I tell her that I want to ask her a question, and I ask her why she’s called Scarlett, and what the name means, and if it comes from anywhere in particular, and she says: ‘No, it’s just a stupid name my parents chose because they liked it. It doesn’t mean anything.’
I wonder if her parents named her after the heroine of a favourite film, perhaps, but then again, I know her dad and this sounds unlikely. I think they probably chose it just because they liked the sound of it.
Scarlett is worried about changing school after the summer. She worries that she’s too short for her age and that the other children at the school will make fun of her. She shows me some pictures of the school she is at now and her classmates. I look at the picture and it shows children of all heights and shapes and sizes. Some are tall, some are short, some are fat and some are thin. Some are black and some are white, and most of them are somewhere in between. Some have red hair and some have blond hair, some have long hair and some have short hair.
I tell her not to worry about the new school, tell her that she’ll be OK, and ask her about the new subjects she’ll be studying. She tells me that she’s worried about learning French, and I tell her not to worry, that it isn’t a very difficult language. She tells me that she already knows five languages.
‘Five languages!’ I shout. ‘That’s impossible! How do you already know five languages?’
‘Because I’ve got five languages in my body,’ she says.
I ask her what she means, and she starts to tell me the story of her family. Some of the story I already know. I’ve already heard stories about her grandfather. He was from Scotland; he was a sailor, but not a very good sailor, so he only got as far as Portsmouth, a big navy town on the south coast of England, not very far from Scotland at all. When he got to Portsmouth, he stopped there, left the navy and became a boxer. He lost fights and drank a lot. However, he still managed to see the world by meeting a woman who came from Laos. Nobody really knows how this woman had ended up in Portsmouth, but she still lives there, and I tell Scarlett that she should try and find out her grandmother’s story.
‘No, she’s too old now,’ says Scarlett, ‘and anyway, she’s lived in Portsmouth nearly all her life.’
Scarlett’s grandparents were only together long enough to produce a son – probably one of the only Scottish-Laotians in the world. They called him Bill, which is usually short for ‘William’, but his name was just ‘Bill’. Bill inherited his father’s personality and his mother’s looks, so the only thing he thought he could do was become a rock star. He never really managed to become a rock star, though, so now he works as a graphic designer.
I don’t know Scarlett’s mum, so I ask her to tell me about her mum.
‘My mum’s Polish,’ she says. ‘Well, not really, because she was born in Brighton, but her mum and dad are from Poland. But they’ve lived there, like, for always. But I know that her mum was from somewhere that was Germany and then became Poland, so she’s really German, I suppose. So that’s another language that I’ve got in my body.’
I ask Scarlett if she can actually speak all the languages that she says she has ‘in her body’, and she looks at me like I’m stupid.
‘Of course not!’ she says. ‘But I’ve still got them in me!’
We count up her ‘languages’: Scottish, Laotian, German, Polish.
‘That’s only four!’ I tell her.
‘No, there’s English too!’
‘Of course there is,’ I say. And then I look at Scottish–Laotian–German–Polish–English Scarlett, with her name that comes from nowhere, and I ask her: ‘And you, Scarlett, where are you from?’
She thinks for a long time – such a long time that I think perhaps she hasn’t heard my question. But then, before I can repeat it, she looks up and at me.
‘I’m from here,’ she says. ‘I’m from London.’
Which animals do you see in the town or city where you live?
Animals in the city
Which animals can you see in cities? This article tells you about more than just dogs and cats!
One night in December 2011, a bear came into the city of Vancouver in Canada. It walked through the city streets past houses, shops and offices. Then it found some food in bins outside a restaurant and started eating. In the morning, someone saw the bear and called the police. The police came with a vet from the city zoo. They put the bear in a lorry and took it to the mountains outside the city. Luckily, the bear was safe. But what happens in other countries when big animals come into cities? In Vancouver it is unusual to see a bear, but in some cities you can see big animals on the city streets every day.
Big animals usually come into cities to find food. In Cape Town in South Africa baboons come into the city when they are hungry. They go into gardens and eat fruit from trees. They even go into houses and take food from cupboards and fridges! Baboons are strong animals and they can scare people. But the city can be dangerous for baboons too. Sometimes, cars and buses kill baboons in accidents. Human food is very bad for the baboons’ teeth because it has a lot of sugar. Now, there are Baboon Monitors working in Cape Town. Their job is to find baboons in the city and return them to the countryside.
In Berlin in Germany, pigs sometimes come into the city to look for food. They eat flowers and plants in parks and gardens. Sometimes they eat vegetables from gardens and they walk in the street and cause accidents. Some people like the pigs and they give them food and water to drink. Other people do not like the pigs and they want the government and the police to stop them entering the city.
In Moscow in Russia, there are 35,000 wild dogs. The dogs live in parks, old houses, markets and train stations. Some dogs live in groups and others live alone. Many people in Moscow like the dogs. They give them food and water. Some people make small houses for the dogs in their gardens. This helps the dogs in winter, when the temperature in Moscow is -10 ºC and there is a lot of snow and ice.
Many animals live in cities. In some cities, you can see birds, insects, mice and squirrels every day. But sometimes, it is dangerous when big animals come into cities to find food. We need to find ways of stopping animals coming into the city without hurting them.
Do you have any favorite idioms in your language? Can you translate them into English?