How old do I look in that pic?
Oh, the firmness of those under-eyes! Surely they put me at under eighteen?
The Madonna circa Papa Don’t Preach peroxide barnet suggests a confidence though, which you might not expect to find in an underage girl who’s grown up in 1980’s rural Britain.
And what about the dress? ‘Tis very grown-up, that strapless velvet number. Where on earth would a young country wench be going all dressed-up like that? (This was decades before preeny-promming became the law).
In fact, I was just seventeen.
The occasion was my Dad’s annual charity ball, where his date would normally be Mum. After she died I think my sister went the first year, and I went the next.
It was a very adult affair. For the first time ever, I had a handbag (in it was a lipstick and a pack of those multi-coloured cocktail cigarettes. All eve I made sure to only smoke the blue ones which perfectly matched the puff-ball of my dress and the pink ones which perfectly matched my lips…oh thems were the days of glamour…).
I was the youngest person there by at least twenty years. Throughout the evening, a series of successful business men would sidle up to me in dickie bows, all whiskeyish, while their wives were getting spangled on Champagne across the room, and each time, on learning that I was my Dad’s youngest daughter and not his grief-fling, they would immediately shake off the leering and revert to being the Daddys-of-kids- my-age they actually were.
Oh, if only all under-eighteens could be somehow easily identifiable! If only they all looked the same and the girls didn’t muck about with their hair and have gigantic knockers and the boys didn’t have facial hair and gigantic biceps!
We should definitely introduce a system whereby we are each assigned our very own facial-recognition expert who can immediately and highly accurately assess the exact age of every person we suspect of being over eighteen.
This would come in useful when dirty robbin’ arseholes like me try to get their seventeen year old daughter into the cinema on a child ticket, or instruct their six year old boy to tell the nice man in uniform on the train that he is five.
Honestly, the things some people will do to get away with a few quid. And that’s the problem – someone, somewhere is paying for my privilege, and why should they foot the bill for my kids? And where does it end? If you’re prepared to lie about your children’s age to get them into Finding Dory, imagine what you’d be prepared to do to get them out of abject poverty and violence and into an amazing place like, erm, Croydon?
When we agreed to take all these millions of migrant kids (28 so far), like you, I expected to see busloads of darling little frightened toddlers, weeping in the arms of aid-workers, all dusty from war and maybe with a bit of blood on their faces. I did NOT expect to see a bunch of strapping males wearing Marks and Spencers hoodies.
I can only assume that maybe this is all a bit more complicated than I thought…
Maybe, like me, these fellas have had to grow up quick because of trauma and have learned how to lie to save themselves.
Maybe, like seventeen year old me, they have learned to carry themselves in a certain way out of self-protection, to send out a clear signal to the world that they are strong and able, and they have become so good at this persona that when they tell people they are only seventeen, or fourteen, or twelve, it is unbelievable to people whose own children do not have to behave like adults in order to survive.
Or maybe, like me, they are actually forty-two and married with two kids and maybe, like me, prepared to do anything for their families…