I started laughing uncontrollably at work today. I'd remembered something from my early childhood, something improbable.
When I was about six, I needed a new coat. Obviously I wasn't going to go out and make a choice myself, so off went my mum to pick something up from the supermarket. How little things have changed. Anyway, she returned from Asda in Totton with a blue and green coat (we called it a ski-jacket for some reason, even though my Dad was the only member of my extended family to ever have gone ski-ing, and that was decades ago, before marriage, when he traveled further as a seaman than the English channel). I recall being quite fond of it, and the first night I owned it I declared it so cold in the house that I could only be kept warm by wearing the coat indoors, though even then I realised this was pretty stupid and so in my embarrassment kept myself partially hidden from my older brothers between two armchairs, snugged together so the sausage-like armrests arched over me in a checked-brown canopy.
Aside from the panels of blue and green, which were mint-green and sky-blue for the tone conscious, the other significant motif on the coat was a yellow star on either sleeve. This didn't mean anything to me at the time. I got dropped off at the bus-stop as usual, my mum waiting in our maroon Renault until the orange-streaked school-bus had collected my sister and I, and the other children who waited with us who were friends then but are faceless now. I don't think anyone commented on my coat, certainly not like they had when some dull-bladed family friend cut my hair months earlier, and an older kid advised me to sue. Of course, I had no idea what that meant. I can't be bothered to invent the intervening snivel and joy of six-year-old life, as it may have been weeks between the coat purchase and the incident I recalled nearly two decades later, so on we go.
The boy was called Neil I think. When I try and picture him now I see a bowled chin, freckles, prominent teeth, and diluted-blue eyes arched with laughter. He's jumping up and down pointing at me, one or two years older. He is pointing at the yellow stars on my sleeves shouting 'Star of David, Star of David. You're a Jew, You're a Jew.' I've always self-consciously liked to think that I was quite smart as a child, but I didn't know what a Star of David was and I neither did I know what Jews were. Further elaboration was on the way. 'Round him up! Round him up!' And I was shoved a little, playfully though, without malice. It was just something he was shouting while playing a game. A few other kids joined in, though then as now, I am sure they had no idea what they were saying.
I sounds pretty horrible writing it down like that, but it didn't feel horrible at the time, and as you can probably assume by the fact that I giggled helplessly at my desk for a good minute or so, I don't find it shocking now. I have no idea where an eight year old learned about the marks of Jewish segregation, and I have no idea if he knew the full significance of the consequences of that branding. Neither do I know why it suddenly returned to the front of my mind with such clarity, but I'm quite glad it did. I promise every word, however absurd, is true.