Do you think smaller creatures ever get depressed, like flies? How do you think a fly might behave if it was depressed? Maybe it wouldn't bother flying, but it would just lie around on a cake, comfort eating till it got fat."
Becky's mum grinned and said, "I think if I was surrounded by cake, I'd be tempted not to move but just to lounge around eating it too!"
Becky said, "What if flies never get depressed though, for some reason? I've never seen a fly just moping around as if it was depressed. Or what about slugs? If you found a slug and chucked it into a neighbour's garden, like you do sometimes, do you think its friends might be sad and worried about it, or do you think they'd just carry on as normal? Or what if you trod on one? Hey, do you think the person who invented the word sludge invented it after they accidentally trod on a slug, and squished it so it went all over their foot, and it was all sludgy, but that word wasn't invented then, so the person said to themselves, 'There's got to be a word for this horrid slime stuff that slugs turn into when they're squashed; I know, I'll call it a word that sounds like slug; sludge seems like an appropriate word!'"
Becky's mum made a face and said, "I've got no idea! Becky, why do you want to say yucky things about slugs?"
Becky said, "Why, do you like slugs? If you do, why do you throw them over the fence into a neighbour's garden when you find them? Anyway, I've just been thinking: If slugs never get to be in a bad mood, and scientists one day found out they had special genes that meant they were immune from getting grumpy and depressed and things, and doctors offered to give you some slug genes so you didn't ever get in a bad mood any more, do you think you'd accept the offer?"
Becky had read a few articles about genes on the Internet.
Her mum screwed up her face and said, "I don't think so, somehow! Having slug genes as part of my make-up doesn't really appeal to me!"
Becky said, "What about the genes of more cuddly animals then? What if they found out that cats and dogs never got depressed, and it was because they had special genes that made them immune to being in a bad mood? Would you agree to having dog genes or cat genes put in you? Mind you, if you did, things might start happening that you didn't expect. Imagine if you opened your mouth to say something one day, say in front of some of the teachers at my school, and a big meow came out instead! Or a big dog bark if you had dog genes.
"Or imagine if you started growing fur, and your ears started changing shape till they were the shape of dogs' ears or cats' ears.
"Or just imagine if you decided to have another baby, and it turned out to be a dog or a cat. Imagine if you brought a puppy home and said, 'Here's your new baby brother Becky; he's a dog.'"
Becky's mum chuckled and said, "Rebecca! You do come out with funny things sometimes!"
But she didn't find the next subject that came up in the conversation funny at all!
Becky was quiet for several seconds, and then said, "Mum, if you didn't disapprove of abortion, would you have had me aborted?"
Her mum at first smiled and joked, "Well, if I found out you were going to be a dog or a cat I might have done ... although dogs and cats can be quite cute, so I'm not sure. Anyway, what brought this on?"
Becky said, "I'm just curious. I can't imagine myself not existing. But I suppose the only reason I didn't stop existing is because you don't approve of abortion. Would you have wanted to get me aborted if you did approve of it?"
Her mum said, "I doubt I would have wanted to! But I might have got you aborted. I'm glad I didn't though, darling, even when you get on my nerves! It's still nice to have you around, ... at least sometimes!
"Actually, I Was tempted to have you aborted. I was pretty sure I was pregnant for months before I found out for sure, but I waited till I knew it would be too late for me to have an abortion before I went for a pregnancy test at the doctor's, because I knew that if they told me I was pregnant and there was still time for me to have an abortion, I might not have been able to resist the temptation to have one, because it was scary being pregnant with you. ... Well, not just because it was you; it would have been scary being pregnant with anyone! And I didn't even know it was you at the time. But it was scary because I didn't know where I was going to live, or what was going to happen or anything.
"I didn't get pregnant with you deliberately; it was a silly mistake I should have known better than to make, especially with that crudbucket of a boyfriend I had. ... Well, I suppose I must have liked him at the time, although I can't think why now! But anyway, as I said, I'm glad to have you.
"But I knew Grandpa and Grandma would be angry when they found out I was pregnant, and wouldn't want me to live with them any more, so I didn't know what I was going to do. But I was always brought up not to believe in Abortion, and I like babies anyway, so I didn't want to get rid of you.
"Actually, the person who told me I was pregnant at the clinic told me I'd come too late for an abortion, and I said, 'I know', and they were surprised I wanted to keep you, since they said most people of my age who get pregnant have abortions. But things have turned out better than I was worried they would. ... Crikey, I don't know why I'm telling you these things! You're way too young to be told about things like this, even if you are advanced for your age!
"But anyway, it was a good thing in a way that your great grandpa and great grandma died not long before I got pregnant with you - I know it sounds heartless to say that, and I don't mean it that way; I actually still miss them sometimes; but it did mean I had somewhere nice to go to live. Grandma and Grandpa inherited their house after they died and were going to sell it at first. They tried, but they couldn't at the time; and when they found out I was pregnant, they decided to let me have it for some years, until I get to be able to work and afford to get a place of my own."
Becky said, "How come you think it's good that Great Grandma and Great Grandpa died, but you don't approve of people who haven't been born yet dying?"
Becky's mum got a bit annoyed and said, "Rebecca! I didn't say I'm glad they died! It just meant that a big worry got taken off my mind, because I could come and live here, in a nice area, so you can grow up not having to worry about kids taking drugs on street corners or whatever, and we can hopefully get you into a decent secondary school when the time comes."
Becky said, "Well that's good; but it still seems a bit contradictory that you approve of Great Grandpa and Great Grandma dying, but disapprove of people who haven't been born yet dying."
Perhaps Becky's mum should have known better than to try to have a sensitive conversation with her. She was almost longing to start talking about the possibility that she'd been tricked by the woman next-door again, the subject she'd been glad to come outside to escape! She said, "It's not that I approve of anyone dying! But Great Grandma and Great Grandpa were getting into old age and would probably have died fairly soon in any case. And Great Grandma's health was getting so bad before she died that she didn't have any kind of decent quality of life, so she might even have been relieved to die, even though she was only in young old age by today's standards. But unborn babies have their whole lives ahead of them, unless they're aborted or die naturally. I just think it's nice if people can have a chance at life, and I don't think it's fair if people just take it away from them without asking if they mind."
Becky smiled broadly and said, "Well how could people ask unborn babies if they mind? Most babies won't even know how to talk by then, and they'd have to shout really really really loud to be heard on the outside of the person who was pregnant with them anyway, even if they could."
Becky's mum said, "Oh Becky! You know what I mean! I just don't think it's fair that the unborn babies don't get any say in the matter."
Becky said, "Anyway, why do you think everyone deserves a chance at life? What about people who live in horrible areas, who will grow up having to pass by kids taking drugs on street corners and things if they're not aborted, and who'll be at risk of getting into that lifestyle themselves and then turning into criminals when they grow up, because they need to steal things to pay for their drugs, or because they think crime is exciting because people around them are having fun buying nice things with the money they've got from crime, but then they might end up in prison?"
Becky's mum sighed. She said, "I don't know. I suppose it's difficult to say for sure, but I know that if I'd had to bring you up in an area like that, I wouldn't have had you aborted; I'd have done the very best I could to improve my circumstances over time till we could move out of that area into a better one. Anyway, what made you bring up abortion in the first place?"
Becky said, "I'm wondering if it would have hurt me if you'd had me aborted."
Her mum said, "Maybe. It might depend on how far along I was in the pregnancy - how developed you were. I'm not quite sure how many weeks into a pregnancy babies start to feel pain."
Becky said, "I'm glad you didn't have me aborted; but I wonder whether if you'd had me aborted very early on, I wouldn't have felt any pain at all, and I wouldn't have even known anything bad was happening to me. If I didn't, then I don't suppose I would have cared that I was being aborted."
Becky's mum was starting to get a bit upset by the conversation. She loves babies, and didn't enjoy being made to think about having unborn ones aborted. She said, "Maybe you wouldn't. But I think I would have done! Can we change the subject please?"
Becky said, "I'm just wondering about one more thing: Imagine if scientists one day develop home pregnancy testing kits that are so advanced that just a week or two after you get pregnant, you can get yourself tested with them, and they'll have a screen on them, and a message will come up saying whether you're pregnant or not, and it'll be able to say things like, 'This baby has got Down's syndrome', or, 'This baby's going to be severely disabled'. If you got a message like that on one, do you think you'd decide you approved of abortion after all and have the baby aborted?"
Becky's mum sighed again. She said, "Well I wouldn't decide I approved of aborting any baby. It's possible I'd be tempted to have him or her aborted, just as I knew I'd be tempted to get You aborted if I'd been to the doctor's for a pregnancy test earlier. It might even be for the best if I got them aborted, although I don't know; when you see a Down's syndrome child, they're often enjoying life, and after all, what counts most in life? I think happiness is more important than being as perfect as possible. I know it would be more difficult as they grew up, especially when I got to old age and they still needed looking after. But maybe we'd find a way. But I know it would be a very, very difficult decision whether I decided to have them aborted or whether I decided not to. But I really wouldn't have felt happy having them aborted whatever was wrong with them."
Becky's mum began to look depressed, and even a bit tearful. But completely oblivious to that, Becky suddenly turned playful, beginning to bounce around and grin. She said, "Hey, imagine if a pregnancy testing kit told you your baby was going to be a cat, or a lion, or a rat? Or what about if it told you you were going to have a Rottweiler? Do you think you'd rush off to the doctor's in a panic and say, 'What am I going to do? I'm going to give birth to a Rottweiler!'"
Becky's mum laughed and said, "No. Somehow I don't think I'd believe the pregnancy testing kit. I think I'd probably throw it away and go and buy one of a different brand, hoping it would say something more sensible!"
Becky said, "What if it could even tell what the baby was going to be like? What if it said, 'Your baby's going to have genes that make it not like bananas.' If you'd had a pregnancy testing kit like that when you were pregnant with me and it had said that, then maybe you wouldn't keep trying to persuade me to eat them!"
Becky's mum smiled and said, "Well, maybe not. ... But if it said, 'This baby's genes are going to make her especially fond of chocolate', don't think I'd let you have any more of it than I do now!"
Becky giggled. Then she said, "What about if lots of people's pregnancy testing kits said things like, 'Your baby's going to love climbing trees when it grows up a bit. So if you don't live in a house with a garden with trees in it now, move to one that has them.' I wonder if lots of people would believe that without question and move house, just because the pregnancy testing kit told them to."
Becky's mum chuckled and said, "It's possible I suppose; but I think a lot more people would just object to being bossed around by a pregnancy testing kit!"
When her mum had finished hanging the washing out, they went back indoors, and Becky carried on telling her what she'd thought of the visit to the medium next-door. She said,
"Hey, you talking about us living in the house your grandma and grandpa used to live in before they died reminds me of a joke I read, or it might be a true story even. Maybe you could do something like it! It said someone once asked a medium to get in touch with their grandma for them. The medium said their grandma's spirit was beginning to talk to her, and the other person said, 'That's strange! She isn't even dead yet!' Maybe you could try something like that on the medium next door!"
Becky's mum chuckled, but said, "I don't think I'd feel comfortable trying that, somehow; I don't like deceiving people."
Becky said, "She was perfectly happy to deceive You!"
Her mum said sternly, "Well even if she was, two wrongs don't make a right!"
Becky said, "Well anyway, before we went outside, I was telling you that she didn't really find out the name of your old friend Frances in a psychic way, wasn't I, and that she didn't even know what letter it began with at first. She said it was in 'the first half of the alphabet'. If you couldn't think of someone with a name beginning with F when she suggested that letter, you would probably have tried to help her out in the end by giving her a name that started with a letter nearby, or she would have started guessing names beginning with different letters nearby, till you'd recognised one as being the name of someone you know who you've been thinking about. And it probably wouldn't have taken long till you did; let's face it, who doesn't know someone with a name that starts with a letter in the first half of the alphabet? Again, she made a pretty safe guess when she said you knew someone with a name that does, and that you were worrying about them.
"After all, 'worrying' could mean anything from being really anxious to just having a few concerned thoughts every now and then. So everyone probably does one of the two, or something in between those things sometimes.
"And if you weren't worrying about anyone, you might still know people who are going through hard times in some way, who perhaps you should, in all conscience, be a bit concerned about; so if you'd said you weren't worrying about anyone at all, that so-called medium would probably have asked you if you knew anyone who was having any problems whose name started with a letter in the first half of the alphabet; and if you said yes, she would have told you that that was who she was thinking of, and you would have believed her, because you would have forgotten that she'd originally said you'd been worrying about this person; or you'd have thought the fact that they're having problems was similar enough to you being worried about them to count as that, because you'd have thought that after all, the signals from the spirits or psychic energy or whatever she supposedly uses to know all these things must be quite faint, so she would be bound to have a bit of difficulty deciphering them, so she could easily think they said you'd been worrying about someone when they were really saying you knew someone with a problem.
"So you'd have just assumed she still basically knew what she was talking about and was giving you special knowledge she was picking up with her psychic abilities.
"And when she listed names of people, pretending to be trying to decipher the psychic signals to find out the name of the friend you'd been worrying about, she was looking at you to see if she saw a flicker of recognition when she mentioned any of them. If she had, she'd have stopped and said that was the name she was looking for. She was reading your body language. That's what people like her do. I've read a couple of articles about it on the Internet."
Becky's mum didn't enjoy having what she'd thought was a great experience ruined. She was getting fed up. But Becky didn't stop. She said,
"And then the supposed medium said she was getting the impression that you'd been a bit concerned about how Frances was getting on in her marriage. If you'd said you hadn't been, she'd probably simply have asked if you had any other friends with names that started with letters in the first half of the alphabet whose marriages weren't going too well, or said that maybe it wasn't her marriage you'd been worrying about but her career or something else. She'd probably have hit on something after a while, and if she didn't, you'd have just assumed she was talking about someone else you couldn't think of at the time, and forgotten it when she moved on to talking about something else. You only remember what she seemed to get right, because that sticks in your mind more than all the things she got wrong, because you're so impressed by it. But you shouldn't be.
"It seems you can't remember, but before she said she was getting the impression that you'd been worrying about how Frances was getting on in her marriage, she asked you if you were good friends with her, which you probably thought she was just asking out of interest or because she cared, whereas actually, she was probably asking in the hope of getting more information she could use to give her clues about things she could tell you later and impress you with if they were right; and you told her Frances had married a Turkish man. Well, considering that there have been reports about some wives in that part of the world being treated like servants and second-class citizens, it was a pretty safe guess when not long afterwards, she told you you'd been worrying that Frances might be being treated like that. You were impressed that she knew, but she almost certainly just guessed from what she's been hearing in the media."
Becky's mum began to feel embarrassed. But she had to admit she was impressed by what Becky had said, and decided they'd go back for another reading, to see if she herself could detect the tricks Becky was convinced the medium was using on her.
But she said to Becky, "Well, even if you're right about people who call themselves psychics doing that kind of thing, I'm sure there must be some spiritual force out there we don't know about. I mean, the other day I was writing something on the computer, and I'm sure I pressed the wrong key twice in a row, but on the screen, it said exactly what I wanted it to say, as if the computer was thinking, 'I know you well enough by now to know what you really want to type.'"
Becky grinned and joked, "Hang on, are you saying you think computers can read your mind, even though they're not alive? We'd all better watch out! Come on, you probably just didn't press the key down hard enough for anything to come out one of those times! But imagine if computers really could do things like that! Imagine if you were trying to buy a book online, and a message flashed up on screen saying, 'No, you won't want that one; I know about it and it's too depressing for your tastes; have this one instead,' and no matter how many times you tried to buy the one you thought you wanted, it would always scroll itself to the other one instead."
"Oh that would be spooky!" said her mum. "At least it would be if you weren't expecting it!"
Becky said, "And imagine if it wasn't just computers that did things like that. Imagine if you were putting some clothes in the washing machine one day, and you heard a voice coming from it, saying, 'You silly thing! You're putting white clothes in with colours that are going to run!' Wouldn't you jump if you'd never heard that washing machines could do that! And imagine if you put a blouse in your wardrobe and it came hurtling out again, and your wardrobe said, 'I'm not having that in here; it's dirty! Go and put it to the wash!'
"And just imagine if you put your deodorant on one morning, and the can suddenly said, 'You don't need anywhere near that much!'"
(Becky had seen her mum putting deodorant on, and her mum had explained what it was for.)
Becky carried on, "And just imagine if you were walking down the road one day and all the hairs under your armpits started talking, and most people's didn't, just yours, so no one knew they could do that. Imagine if one hair said to you in a loud high-pitched squeaky voice, 'Oy! You forgot to put your deodorant on this morning!', And then another one said to it, 'Oh don't worry, there's still enough here from yesterday.' I wonder what all the passers-by would think! And imagine if all your armpit hairs started arguing about whether there was enough to last the day, and then a peacemaker armpit hair decided it was better to start talking about what to do better in the future instead of quarrelling about what went wrong before and whether it went wrong enough to matter, so it said to you, 'OK, never mind about it today; just do your best not to forget to put your deodorant on in future, OK?'"
Becky's mum laughed and said, "I never forget to put my deodorant on! You are funny sometimes!"
She'd begun to cheer up.
She decided she'd like to try and work out for herself whether she was being tricked. So when she next met the woman who said she was a medium, she asked if she could come round for another reading. The self-declared medium said she could, for only a small charge.
They went to her house a few days later, and while she did the psychic reading, Becky wandered around the room quietly, and then went under the table they were sitting at and stood under it for a while.
The woman who called herself a psychic put on some gentle soothing music, and turned the lights down low. She asked Becky's mum, "Would you mind if I take your hand? The power of the spirits comes through the strongest when a medium's in physical contact with the person they're doing a reading for."
Becky's mum said she could, and the so-called medium started stroking her hand slowly in a soothing way.
As she did so, she said, "I feel very strongly that the spirits are giving me a deep insight into your personality. They want to help you understand yourself, and inspire you with knowledge to help you improve your life. Tell me if I'm on the right track here:
"I'm feeling them telling me that at times you are extroverted, friendly and sociable, while at other times you prefer to be alone, and feel like keeping things to yourself and not saying much.
You have a great deal of unused potential that you haven't turned to your advantage.
While you have some personality weaknesses, you're normally able to compensate for them.
You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when you're hindered by restrictions and limitations.
You pride yourself on being an independent thinker, and don't accept other opinions without satisfactory proof.
You have a tendency to be critical of yourself."
Becky's mum was amazed at how accurate it sounded! She was impressed, and felt sure the medium must have special deep knowledge and be genuine after all. She regretted having had to give up part of her education to have Becky, since she'd had her not long before she would have otherwise taken her final school exams; so she really did think she was wasting some of her potential, even though she certainly found looking after Becky to be a mental challenge! She was at least optimistic that things would change, because she'd been given another opportunity to take her exams, and was going to start studying for them at home, mostly in the evenings after Becky had gone to bed.
Also, although she normally liked to be with other people and talk a lot, there were still times when she liked to be alone to think or relax. She was surprised at how the medium seemed to have picked up on it.
Then the medium said: "If the power of the spirits is here in strength today, it will show you a wonderful sign, especially for you; I'll pick this match stick up, put it in the palm of my hand, and it will move by itself."
She picked it up, and Becky's mum saw it turn round and round in her hand, and then stand up on end! Again she was amazed! She thought there must be powerful spirits in the room!
Then the medium offered to tell her fortune, and she said she'd like that. The medium told her to position her hand with the palm upwards. She did, and the medium looked at it for a while. Then she said she detected that there were some things in Becky's mum's life that needed to be renewed and cleansed. She asked her to quickly pop over to her house and bring back a tomato if she had one, since tomatoes were used in traditional healing rituals, slowly waved over the body, as incantations were chanted to cleanse the soul. Becky's mum couldn't see the harm in it, so she did. She brought it back and sat down.
Then the medium slowly waved the tomato in front of Becky's mum's face and body, gently talking a language she didn't understand, and then asked her to get up and turn around so she could wave it over her back, saying she could sense there was a bit of a problem there. Impressed, Becky's mum stood up and turned around. Becky had come out from under the table to look.
When Becky's mum turned back around, the medium gave her the tomato and a small knife, and told her to cut it in half, saying that if it didn't look healthy, that would be evidence of a problem in her life.
Becky's mum cut the tomato, and to her horror, a big worm crawled out, and the tomato was full of hair. The medium appeared shocked, and told Becky's mum that was evidence of a curse or something wrong in her life that needed to be cleansed.
Becky's mum looked horrified. But the medium reassured her that she could perform more healing rituals, only she'd have to buy things that would cost a lot of money, such as special candles and special stones and rosary beads that she'd use to perform the healing spells, so Becky's mum would have to pay her.
Becky was worried her mum might be about to hand over lots of money, and shouted, "Don't give her any money Mum! She's trying to con you!"
Her mum was embarrassed, and said in a loud venomous-sounding whisper, "Becky, shut up!"
Becky was indignant and protested, "I'm trying to warn you; she's trying to con you!"
Becky's mum snapped, "Becky, be quiet!" Then she felt more embarrassed, and felt sure Becky wasn't going to be quiet. So she apologised to the medium and said they'd better go, and that she'd think about having healing spells done.
Outside, Becky, with tears in her eyes, asked her mum why she'd spoken to her like that, since she was only trying to protect her from wasting a lot of money.
Her mum apologised, saying she just hadn't wanted the medium to be offended.
Becky said, "Why not? She obviously wasn't worried about offending You! She just wants to swindle you. And isn't it better to offend someone than let you waste your money? When you had your back turned and she was waving that tomato over your back, I saw her put the one you'd given her in her pocket, and take out another one, which was the one she gave you. I've read about tricks like that on the Internet; she'd have made a little slit in it earlier and put that worm and hair in herself. She was going to ask you for money to supposedly buy these expensive things to use in her rituals, and then probably say she'd detected more and more evil every time you saw her after that, and ask for more money to do more spells to get rid of it. That's the kind of thing these people do!"
Becky's mum realised she might have been conned after all, but said, "Well OK, but that match stick moving in her hand all by itself was pretty impressive. Surely there must have been genuine spirits there."
Becky said, "I looked at that match when we first went in. It had a little nail sticking out of one end. And when I was under the table, you thought I was just playing around, but actually I was examining it. I found out part of it must have been removed, and there was a magnet there in its place. I wondered if it was a magnet, and I found out it definitely was one, because I had one of my old toy cars in my pocket, and I put that on one hand, and it jumped towards the magnet under the table. The nail in the match must have been attracted to the bit of it on top. It must have been a really powerful one. So if the so-called medium put the match in her hand with the nail facing in a different direction from where the table was, the nail would have been pulled towards it by the force of the attraction to the magnet, so that's why the match would have turned round."
Becky's mum was dismayed to have been so easily taken in by the trick. But she said, "OK then, but that personality profile she did of me was pretty impressive. How could she have known all those things about me when she hardly knows me, if she didn't really get the information from spirits?"
Becky said, "It wasn't really a special personality profile of you. It was another trick. I've been reading about them on the Internet; it's called the Barnum effect, otherwise known as the Forer effect. The things she said about you are true of most people. Experiments have been done where lots of people in a group have been given bits of paper with words on them very similar to what she said to you, and told they were individual personality profiles, and over three quarters of them have praised their accuracy, thinking they were specially meant for them, when actually they were all given the same thing. Oh, and she mentioned your backache, but she probably guessed about that from the way you rub your back sometimes and take a while to get comfortable."
Becky's mum felt stupid. She hadn't realised she could be so easily fooled. She decided never to go back to the medium again.
Whenever she met the medium after that, and the medium asked if she was coming back, she felt uncomfortable about saying she'd realised she was a fraud, so she said she might come back, but that she needed to think about it.
After Becky had convinced her mum she'd been tricked, they decided they needed a bit of refreshment. They went around to Becky's grandma and grandpa's house, and had a cup of tea and a chat. Becky's auntie Diana was there for a short visit. She listened to what they said and sympathised.
Then Becky turned the mood more light-hearted, by saying, "I don't know how often that psychic cleans under her table, but when I was standing under it, I saw lots of crumbs under there! If she could really see into the future, she'd know she'd better clean them up before loads more end up there, or she might get mice in her house!"
They giggled, and Diana said, "Well there'll be one good thing if that does happen - it might scare away customers."
They sniggered. Then Diana joked, "I spoke to my own personal psychic advisor the other day; I asked him if I'm still going to be alive in 250 years' time. I thought it might be nice to be around to find out what new technologies they've got then; I mean, you never know, one thing is that maybe governments will have cloud zappers that they let weather forecasters use, so instead of just forecasting the weather, the Met Office will Create it! I mean, imagine if summer's supposedly coming, but it's all disappointingly cloudy outside as usual. Instead of saying, 'It's going to be cloudy tomorrow', they might say, 'It's going to be lovely and sunny tomorrow, because early in the morning, we're going to blast all the clouds to bits!'
"Anyway, I was talking to my personal psychic advisor the other day, and I asked him if I'm going to be alive in 250 years' time, and he said no. Then he charged me four times the usual amount he charges me for information, saying the extra charge was because he could be 99.999 % sure the prediction was accurate, as opposed to usually only being 82.4 % sure his predictions will come true. He said his psychic power had been especially strong at the moment he predicted I'm not going to live that long.
"I went and told a friend of mine excitedly, but she wasn't impressed. I didn't know why! Then she told me she could have predicted I won't be around in 250 years' time herself, for free! I said, 'What, so you've got psychic powers too? I wish I'd known earlier! I'd have asked you the question instead. Oh well, perhaps I'll come to you for psychic advice in future if it will all be free.'
"My friend said she doesn't have psychic powers, but that she still knew for certain that I won't be around 250 years from now, simply because no one alive now will be, because people just don't live that long.
"I said, 'Oh yeah!' I felt silly for not thinking of that earlier. I got annoyed that my psychic advisor had charged me so much for telling me that when it's really common knowledge, and I went and demanded he give me my money back.
"He said he couldn't give me any, because as soon as his psychic powers had led him to tell me I won't be around 250 years from now, they'd grown much weaker for a while, so he hadn't been able to predict that I'd come back and ask for my money back, so he'd spent it all."
Becky laughed. But her mum didn't know if it was a joke, because Diana had said it with a straight face. She thought she might just be crazy. But when Becky laughed, Diana smiled, so Becky's mum thought it must have been a joke after all.
They had a nice cup of tea anyway. Then Becky and her mum went home.
Becky's mum decided she wanted to know more about the tricks people who pretend to be psychic use, so she asked Becky to look on the Internet while she was doing the ironing and tell her what she found. It took her a long long time to do the ironing that day, because Becky kept calling her over to look at things.
First she said, "Hey look at This page Mum! It says there was a big craze for spiritualism in Victorian times, and it started when two sisters called Kate and Margaret played a trick on their parents. They discovered they could make their toe joints and other bones click at will, and they told their parents they'd discovered the clicks were spirits trying to communicate with them. The parents couldn't work out where else the clicks could be coming from, and called in the neighbours to hear them. More and more people came to hear them, and it got more and more difficult for the sisters to own up to just playing a trick, because the more people who'd believed it was spirits tapping, the more people were going to be angry if they said they'd just been making the noise themselves, and they might have worried that their parents would be especially angry; and their parents would probably have been laughed at by all the others for believing the girls.
"So they kept on pretending it was spirits knocking, and more and more people came to hear them, till they were famous, and some famous people came to hear them.
"The sisters told them they'd developed a code where different numbers of clicks meant different letters of the alphabet, and yes and no. For years and years they pretended to talk to the spirits for people. But when they were old, they confessed that it had all been a fraud, and said they wished they'd never done it."
Becky's mum came over and looked. She said she thought it was interesting.
She'd just got back into doing her ironing when Becky called her over again, saying, "Hey Mum! Come and look at this!"
Her mum said, "In a minute, darling. You tell me what it says."
Becky replied enthusiastically, "There's a website here about how there were people calling themselves mediums in Victorian times, who played all kinds of fancy tricks to make people think they were seeing spirits! Mediums usually did sťances in a dark or nearly dark room. They said that made the spirits more comfortable, and gave other reasons like that. But people who didn't believe they were really contacting spirits said they thought the real reason was that it would make it much easier to trick people, because they could do tricks without being detected.
"It says sometimes the mediums would trick people into believing there were spirits in the room by changing into different costumes in the dark, and then showing themselves; or sometimes assistants would come out of trap doors or parts of the room they'd been concealed in, wearing wigs, make-up and costumes, pretending to be spirits wafting around and doing things. Sometimes mediums would get down on their knees and crawl around pretending to be spirit children. One medium was caught hiding a wig and costume in a chair with a false back - that's a back that could be secretly taken off, and there was a space between that and the real back where things could be hidden.
"Sometimes they would blow up little balloons and paint faces on them, and tie them to the line on the end of a fishing rod, and move it around by holding the other end; and in the dark it would look as if little faces were floating around by themselves, and they would say they were spirit faces. Or they'd stuff gloves with things, and tie those to a fishing rod, and brush them against people's faces, and in the dark they'd seem to be spirit hands stroking their faces.
"Or tables would seem to jump around the room by themselves as if spirits were moving them, but a medium was really moving them with her foot, or using some other method.
"Or musical instruments would play, and it seemed as if no one was playing them so it must be spirits doing it, but really the mediums would be using tricks, such as one where a violin had a thread draped over it, with a weight on one end to stop it flying off, and the other end was being held by someone secretly in a room next-door with the door shut, and the thread was running through the keyhole to the violin. They'd pull their end from side to side, and it would make the thread move over the violin strings, and it would make a quiet noise that sounded like ghostly music.
"Sometimes the mediums would pretend that something they called ectoplasm was coming out of their mouths or noses or other parts of them, and they said it was a substance spirits were producing. But when people who didn't believe them examined it, it was often found to be made of really chewed-up bits of paper or cloth covered in grease. Some mediums would even swallow things so no fraud investigators would find them before the sťance started, and then make themselves gag and bring them up again when the room had been darkened, so they could say spirits were making the things appear, and then get rid of them before the end.
"And they did lots of other tricks like that.
"Some scientists and magicians who could do similar things but would be honest about it being trickery went round trying to prove the mediums who did things like that were frauds, and quite a lot of mediums got found out. But mediums started doing tricks to try to fool the scientists into believing they were really contacting spirits.
"One thing that happened was that they'd sit in a cabinet and get someone to tie them up, supposedly so they couldn't move anything themselves so that would prove that spirits must be causing whatever happened. They'd tell everyone in the room to come and examine them to make sure they didn't have anything on them, saying that would prove they were telling the truth about not having anything. But someone in the room would often be in the conspiracy with them, and they'd be the last person to examine them to supposedly make sure they weren't concealing anything they could fool people into thinking they were hearing or seeing spirits with; but even while that person was saying they couldn't find anything on them, they'd secretly be giving them things they could use, and untying them."
Becky's mum came over and had a look at what Becky was reading. She thought the information was interesting.
She went back and got on with some ironing again. But no sooner was she halfway through ironing something, when Becky said again, "Hey come and look at this, Mum!"
"Soon," said her mum. "Just tell me about it for now, Noodles."
Noodles was Becky's mum's pet name for her, for some reason.
Becky said, "This website says some celebrities who say they're psychic and have got television programmes today are still just fraudsters. It says one used to claim he could turn pages of books and move pencils on a table with the power of his mind, but he was caught blowing gently on them, and exposed as a fraud on television!
"And there was a man who attracted big meetings of Christians, and told them he knew things about several of them that he'd been told by God. He would tell them things about themselves. But it turned out that he was told them by his wife, who was asking people in the audience questions about themselves before he came on stage, not saying who she was, but just pretending to be an ordinary member of the audience, and secretly giving him the information through a little earpiece he was wearing."
Becky's mum joked, "Gosh, that's not nice! ... Still, it's nice to hear about a man who thinks his wife is God!"
Not long after that, she said, "I've found one website that says sometimes no fraud's going on, but people still get fooled into thinking psychic things are happening when they're not really. It says that sometimes, people can cause things to move and they think they're moving all by themselves, but it's really because they're moving them a bit without realising they're doing it. One thing it says is that there's a thing called a Ouija board, where the letters of the alphabet are put in order around a table, and the words yes and no are put there too, and everyone sitting around it puts a finger on an upside-down glass or something similar, and they try to ask spirits questions, and they often find the glass moving to letters of the alphabet and spelling out words or moving to yes or no, and they think it's spirits answering them.
"But a lot of people say it's really the people themselves just giving the glass a slight push in the direction they're expecting it to go in without really realising they're doing it; but when most of the people in the group do it, it starts to move there. One psychologist did an experiment where he turned all the letters face-down, telling the people who were about to do a session of Ouija that surely the spirits would still be able to read them; but when the people around the table couldn't see what letter was what, the glass didn't move much."
Becky's mum joked sarcastically, "I'm learning all kinds of tricks now Becky. Perhaps I'll set Myself up in business and make people think I'm psychic! Just think about how much money I could make!"
Becky was a bit shocked, and asked, "You wouldn't really do that, would you Mum?"
Becky's mum laughed and reassured her that she wouldn't really.
Then Becky had an idea. She said, "Hey let's have a party at Halloween, and invite all your friends with their kids from the mother-and-toddler groups we're in, and some of the kids in my class with their parents. We could pretend to do some of the things those mediums did in Victorian times. We wouldn't tell them we were really contacting spirits or anything; we could just say it was a magic show, just a bit of fun. Then we could make the room dark, and you could say you were doing a sťance and you were going to see what spirits turned up.
"Maybe we could ask auntie Jackie to pretend to be the spirit of Queen Victoria. She could find a wig and other things that made her look like whatever Queen Victoria looked like, and she could put on a different voice, and hide till the room went dark, and then come out and say something like, 'I'm the spirit of Queen Victoria. Now something I don't think the history books say is that I used to love tickling people. I still do! I'm going to tickle you now!' And then she could go round tickling people.
"And maybe we could invite uncle Philip over and he could pretend to be a spirit dog. He could dress up as a dog and hide till the room went dark, and then come out and crawl around on all fours doing barking noises. And Jackie could have got a dog lead from somewhere, and she could put it on Philip, and lead him round the room, saying to people, 'Say hello to my dog.'
"And she could tell stories, like saying, 'Let me tell you about some of the funny things that happened in my palace! One day, I was holding a huge banquet for all my cousins from overseas and lots of European diplomats and politicians. My cook had made a huge fancy cake. She'd made lots of others, but that one was the biggest. It was brought into the room just before the banquet started. All the guests were there. But when no one was looking except me, one of my naughtiest children grabbed a pepper pot, ran over, and sprinkled pepper all over the cake! I didn't want to tell her off because I thought it would be embarrassing if my guests found out what naughty children I had! So I didn't say anything. I didn't have the cake taken away, because I knew my guests would be disappointed, and they might protest, and I'd end up having to tell them why.
"'So instead I told the servants to fill the guests' dinner plates as full as possible, hoping they'd be so full after eating dinner they wouldn't have any room for the cake, so they'd never find out it had pepper on it. But they still wanted to eat it after their dinner.
"'They can't have liked the cake, but no one said a word of disapproval when they ate it. I did see some trying to resist the urge to make faces. It seems they all thought it was very important to be polite on international occasions, and didn't want to risk offending anyone. So they all pretended to like it. In fact, some praised it so enthusiastically I was almost convinced they really did like it, and thought of telling my children to put pepper on the cakes at all the banquets I held from then on. I decided I'd better not though.'"
Becky's mum laughed. But she said, "It sounds like a nice idea, but I don't think it would work. Some of the kids are very young; they might be scared. Toby was scared of Jackie when he was a little baby, and she wasn't even dressed up!"
Becky laughed. But then she protested, "Oh Mum! It could be such fun! You could tell all the kids not to be scared, saying it's just a game. Then you could do that trick with the fishing rod, and dangle balloons with faces painted on them in front of people's faces! And you could put cloth in your mouth and then spit some of it out and pretend it's ectoplasm!"
Becky's mum laughed again, but said, "I'm not shoving a load of cloth in my mouth, thank you! And I don't want to dangle balloons in front of people's faces either. You can't trust kids to just stay still and watch like you can with adults; they'd probably give the whole game away by grabbing the balloons and shouting, 'Hey, this balloon's not really floating in mid-air by itself; it's attached to a fishing rod, and I bet Becky's naughty mummy's holding the other end and moving it around!' Maybe sometimes adults are easier to trick than children."
So they didn't have a party and do a magic show. But on October 31st, they went round to Becky's Grandma and Grandpa's house nearby, where other members of the family also went for the evening, and there they had fun playing some more traditional Halloween party games, like apple bobbing, where Grandpa put water in a washing-up bowl and put some apples in it, and everyone took turns trying to catch them with their teeth - no hands allowed, and also the game Murder in the Dark, where each of them took turns pretending to be killed and then to lie down dead, and they all took turns playing a detective asking all the other people in the room in turn what they'd been doing at the time they died, trying to work out who the 'murderer' was.
(The identity of the 'murderer' was decided by giving everyone in the room except the one who was going to play the victim a card before each round of the game, while the 'detective' was outside the room so they wouldn't know what was going on; the cards were chosen from a little selection of them that had been taken from a pack before the game, that had one ace in it, and whoever got that would be the 'murderer'. They and the others had to tell stories, making up alibis as to where they were when the crime was committed, with the 'murderer' trying to make theirs as clever as possible so as not to be detected; and if the detective guessed which one was the murderer with a false alibi, they won that round of the game, which meant they could have another go at being the detective.)
About a year later one day, it turned out that some real crimes had been going on right next-door to Becky's mum's house, although nothing as serious as murder. A police car pulled up almost outside the door. Becky and her mum rushed to the window to see what was happening. They saw the police arrest the woman next-door who'd told them she was a medium, and take her away.
A few days later, they read in the news that she'd been taken to court for trying to defraud several people out of lots of money.