One of my favourite movies of all time is David Lean’s masterful version of the literary classic, Oliver Twist, one of two brilliant Dickens adaptations made by the director in the 1940s (the other being Great Expectations).
Lean manages to bring Dickens’ colourful world to life in shades of black and white; from the pitch-perfect performances (Alec Guinness’s unparalleled Fagin) to the way he renders the horror of Nancy’s murder by showing only the distress of Bull’s-Eye the dog, frantic to escape the room and all of that screaming.
But it’s the pickpockets I love the most, led so ably, so charismatically, by Anthony Newley’s splendid Artful Dodger. If you’re going to be poor and homeless in 19th century London, you might as well do it in style.
Little did I know as I watched this film in my childhood, transfixed by the characters on screen, that I would one day grow up to raise an artful little Dodger of my own.
Because my daughter Amelia is a bit of a kindergarten kleptomaniac, prone to cunning sleights of hand that end with her pocketing classroom objects in the ‘secret’ spaces of her kinder bag.
It started with a tiny fish of the plastic variety. It appeared one day in the side pocket of her backpack and I thought, “Oh, maybe it just fell in there by mistake.” You know, the way inanimate fish can sometimes jump into zip-locked pouches.
I quickly learned that there were no mistakes, only carefully-squirrelled triumphs prized by this wily klepto-in-the-making.
And Amelia is quite the crafty customer. She has learned how to purloin a special item during the day and, undetected by adult eyes, find a quiet moment to hide it in her bag for later.
Patience is not a virtue common to Amelia’s waking hours, but when it comes to executing petty acts of larceny, she has more of it than any Saint could claim.
It took me a little while to work out precisely what she was doing – what her racket was – but one day on the way home from a kinder pick-up, I looked over my shoulder at her in the backseat to find her searching her bag for something. It was the loot of the day as it turns out and she held it aloft to me with barely contained glee.
Amelia takes small things like play-dough, toy cars, pencils, marbles – I don’t think she’s that discerning or even interested in the things themselves. Maybe it’s the success of a carefully planned five-finger discount that really excites her.
My (boring) role is to play the anti-Fagin as I collect up all of the stolen artefacts for return to their rightful place.
I had to rat her out to her kinder teachers too. They now know to conduct a little frisk of Amelia’s bag at the end of the day, running a quick hand scan for pilfered products pocketed by my cheeky child.
The teacher holds them up to me one by one through the glass of the kinder door (carefully out of Amelia’s sight) and I nod or shake my head, confirming or denying if she is the legal owner.
In these moments, I wonder at the twists and turns of Amelia’s behaviour and I also recognise the humour she brings home with her too, alongside the pocketed stuff.
The other morning, one of the teachers said to me, “Do these bangles belong to Amelia? They were left behind the last night.” I replied, “Well no, but check her bag at the end of the day and ask me that question again!” We couldn’t stop laughing.
We chuckled because we adore Amelia, our kindergarten klepto, even if we’re not really sure why she does it. It has to be connected in some way to her need for hoarding and the obsessive-compulsive collecting of arbitrary things that are important to her in some way.
Apparently, she’s just got to pick a pocket or two. Or three.
Amelia does the same thing with DVDs, which she loves to watch but equally gets a kick out of gathering into groups and hiding under her bed covers. I never know what I’m going to find when I make the bed each morning.
It’s just another example of the slightly strange acts that pop up in our family soup from time to time and then fade when Amelia doesn’t need to do them anymore. She’s not hurting anyone and the things she ‘steals’ do not belong to other children (thank god).
So while I’m not about to reward or reinforce the dodgy side of her artfulness, I think I can gently guide her to some kind of understanding or awareness without stifling her, well, individuality.
We talk to her about what she’s doing, and then we give the little bits and bobs back each week (when we can find them or separate them out from her own junk).
Once Amelia has developed an obsession with an object or an activity it is very hard to convince her to change course in any way.
Like the orange and black Matchbox car which keeps reappearing in her bag, no matter how many times I restore it to its kindergarten home.
It has struck Amelia’s magpie-fancy for some reason, so I guess I’ll just continue taking it back in this endless loop of secure-steal-stow-reveal-return until she is ready to find a different way of expressing the innermost parts of her self.
Benevolence worked for Oliver Twist, so why shouldn’t it do the trick for Amelia? His time as a nascent thief was short-lived so I’m hoping my resident pickpocket will soon turn over a new leaf instead of stashing it in her bag.
[For you, RJH, with love]