You wouldn't do it now, but it was a long time ago. As my Mother would have said: so long ago that the sun went around the world clockwise. Yes, my Mother persuaded me, I was about nine or ten, to go collecting. That meant that I carried a big tin can with the name of a charity on it from door to door in about ten streets and asked for money.
For a good cause of course, no homes for tired donkeys or coats for frozen chickens. But without a licence or ID card or anything, all I had were my clothes, tee shirt and shorts, with empty pockets and the can with a slit in the top.
Yes, of course, I had a clean hanky, I couldn't leave home without one. You-know-who would not have allowed it: leaving home without a clean handkerchief is like falling down stairs without an alarm clock.
It took all afternoon to visit all the houses. Maybe no one was at home, some people were friendly, some were miserable, I was shy. Everybody but everybody dropped coins in the collecting tin.
As I didn't care and didn't look, I didn't know how little or how much they had donated, perhaps some old washers. I just said thank you, they were pleased and I went on my way. No one put notes in the can, I can remember that. And how much I collected I never found out – so much for positive feedback.
Some of the people were odd, especially in the big house at the end of the next street. Every time I visited, there was somebody new and even odder. Last time I went there, the door opened very quickly and before I could open my mouth a voice cried “James is here! James is here!”
Ten people were suddenly all around me, shouting “James is here!” They picked me up, carried me inside and paraded me at shoulder height all round the house, all the time shouting, with much pleasure and glee, without ceasing “James is here! James is here! James is here!”
I thought that it was great fun, I did not think that perhaps they meant to harm me, perhaps I would get something nice to eat. It was quite exciting.
After some time and a lot of parading they placed me on a large red cushion and went into the next room. They were still shouting “James is here!” I waited, perhaps I would get something nice to eat.
After a while I got bored, who is this James person? I didn't know anybody called James. There was one boy at school we called Jim, why I don't know. His name was Giuseppe, we should have called him Joe.
“You are not James,” said a female voice. “You don't look like him.” A girl, about my age, appeared over the edge of the cushion. “What does James look like?”
“I don't know really. Every once in a while they find someone like you and say that is James and carry him around and make a big noise and celebrate.” “And then?” “Oh, they put him on a big red cushion and forget about him and celebrate for days.”
“What's your name?” “They call me not-James, but mostly Notty. What are you called and why did you come here?” “I'm Colin and I'm collecting money for the Red Cross.”
“What happens to the boy on the cushion?” “Oh, they get bored and leave after a bit. I remember one boy, he was a bit dim, he came back several times, he liked being carried about I think; the last time he stayed too long and they ate him, his bones are in the corner over there.”
I didn't look in the corner, I didn't want to, I stood up and said to Notty that I was leaving and would do some more collecting. “OK, Collect! I'm coming with you, I don't understand what collecting is, but I will come and help you.”
And help me she did, the people definitely put more coins in the collecting can. She seemed to think that it was fun.
I explained to her what a charity was and that my name was Colin, not Collect. She asked questions about me, nothing strange about me though. I asked questions about her, she had no mother and father “What is that?” The people in the house fed her from time to time, but not often enough “What is a school?” I ignored this last question.
The next time I went collecting I avoided the house, the James house as I called it. My Mother had given me some biscuits to eat: perhaps you will meet someone who is hungry enough to eat a gate post. After half an hour Notty appeared and helped me with the collecting; she ate all the biscuits.
I had to explain what a school was “That could be interesting!” “Notty, meet me here at eight o'clock tomorrow morning and I will take you to school, to my school. Is that a good idea?” I thought that she went to another school and was teasing me and would have to say that she had to go to her own school; but no “What is eight o'clock?” “Oh, let's meet here at dawn!”
The next morning we met at sun up and we went to school. No problems! The teacher said “Oh, it's Notty, we were expecting you.” My Mother had given me twice the usual number of sandwiches: sometimes double is twice the amount. Notty ate all my sandwiches.