Illustrative ad verbatim #8

[Parking car before swimming lesson]

L: We can’t actually park here.

A: I know, but it’ll be OK today. And anyway, there’s nowhere else to park.

L: Mm, but this is actually the company car park.

A: Yes, but it’s Sunday today, so they won’t be using it.

L: Well, OK. But if the company sees, just remember it was you who parked the car here, not me.

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Illustrative ad verbatim #7

D: What’s wrong?

J: Dared.

D: What are you scared of?

J: Dared bear.

D: You don’t need to be scared of bears. We don’t have any bears in this country anyway. Only in zoos.

J: [Pointing towards back garden] Bear out there?

D: No. There aren’t any bears out there.

J: [Thinks for a second] Wolf out there?

D: There are no wolves out there either. We don’t have them in this country either. Only in zoos.

J: [Looks with concern in direction of back garden. Nods] Wolf out there.

Unlucky, Jim

I left my copy of Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, which I was halfway through reading, in a cubicle at the swimming pool. I blame L. He was faffing around while getting dressed, going all blue-mouthed after an icy dip, and I had to intervene. So I pulled it out of my back pocket and stuck it on the little bench. I imagine it resides their still, although now it is probably bloated and water-damaged and unreadable.

I hate losing books. I once claimed when we were students (and I was prone to such grandiose declarations) that I would rather lose my wallet than the book I was currently reading. A, quite rightly, scoffed at this. But a part of me holds to it still. I last lost a book in 2002, when I left my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow in a rucksack in the cinema on Broad Street in Birmingham. I can’t remember the film I went to see. I’ve got another copy of Gravity’s Rainbow now but that is hardly the point.

It feels wrong to put a book down without finishing it. It feels even worse not to have the chance to finish it because you have lost the bloody thing. Ho hum. Maybe they have a lost property box at the pool.

Illustrative ad verbatim #6

[During a thunder storm]

L: I need to see some thunder.

D: You mean lightning. You hear thunder. You see lightning.

L: I need to see some lightning. Lightning always comes after thunder.

D: The other way around. Thunder comes after lightning.

L: No, it’s the other way around.

D: It’s not. Lightning comes first, then thunder.

L: No, thunder comes first.

[Pause]

L: Mummy agrees with me. You’re off-numbered.

Not (quite) everything can be our fault

Two kids in and I’m starting to feel that there are certain things over which you have no control. While it’s empowering to think that you control the weather and mould the characters of your little sproglets, that your behaviour towards them has the consequence of their behaviour towards you, some things just don’t fit that pattern.

The problem is that if everything is your responsibility, then everything is your fault. At the moment, J is prone to tantrums. He likes a good scream. Did we do something unknowingly that made this inevitable? I choose to think that we didn’t. He is two and a half after all. And while I shy away from catch-all phrases that are ready made to allow parents to let themselves off the hook, the fact is that the so-called terrible two phase is common to enough children that it has earned its own name. Maybe letting yourself off the hook every once in a while isn’t such a bad thing.

In our discussions about the children, A and I are becoming increasingly prone to truisms. One that we come back to often is that the influence of the first child makes disciplining the second much harder. Another (and this is the one I’m sticking with for the time being) is that certain things cannot be altered, you just have to live with them until they change.

On Velcro

L starts school for the first time next week. It’s the end of an era. No more empty days of play and freedom. The grind starts here.

He’s very excited about it, largely because he hasn’t yet twigged that it will mean getting up every weekday, at roughly the same time, to go and do something he’d rather not do, all day, for pretty much the rest of his life.

Most of his excitement seems to stem from the chance to wear a uniform. He keeps putting it on around the house. Again, he doesn’t seem to have realised that it is effectively a strait jacket that will enslave him forever. Ho hum, these kids will not be told.

He has two pairs of new shoes, a pair of ‘sensible’ school shoes and a pair of gym daps. Both fasten with velcro. So early mornings in our house recently have been characterised by the inimitable sound of velcro fastening and refastening, which is enough to rouse anyone from slumber if it goes on long enough.

A quick google search tells me that velcro’s technical name is hook and loop fastening, which is a lot less catchy than you would expect from a product that is all about adhesion. Wikipedia informs me that it was first developed by the Swiss engineer George de Mestral, who went for a walk in the woods one day in 1948 and, after the burrs of woodland plants snagged on his clothes, came up with the idea of a hook and loop fastening system that could replace laces.

This is a nice little origin story, akin somehow to the one about the radar researcher who accidentally invented the microwave oven when a prototype microwave transmitter melted a chocolate bar in his lab coat. Like the velcro story, I hope it’s true.

I am also reminded of the entrepreneur character in the film Garden State, who makes a fortune after inventing silent velcro, then sits around all day in his mansion, staving off the boredom by indulging in increasingly dangerous parlour games.

Has any invention done more for the independence of preschoolers than velcro? Up there on the list would be the micro-scooter and the footstools you sometimes find in the toilets of conscientious shops and eateries.

But velcro tops them all. Such simplicity, such ease. Of course, all L’s shoes leading up to this point have also fastened with velcro, but the school shoes mark the first occasion on which L is dressing himself for something specifically. It’s also the first time we have asked him to sacrifice a part of his own identity in the interest of a larger community. Somehow a little uniform with velcro shoes seems just one step away from a shirt and tie, an economical car and a desk job. So in fact, it isn’t helping him be more independent at all. It’s merely helping him to be more like everyone else.

I wonder if George de Mestral thought in 1948 when he invented the stuff that one day it would allow children to put their shoes on themselves (noisily) at six o’clock in the morning. Or if his creation would be the first step in socialising children into a lifetime of conformity and consensus.

My applause goes to Monsieur de Mestral, initiating worker drones since 1948.