22nd February 2007

Atkins Down The Road sometimes joins me for my daily walk and last Friday was such a day. During our stroll we noticed at the side of a small cobbled road leading to a cottage a painted wooden sign which read ‘Children! 5 M.P.H.’ I remarked to Atkins that I had never in my life come across a five miles per hour child, all the children I’ve ever seen being quite motionless and gazing at a computer screen or tearing about at a speed in excess of 100 m.p.h. Atkins’ said that his experience in the matter of mobile children was similar to mine and we agreed that we would not rest until we had seen the phenomenon of 5 m.p.h. children. Were they walking? Were they on roller skates? Were they mechanically propelled in some way? We had to know.
We walked down the cobbled road, round the bend, and up to the house. On our way we didn’t see any 5 m.p.h. children, nor indeed any children travelling at any speed at all, so I knocked on the door. A man answered it.
“My friend and I would like to see the 5 m.p.h. children,” I said. “As advertised on your sign.”
He gave me an odd look. “What?”
“Your 5 m.p.h. children,” reiterated Atkins. “We’d like a view of them if it isn’t too much trouble. That’s if you’re open.”
The man looked at us sharply. “Is this a wind-up?” He started looking for TV cameras. He didn’t see any of course but that didn’t do anything to remove his suspicions. “It is, isn’t it,” he said. “It’s a bloody wind-up isn’t it.”
“Not at all,” I said. “It’s just that Atkins here and me have never seen a 5 m.p.h. child and we’d very much like to see one before we die.”
“Which could be imminent in my case,” said Atkins. “With my heart.” 
The man chose not to dwell on Atkins’ medical condition (entirely fictitious) and after bestowing on us a look of long-suffering that would have done credit to Oliver Hardy when Stan Laurel was being at his most frustrating he said: “The sign doesn’t mean that. It means that cars shouldn’t travel at over five miles an hour because I have children. And they might knock them over.”
My eyes widened in enlightenment. “Ah.”
“In that case,” said Atkins, a more pedantic man than I, and thus not as ready to accept the man’s explanation, “Wouldn’t it be better if your sign said ‘Speed limit 5 m.p.h.’ or something like that?”
“How would that be better?” said the man, obviously a person not to be swayed easily.
“Well for one thing it would stop people knocking on your door and asking to see your 5 m.p.h. children,” I said.
I passed the sign again today. It had been altered to read ‘Speed limit 5 m.p.h.

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