We're up the back of the high school on the school farm, on our knees with assorted chickens and a black sheep giving us withering looks from across the fence. It was Year 9 history class and the topic was World War One. Our assignment was to recreate a trench in a patch of dirt. We had big sticks for diggin', a bucket of water, a Bic lighter, silver tinsel, a box of Kellogg's Mini-Wheats, and an army of Lego men.
We were in groups of four, and each group huddled round tight, whispering and digging furtively. Shooting dirty looks at the other groups, hissing things like, "They've got tomato sauce for blood! Why didn't we think of that?"
Soon two nice deep trenches formed with a nice empty stretch of No Man's Land between them. We rolled some tinsel in the dirt and plonked it down. That was our barbed wire. We threw a few Lego men on top, the poor buggers got caught in the crossfire.
On to the trenches. Paddlepop stick parapet. Mini-Wheat sandbags along the top. More Lego men. Then the finishing touch: dumping the bucket of water over the whole thing.
Our teacher swooped over and huffed disapprovingly, "Why did you just flood your trench?"
"It's the Somme."
"And why are there crushed up Mini-Wheats floating in it?"
"That's the lice."
"And why is that Lego man on fire?"
"That's our interpretation of mustard gas."
We had little regard for historical accuracy, rather crowed a lot about our ingenuity and cleverness. But every now and then we'd grow serious and remember that there really was this huge, horrible war that changed the world so greatly.
Now I can't help thinking about this war now, I keep thinking and worrying. And I wonder if there'll ever be a time some day it will be over, when my great-grand-kids will be studying it at school. Reduced over the years to a neat little chapter in a textbook that said it started in 2001 and ended in blah blah blah and this many people died and there'll be maps and diagrams and it will all look so simple and resolved. So long ago and foreign to them. Maybe they'll be doing recreations in the dirt.
"So what's all this sand?"
"And who's that Lego man under the rock with the steel wool round his face?"
"That's Osama Bin Laden."
"Why's there Mini-Wheats tied up in string all over the place?"
"They just dropped some food parcels."