help him out with it

There was a brief knock at the door and Jim's mother came in.

"Now, Jim, I need to talk to you about something. Can I actually see your homework, please, bachgen?"

Whenever she called him the Welsh word for "boy" like that, he could sense a serious conversation coming on. He handed it over. He'd hurriedly managed to scribble down five words on one sheet before she'd got to his room. She looked silently over what he'd done and then equally silently at the next six sheets, which were all blank.

"Rather thin. Oh, yes, yes, yes: rather thin."

"Sorry, Mam, but I've been... well, you know, thinking."

"Yes, about Scott Pocklington and Nick Liversausage or whatever his name is."

"It's Nick Liversedge, mam!"

"Yes, well, if you thought less about Darlington Football Club, you see, and more about the Great Fire of London, you know, you might actually be getting a Grade A rather than a Grade E, you know."

She sighed and looked affectionately at her son. She could see he hadn't taken the Fire on board at all. She started to tell him about it. He wanted to copy what she was saying word for word but then that never helped anyone. She told him to close his book. She told him of the melting of the roof on St. Paul's Cathedral, of the Lord Mayor who didn't know what to do, of the foreigners who got blamed for it, of the heroic deeds of the Duke of York and of a girl in Pudding Lane who was afraid of heights and so would not follow her master and his family out of their burning building and so became the first victim of the flames. Jim became so enthralled that he asked his mother many questions and then, when she'd left, he opened up his Internet connection. It was permanently on the Darlo site but, for once, he decided to get out of that. He typed "Great Fire" and "London" into the search engines remembering to put inverted commas round "Great Fire". A great many stories appeared, both fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

He went to bed very late that night having completed nine pages on the Fire. OK, it was more than the teacher had wanted, but he was gushing over trying to explain the world he now felt he'd lived through in his own words.

During the night his sleep was tortured by images he wouldn't shake for many years: the people in St. Paul's who drank the water that poured from a coffin; the poor girl who'd worked faithfully for the Farryner family and who'd become the Fire's first victim; the Swede who'd had a rope put around his neck as people tried to squeeze the life out of him for being foreign (they wanted to believe the Fire had been caused by foreigners); the people who came to the Riverside begging the Watermen to take them across the River to safety but who were then charged more than they had and the people who returned to their burnt-out shops and were charged by their Freeholders for their loss AND told to rebuild it at their own cost AND who would now be earning nothing for months while starvation and horrible infections were rife.

He received an A* for his work, as he did from now on for all his history assignments. He didn't know whether to thank his mother or curse her. Sometimes he wishes he'd just carried on looking at the Darlo website and getting low grades. Life had been easy then. But the Holocaust, the atom bomb over Hiroshima, the transatlantic slave trade, the injured and disabled people burnt alive after the Battle of Culloden... he could see them all now and they came to haunt him in his dreams. For little Jim was now a historian.

The End

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