19th May

The Orphan Grinder

My father was a rich and powerful man. When I was small I thought he was the richest, strongest man in the world. I guess all children think that of their fathers, for a while at least. I loved him very much, but I was also afraid of him. He was so sophisticated yet there was something animal about him, something wild. He smelled of the outdoors even though his place of work was an office in the heart of the city.

He was always working, always busy. Still, every night he found time to give me a bedtime story and a good-night kiss. His last words were delivered in a kindly but firm tone. ‘Sleep tight, my dear. Be good and the orphan grinder won’t come.’

The orphan grinder! How many thousands of children have fallen asleep half in terror of the orphan grinder, and half-secure in the knowledge that they would be safe from him! According to my father, he was a tall, thin man with spidery legs and great hands with clawed fingers, who carried orphans off in an enormous shopping trolley. Attached by bolts to his kitchen table was one of those old-fashioned mincers that you turn with a handle, pushing the meat through from the top. But the orphan grinder didn’t use meat, he used orphans. He ground them down and filled pies with the mixture that came out at the other end. The orphan grinder had a wicked, drooling grin on his face as he crammed the little bodies, head first, into his dreadful machine.

I know now it was only a story, but when you are a child it is hard to distinguish between stories and reality. One day, however, when my father offered his usual kiss and gentle admonition, I at last protested. ‘But, Daddy, I’m not an orphan!’

He looked at me with love in his blue eyes. ‘No, my dear, you are not. But millions of girls and boys are, the world over, through no fault of their own.’

‘And will the orphan grinder come for them?’ I asked.

My father gave a wolfish smile and chuckled. ‘He already has,’ he said, ‘he already has.’

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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