Paternoster Tales: Chapter 14

Caractacus Potts

Before I tell you more of our story, I must first tell you a portion of another.

The other is quite different to ours; it’s about a flying car, a mad inventor called Caractacus Potts, and a Baroness who hates children. It isn’t real. The car and the characters are made up by an author called Ian Fleming. You’ve probably heard of James Bond. The same writer made him up, too.

I suspect there’s a fair chance you’ve also heard of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the name of the flying car. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that the Baroness employs the most evil man in the history of cinematic storytelling. A night-time creature, more of a monster than a man. Dressed in raggedy black clothes, all spindly long legs and thin arms, he high steps and tip toes, creeping in the shadows like a giant, but hypnotically graceful spider. He is the child catcher. Tempting innocent gullible children with sweets and trickery. Children are snatched and banished to a vast, terrible prison in a cave. Fleming’s story leaps from love to adventure and back to love again and the children are rescued and the evil Baroness and her child catcher caught. Cractacus, a bit like a sugar-coated 007, armed only with sweets and witty inventions and daring pranks, eventually saves the day.

The child catcher though, remains the sinister stuffing of nightmares. Children wake screaming afraid he might poke a pointed foot through their window. Parents berate themselves for being irrational when their daytime nightmares put their brains on high alert and they scrutinise every footpath and garden and Square for strangers who might be a child catcher.

Remember that Agatha’s mother had been crying? Families often hide terrible secrets – sometimes these are called skeletons-in-cupboards. The skeleton in Agatha’s family was that Great Aunt Agatha wasn’t Great Aunt Agatha at all. Instead she was Great Grandmother to our little Agatha and grandmother to little Agatha’s mother. Which is all rather complicated and rather sad and had a lot to do with shame and embarrassment at a time when shame could create great holes in families.

Remember that Agatha’s mother screamed? When Harry saw me in Patrick’s drawing.

She screamed because she feared the child catcher. And little Agatha had gone.

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