Key’s Cupboard : Tales Of Little Ruskin

The young John_Ruskin by James Northcote

If Frank was Education Minister he would make the works of John Ruskin absolutely central to the education of our tinies. To this end, he has been hard at work devising Tales Of Little Ruskin, suitable for reading aloud to infants.

I. Little Ruskin In The Garden

“I was extremely fond of digging holes, but that form of gardening was not allowed.” – John Ruskin, Praeterita, Volume I (1885/6)

Look, children, there goes little Ruskin, marching up the path with his spade over his shoulder! But who is this come a-lolloping towards him? It is Mr Snippage, the kindly old gardener, Mr Snippage who leaves ants’-nests undisturbed so little Ruskin can investigate them with his already piercing observational skills.

“What ho!” says Mr Snippage, “Now what would you be about, little Ruskin, with that spade over your shoulder?”

“I am going to dig holes here in our Herne Hill garden, Mr Snippage. I am extremely fond of digging holes,” replies the infant.

“Ho ho ho,” laughs Mr Snippage, “I knows you are, little Ruskin. But I don’t think your Ma takes too kindly to all your hole-digging, does she now?”

Little Ruskin blushes. Last summer he had dug so many holes the house on the hill had been at risk of subsidence. That is why he plans to dig this year’s holes at the farthest end of the garden. But he can find no words to say in reply to Mr Snippage.

“I know your Ma gets you a-Bible reading every morning,” continues the gardener, “And I know she added an eleventh commandment, didn’t she?”

Little Ruskin nods.

“Thou shalt not dig holes in the garden,” quotes Mr Snippage, “And she didn’t mean the garden of Eden, did she now?”

Little Ruskin tosses his spade aside and begins to sob.

“There, there,” says Mr Snippage, mussing little Ruskin’s carefully-combed hair, “Let’s you and me see if we can’t find an ants’-nest to study.”

And he takes little Ruskin by the hand and leads him off towards where he knows there will be an ants’-nest or two.

Ma Ruskin looks on at the scene from the drawing-room window. She clutches her doctored Bible to her bosom and offers up a prayer of thanks that the kindly old gardener has turned little Ruskin away from the path of sin.

II. Little Ruskin And The Cripple With Ringlets

“Margaret, in early youth, met with some mischance that twisted her spine, and hopelessly deformed her… I never liked invalids, and don’t to this day; and Margaret used to wear her hair in ringlets, which I couldn’t bear the sight of.” – John Ruskin, Praeterita, Volume I (1885/6)

See, children, this couple walking along the road. One is a tall, handsome, and very finely made woman, with a beautiful mild firmness of expression, the other a conceited little boy. Why, of course, it is Ma Ruskin taking a stroll with Little Ruskin. They walk straight past the toyshop window without a glance. Little Ruskin knows he will never be allowed the temptation of toys. But Ma Ruskin has promised to take him to a spot, somewhere between Herne Hill and Camberwell, where he may pick a pebble to take home with him. Little Ruskin loves his pebbles.

As they turn a corner, Little Ruskin’s buoyant mood changes, however, for ahead of them loom the great granite walls of the Charitable Mercy Home For Crippled Tinies.

“Can we increase the speed of our strolling, Ma, the quicker to be past this benighted cripplehaven?” pleads Little Ruskin.

“We shall stroll at the pace the Lord intends,” replies Ma Ruskin, not unkindly, but with her usual mild firmness.

Little Ruskin begins to tremble.

And then, children, out of the gates of the Mercy Home comes Little Ruskin’s worst nightmare! It is a diminutive girlie with a twisted, deformed spine, and her hair is in ringlets!

“Aaaghh!” screeches Little Ruskin, shielding his eyes from the horrible sight and trying to hide himself in the folds of Ma Ruskin’s skirts.

Ma Ruskin scolds her son for making such a din and a spectacle, and she turns him about and marches him home.

“There will be no pebble for you today, Little Ruskin!” she says, mildly firm.

And so, quaking with a mixture of disgust and horror, Little Ruskin ends up back at the house on the hill, forbidden even to jump off his favourite box.

Next Episode : Little Ruskin is given three raisins as a special treat!


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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

7 thoughts on “Key’s Cupboard : Tales Of Little Ruskin

  1. Brit
    September 10, 2010 at 09:11

    “We shall stroll at the pace the Lord intends,” –oh I shall use that. Incomparable.

  2. Worm
    September 10, 2010 at 09:34

    haha Little Ruskin and the Cripple With Ringlets was pretty dark! Very ‘League of Gentlemen’

  3. Brit
    September 10, 2010 at 09:59

    I would say that League of Gentlemen is ‘very Frank Key’.

    ian russell
    September 10, 2010 at 11:04

    I loved reading along but now you’ve got me worried about the collection of pebbles in my car.

  5. September 10, 2010 at 11:39

    Ian – the fact that your pebbles have not been confiscated and remain in your possession would indicate that you have been strolling (or driving) at the pace the Lord intends. You are an example to us all.

    September 11, 2010 at 18:04

    if i recall, there is a highly and surreally tedious 50 pages or so in one of Beckett’s prose works where the hero diverts himself from the horror of reality by shifting pebbles from one pocket to another.

  7. September 11, 2010 at 18:47

    elberry – Yes, the disposition of pebbles (in both pockets and mouth) is of major importance in “Watt”. The funniest novel Beckett ever wrote, in spite of, or possibly because of, such “tedium”.

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