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A visiting English couple have written to a newspaper expressing their shock at seeing, in Mpumalanga, “children doing jobs that should be for adults – like shepherding sheep in lion country or driving cattle along highways”.
Yet a recent study revealed that in England children are also doing adult jobs during holidays.
Officials in Birmingham found a 12-year-boy operating a mechanical digger – laying driveways – and a 13-year- old girl working as a hospital receptionist.
Cynthia, 13, in her heart of hearts, knew she was too old for Bertie, 12, but then, she told herself, Bertie was way ahead of his years.
After all, did he not drive a 100-ton mechanical shovel which could, with one scoop, lift out a fair-sized cottage?
Indeed, had he not done just that last week? Accidentally, of course.
The problem was, Cynthia told herself, as she sat filing her nails at the reception desk at Winkleshire’s county hospital, Bertie was doing a man-sized job, yet her parents refused to acknowledge it.
Okay, so it was their cottage he had totalled, but there was no reason for them to go on and on about it, “for two whole days”.
The telephone rang. Cynthia chanted into it: “Winkleshire County Hospital. How may I help yoo-hoo?”
It was a very excited woman at the other end. Cynthia held the phone away from her ear and stared for a while into the earpiece.
Then she said: “What? I mean pardon? Your waters have broken? You need a plumber, madam. This is a hospital. Try the yellow pages.”
Then crabby Mrs Lawton came muttering down the stairs from Ward 8 where her hen-pecked husband was recovering from a hernia operation.
“Algie seems much better today,” she said. “He says he wants to come home.”
“Then he must still be suffering from the anaesthetic,” Cynthia said.
Mrs Wilson came up to the desk to book in her husband after another of his turns.
The poor man looked even worse than usual, thought Cynthia.
“I don’t like the look of Mr Wilson,” Cynthia said quietly.
“I’ve NEVER liked the look of him,” said Mrs Wilson, “But he’s handy round the house.”
When all was quiet Cynthia removed the wooden tongue depressor she used as a bookmark and continued reading Nancy Drew and the Arab Prince.
Cynthia was lucky; most of her friends were either in school or in labour.
Sister Tonsils came past and waved to Cynthia. They called her Tonsils because all the doctors wanted to take her out.
At 18 she was the oldest staff member in the hospital – slightly older than the matron.
Cynthia saw young Dr Harding walking past, nonchalantly swinging his stethoscope. She sighed a little sigh.
He had made a name for himself taking out three prostates in one hour – not bad for a 15-year-old.
Her thoughts slipped back to Bertie. Maybe, she thought, he would look older if his mother let him wear long trousers.
But his mother had refused until Bertie mastered joined-up writing.
It was true he had a little dyslexia, but it was hardly a handicap for a driver of a mechanical shovel.
Okay, there was that one incident where Bertie had demolished a lawyer’s offices at number 31 instead of a derelict building at number 13 – but everybody makes mistakes.
Anyway, it was nothing compared with what Jimmy Grimes had done at Birmingham Airport.
But then Jimmy was only 10 and, as the chairman of the board of inquiry had said, at that age what was the lad doing in charge of air traffic control?