Algernon Bagshot had always been a difficult child. From the first time he drew breath, his eyes seemed to be perpetually questing for reasons why things were the way they were. Why had his bottom just been spanked? Who were these upside-down people dressed in white? And who was that person holding him crying, when she had obviously wanted him to be out here instead of in there, where everything had been warm and snug, if a little cramped?
No matter. But as he grew up, Algernon clearly wanted reasons for everything, and so he began collecting answers. Where does the water go? Down a pipe to the sea. Why must I go to bed now when I’m not tired or sleepy? Because you need it. What’s that thing they’re doing on TV? Not for your eyes. Go to bed.
So as he shuffled off to bed, the questions and answers stacked up in his mind, ready to be processed as he fell asleep studying the patterns on the bedroom curtains.
Grown-ups know stuff.
They’ve lived longer, so they know more than I do.
When I’m bigger I’ll know stuff too.
It was simple logic, but it seemed to serve him well until he met his first big problem at school. It was this- that what grown-ups said, didn’t necessarily work out in practice. A case in point was the matter of Graham Thugspawn, a member of the locally notorious Thugspawn clan who lived a few streets away, who was definitely not as clever in Maths or English as Algernon, but sported a contemptuous attitude and a quick fist which came into play whenever they encountered each other away from adult eyes. Algernon began finding excuses not to go out at playtime. He complained to his teachers, but nothing much seemed to change. He complained to his mother, and she told him to punch Graham back. He tried this, but it only led to more punches being returned, only harder. Algernon decided that his mother didn’t really know what it felt like to be a boy at school. So Algernon he decided to find another approach.
It all came down to belief. Algernon noticed that Graham, despite his lack of academic prowess, still clearly believed in himself, and his own right to be the centre of attention. Graham had a little gang of mates who liked to bask in the glow of their mutual self-belief. Most of this came down to sharing dirty jokes and being mean to others – but it was the belief that they could do it and no-one could stop them, that kept them strong.
And so Algernon hatched his plan. It took a few days to put together. But then, one Tuesday afternoon at playtime, he took all his courage in both hands and wandered casually up to Graham in the playground and said, ‘You’re on my Hate List.’ With that, he turned and walked away.
Graham left his friends, followed him. ‘What do you mean?’ he demanded.
‘I said, You’re on my Hate List. You’re on the list of the people I Hate. And when I’m older, I’m going to come back and find you.’
‘You’re mad!’ laughed Graham after a long moment, and dashed off. But Algernon noticed that he did it without punching him. That evening, he drew up a list in his best handwriting. It wasn’t long, but Graham’s name was at the top. Next day, he showed it to one of Graham’s friends, pointing out that the friend wasn’t on the list at all. The friend naturally told Graham, who at playtime asked to see the list, and Algernon obliged. ‘That’s stupid!’ said Graham with a glare as he saw his own name at the top and stomped away, but again, without awarding the customary punch.
Later that afternoon, he sidled up to Algernon in Art and asked the unbelievable. ‘What have I got to do to get taken off that list?’ Algernon promised to think about it, and tell him tomorrow. That evening, he took out the list, added a few more names for no reason, and underlined Graham’s name in red. Next morning, he said nothing, apart from showing the amended list to another of Graham’s friends. Graham found him at lunchtime. ‘So what have I got to do?’
Algernon gave a big sigh and shrugged, pulling out the list and consulting it. Then after a great show of thinking hard, he said, ‘Listen, when I leave school in 10 years time I’ll be really clever and I’ll know how to make lots of money, and I’ll be able to pay people to do things. I’ll have bodyguards with guns and cars and stuff. That’s the time when I’ll be sending them back to see all the people on my list. They’ll be punching them a lot, especially the people at the top.’ As Algernon said this, he noticed that Graham’s facial expression was a strange mix of horror and fascination. ‘But I’ll have another list of course,’ he said, pulling out another sheet of paper. ‘It’s my Like list. It’s for the people I’ll have working for me. But I’m still wondering about who to put on it.’
‘What about me?’ asked Graham.
‘But you’re on the other list’, replied Algernon, looking puzzled. ‘You can't be on both. What am I supposed to do?’
‘Take me off the Hate list and put me on the Like list.’
‘But I can’t do that now’, replied Algernon. ‘It’s all sorted.’
‘Please?’ said Graham, using a word hitherto unused in his limited vocabulary. This was new. Graham had never really asked Algernon for anything before, without simply taking it. It was obviously cause to give this matter more thought.
‘Tell you what,’ Algernon said. ‘Suppose you promise not to punch me this week, or even not before Christmas?’
Graham was confused. Punching other people came quite naturally to him. To not do it, seemed somehow wrong. But now, it seemed a no-brainer. ‘OK’ he said, and walked away. And the curious thing is- for the next few weeks, he kept his promise.
Algernon had stumbled on a strange powerful truth – that changing what people believe about themselves, can change the things they do. And with that, he began wondering what to do next...