Here’s another one we’ve dug out of the attic, this time with the eight year old: Five Children and It by E. Nesbit. Now it turns out my ignorance of this book and its author knows no bounds. Co-founder of the Fabian Society? Check. Tumultuous private life? Check. Married to the skipper of the Woolwich Ferry? Check. (Bit random that one).
I’d failed to realise just how old it is: first published in 1902, and never out of print since. Sure there are carriages, servants, petticoats and Gypsy stereotypes, but it’s also remarkably fresh, funny and direct. My young listener did at one point shout out, ‘It’s boring, they’re just talking!’ after a particularly dense dollop of Edwardian wordplay, but for the most part Nesbit proves to be a knowing, almost sarcastic narrator.
But that’s not the bit that stopped us both in our tracks. Here it is:
“Jane suddenly remembered that there is only one safe way of taking things out of little children’s eyes, and that is with your own soft wet tongue. It is quite easy if you love the Baby as much as you ought to.”
No, really? You lick the gravel/fly/gunk out of their eyes? Is that a thing? Was my 1970s mother breaking the mould when she used the wet end of a tissue? I think if I saw a parent licking her child’s eyeball in Starbucks, I’d whip out my phone and volunteer myself as their new showbiz agent.
Postscript: oh Lord. I just did what nobody should do, and Googled it. And I got a woman who charges 10 Euro to lick your eyeballs, ‘after she’s sterilised her mouth with alcohol’ (I bet she’s very strict about this). Click, but believe me when I say you’ll never unsee the picture.
Pic: “Eyeballs” by Chase Elliott Clark, CC BY 2.0