An ordinary classroom. The tables have been stacked up by the wall and the children are sitting in a big half circle. Facing them is a visitor from Amnesty International. He has come to speak to these 15 year olds about human rights issues in Britain and abroad.
Among the 15 year olds is a girl with long blonde hair in pigtails, bearing an uncanny resemblance to this poster which is reproduced in many books about the Nazi era, although the girl probably does not know this and almost certainly does not wish to associate herself with the Nazi movement.
She has at her feet a pink rucksack with a picture of My Little Pony (or some similarly girlish merchandise). Her school uniform is immaculate, in contrast to many of her classmates.
The human rights presentation has been running for 2 minutes and the kids are listening respectfully but with little real interest.
The representative from the human rights organisation is a softly spoken gentleman in his 40s who says he will be talking about torture, arms exports, political prisoners, freedom of expression.
He asks the class:
‘Right, who likes ice cream?’
I am sorry, he doesn’t ask if anyone likes ice cream, he says:
He leans forward in his chair, signifying weighty words.
‘ Who here … supports having the death … penalty?’
The pigtailed girl shoots her arm into the air at an angle of about 45º, her hand grasping at the air.
I am not sure if she looks more like someone in a montage by Nazi cinema propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, or an adoring concert goer standing by the stage where her favourite band is playing.
Lunchtime. I receive a message from His Headmastership requesting my presence in the hall.
The caretaker at our school is a wizard at carpentry. In just a few hours, the stage where generations of pupils have stood to receive awards, to perform plays, to give presentations, has been transformed forever.
‘Careful, that’s the trapdoor’, warns the caretaker as I tread across the boards. I look up at where the stage lighting had been mounted. In the shadows there now hangs a noose, woven in what looks to be the strongest hemp.
Standing in the wings is the pigtailed girl, her pink My Little Pony rucksack slung over her shoulder, the purest childish delight radiating from her face, and her small hands reached out before her, firmly clasping an enormous lever, similar to the kind of lever I believe was used on old steam railways to change the points.
‘Remind me what your name was’, I order her.
‘Albertyna’ the girl giggles.
‘Albertyna what?’ I demand with uncharacteristic impatience. Then I realise that, with a deftness of hand that only the finest craftsman can master, the caretaker has fastened the noose around my neck.
Pulling the lever with all her might, the last sound I hear is the girl's voice echoing around the old school hall, accompanied by the cruel cheering of a thousand unseen children.
‘My name… is Albertyna Pierrepoint!’