Why do I write?
It was when my children were young that writing became a necessity. I simply could not bear to lose the things that they came out with; things that punctuated my days with joy and made me cry with laughter.
Here are a few excerpts from my 2001 diary. O, my son, was then six and K, my daughter, was eight.
12th May: Bows and Arrows
Went to collect two very excited children from their weekend stay with my parents. Their commentary is conclusive proof of family insanity:
O: ‘Grandad's got a bow and arrows. Real ones.’
Me - nonchalant: ‘Has he?’
He got them from some Indians in the jungle.’
Me: ‘Oh.’ I still don’t believe.
K: ‘He got it in Peru when he was in the Navy. It's huge, Mummy.’
O with additional info, not quite accurate: ‘The Navy sent him to fight Indians in the jungle.’
He was actually there setting up medical supply routes by hovercraft.
Me: ‘Have you seen the bow and arrows?’
K & O in chorus: ‘Oh Yes! He USES it. He fires the arrows down the street.’
My parents live in a secluded cul-de-sac in a quiet village.
Me, in rare moment of safety consciousness: ‘Is it safe?’
K & O: ‘Oh yes. He doesn't fire it beyond where we can see…’ Good. My father has some concern for the survival of the community ‘...He's only got a small bundle of arrows and he has to be very careful not to lose them.’
I did think the care for the neighbours’ welfare a little unlikely.
O: ‘Mummy, when you go to Nepal, can you get me a bow and lots of arrows from the Indians?’
Me: ‘Sorry, sweetie. They’re the wrong sort of Indians.’
4th July: Jellyfish ghosts
At the swimming this week K, with friends U and R spotted something in the pool…
U saw it first.
U in high pitched shriek: ‘There's a jellyfish in the pool!’
R, peering at said object: ‘It looks like a jellyfish, but it can't be. Jellyfish can't live in chlorine.’ R is an astute scientist.
K: ‘It's a dead jellyfish.’
R: ‘No, it's not dead. It's moving.’
U, the ethereal one: ‘It's a ghost.’
All three, shrieking at the pool attendant: ‘Look! Look! We can see the ghost of a jellyfish in the pool!’
The reluctant pool attendant came along and fished one used condom from pool.
13th July: Swans in flippers
O and I were wandering along the riverbank. There were many swans with cygnets. A large swan was trying to scratch its rather distant head with a very large webbed foot of the type entirely normal to swans. O stopped and stared in amazement.
‘Why is that swan wearing flippers?’ he demanded.
The choking back of laughter prevented any maternal reply.
20th July: The Rat Race
We were driving to school this morning, the last day of term, and I was still largely asleep.
K: ‘Mummy! Please, please, PLEASE can we go to the Rat Race?’
Me - galvanised into consciousness: ‘What?’
K: ‘The Rat Race. I don't know when it is but it's advertised on posters all the lamp posts everywhere, so it must be REALLY good.’
Next poster soon located. Poster read: ‘Want to Escape the RAT RACE? Double your income with none of the hassle… Call ...’
8th August: Clearing Junk
We've been sorting the children's room. Toys, toy boxes, clothes, junk and more junk. Two full days during which an infinite quantity of junk has been snuck into black sacks for bin men and charity. Amidst many tears and much protesting.
It was at this point that I found a bag of limbs; limbs of the athletic male variety. I have a vague recollection of binning the dismembered body of something that once was. So suggest to O that residual limbs are not much use and consign to bin bag without further thought. Ah but …
‘Oh No, Mummy,’ O retorts vehemently, ‘you can't throw those away. They belong to Max Steel.’
Max Steel is the current version of Action Man. I’m resolute. ‘They're no good without the rest of him.’
‘Ah but … I keep him separately. He's in a different bag upstairs.’
He might once have been. That was history and I’ve had enough of this game. Irritation invades. ‘Do you
mean to tell me you actually took his arms and legs off?’
‘Yes.’ To O it’s a simple matter that requires no further explanation.
‘Why?’ I ask in simple incomprehension.
‘Because he's so strong that he can escape from anywhere. And I really, really like him and I didn't want him to escape. So I thought if I took his arms and legs off and kept them in a different place he wouldn't be able to escape.’
After a mad and desperate hunt through a mountain of black sacks, we locate Max Steel’s head and torso. The relief on finding is even greater for me than for O. Resolve never again to make any assumptions where my son is concerned.
25th August: Chickens in Cumbria
We went to visit friends in Cumbria for a few days. I was still unpacking the car when my mother phoned so O answered. He delivered an enlightening description of our friends: ‘They have a roundabout in the shower, a horse in the bedroom, and a very strange garden where the vegetables live inside and the chickens live outside. And the daddy plays the bagpuss.’
The chicken and vegetable part is the dilemma for O. He formulates his incomprehension into a question: ‘Surely the chickens would be much more likely to fly away than the vegetables?’
I can tell that my mother is having some difficultly in coming up with the sought reassurance so I take the phone and explain: ‘The roundabout is a fairground version painted on the ceiling, the horse is a rocking horse, the vegetables are in poly tunnels, the chickens are free range and G plays the Northumbrian Bagpipes.’
4th September: The Problem of Justice
O: .’What is justice?’
Ha! Resort to Rawls for simplicity of explanation. ‘Justice is what's fair. If something is Just it is Fair.’ O: ‘But, Mummy, nothing can ever really be fair. Snakes are all different lengths.’
O continues: ‘That means that if two snakes have a race and they both go at exactly the same speed the shortest snake always wins because all of it gets over the end [finishing line] first. And if the longest snake gets its head over the end first it still loses because the short one still can get all of it ['s length] over the end before all of the long one is over the end.’
To O this is profoundly unjust. We have a long conversation which results in the attribution of Natural Injustice to the racing of snakes. The conversation fails to reach satisfactory conclusion for O because nothing can ever be Just if it isn't Just to start with.
17th October: The Perfect Daughter
Meeting with K’s class teacher. Left meeting with tears of pride pouring down face. Only to find not-so-perfect daughter in playground wearing O’s gloves and he wearing hers. Why? K's had fallen into swimming pool and were still soaked. So perfect child demanded brother's dry gloves and gave him the wet ones. Have no idea what K’s gloves were doing anywhere near swimming pool. And nor has she.
22nd November: Ostrich Hostage
The children are home but I have to work. O disapproves.
‘Mummy, I am going to hold you ostrich.’
He means 'hostage'.
O wins. The ostrich has put its head in the sand and is doing no work.
29th November: Tables and Spellings
K announced in car on way to school this morning that she has test on 13x & 14x tables today.
- This is first mention of this.
- There are less than 20 minutess in which to learn.
- I do not know either 13x or 14x tables.
I do now and hope that K does too. Thirteen thirteens and fourteen fourteens pervade my day in an irritating mantra. Along with O's spellings. O remains flummoxed and infuriated by Search, Birch and Perch. Justice most definitely does not reside in the spelling of the English language.