Sunday, 23 August 2009

lost and found

I have an idea.

I am going to trawl the streets every late afternoon collecting all the lost shoes of the day and keep them until an exhausted and distraught mother turns up to collect them. I will publish my phone number so people can ring to inquire if I have the matching opposite in their size. Seriously. I think I will call it Shoes Reunited.

Since Snooks’ birth 17 months ago we have lost the following:

· one white bear - a Christening present
· one white silk shoe – a Christening shoe, later found
· one cardy (mine actually, fell off handle of buggy)
· two cups – plastic Tommee Tippee, green and blue
· one blue bunny hat – birth present from Snooks’ aunt
· two muslin cloths with teddy bear pattern
· one football bearing the legend “Genius Dolphins” (found in Greece. Lost in south London)
· the buggy’s ‘cosy toes’ (later found in Sainsbury toilet. Huge relief)
· two beloved shoes, size 4

There will be more by the time you read this.

Most of these items were dropped or left behind in locations very near our home but had vanished by the time I returned to retrieve them. Where do they go? Who spirited away our blue bunny hat? Why?

You remember the excitement over the new shoes ( shoe love)? Yes well since then there have been another new pair in a larger size, followed by a pair of sandals because the posh new shoes were lovely but too warm for summer, followed by another pair because one of the sandals went missing in Marks and Spencer.

Keeping up?

Well until this week, we were up to shoes number four, an adorable, unfeasibly cute pair of canvas lace up pumps. They were navy with red and green stripes along the side and they had distinctive (and apparently very cool) red soles. They were known as Snooks’ Linus shoes because he bore such a strong resemblance to the Charles M Schulz Peanuts cartoon character of that name when he wore them.

It is almost too painful to retell but here goes.

Snooks and I had stopped off at our favourite café one hot afternoon last week after a long journey to visit the Engineer at his place of work. The day had been a great success. Trains had been caught on time (amazing, considering the variables). Strangers had been found to help carry the buggy up and down the stairs at the station (don’t get me started). The Engineer’s work colleagues had been suitably entertained by Snooks’ astonishing resemblance to his father and fascination for mechanical objects. All was well.

I was enjoying a bracing cup of Earl Grey, while Snooks careered about with a resident tractor, the cafe’s main attraction for him.

Now I distinctly remember removing his shoes and socks during a tantrum (his not mine) brought on by my touching the tractor to try to lure him out of the path of an incoming super-buggy being pushed by the type who often frequent the place – pearls, designer jeans, fall-down up do, subtle but effective make-up, chunky wedding ring.

I have whiled away many an hour since Snooks was born, observing these awesome uber-mums over afternoon tea, noting their universal tendency to speak without revealing their teeth.

Anyway, the superbuggy is heading for Snooks, unaware of his presence on the floor. I swoop in to move him, tantrum ensues and I decide to pack up and leave, covered in confusion and embarrassment.

So you can guess. In the mayhem, I packed everything into the bottom of the pram, while holding a screaming Snooks and somehow left one of the gorgeous shoes behind.

My reaction when I discovered the omission on our arrival home an hour later was such that Snooks stopped what he was doing and stared at me with the expression he reserves for crying newborn babies.

As I returned from a second trip to the café that day, having retraced our steps there and back, having asked in all the shops along the same road if anyone had handed it in, I resorted to the time-honoured method for finding missing objects. I prayed to St Anthony.

Moments later I spotted a child’s shoe on a fence, not our shoe but a similar one, same style, canvas, striped, size four.

As I examined it, wondering if somehow ours could have morphed into this cute little thing, a man came up behind me and said he had seen a similar shoe further down the road.

Without asking more I ran in the direction he pointed until I arrived at the other, identical shoe, also carefully placed on fence.

He caught up, carrying the first shoe in his hand.

“They are not ours,” I said, flat with disappointment. “I did not realise you meant it was the same shoe.”

“Yes but if they fit, why don’t you have them? Noone is going to go looking for a pair of shoes they have lost.”

Could St Anthony come with an eye-patch and a little black pug dog? Or is that the other guy?

Either way I made a pact. If our Linus shoe turns up, I’ll put these back.

Are you listening up there?

Monday, 17 August 2009

blue sky guys

Snooks is talking more and more now. In fact he rarely stops, even when he is asleep.

He is very keen to get across his view of the world and resorts to furious, crescendoing repetition if his insights go unacknowledged.

I suppose I imagined that when he did talk, his observations would be in line with mine: he would notice the weather, what we were wearing, things out of place in the bathroom, that sort of thing.

But the things that alert Snooks’ senses and the sense he makes of them are really, very fabulously, uniquely him.

The Engineer read to me the other night from an article about babies. (It reminds me of a great line from Woody Allen’s masterpiece Hannah and Her Sisters where a character offers to read her film script to him and he replies: “No thanks, I have been doing all my own reading since I was five.”)

The article in the New Scientist explained how babies have more flexible brains than adults – they actually have more neural connections than adults, which they gradually weed out to hang on to the most useful ones – and are therefore more creative thinkers than adults. They are, as the article by Prof Alison Gopnik , University of California, points out ‘the R&D department of the human species, the blue sky guys, while we adults are production and marketing.’

I have to just thank the Engineer here for these nuggets of grown-up information. Most of my mental energy is spent fathoming nap times and what is left by the end of the day I tend to use to dissolve into fiction. Some science to chew on makes a fabulous late night snack.

Plus, this particular nugget has helped to change how I converse with our highly expressive son.

At first it was pretty obvious what was going on. I would point at objects and he would name them, drawing from the words which cropped up most frequently in our lives. ‘Balle’ eventually became ‘ball’, ‘burr’ became ‘bear’ and ‘cake’ has always been embarrassingly clear.

Then he started to volunteer words unprompted. The first happened in a café over afternoon tea where he pointed to a balloon on the table and named it out loud. Balloons are not a feature of our everyday world, nor do they crop up in the books we read together, which meant that he had remembered the word from a party months earlier, where he had purloined a giant helium-filled ‘0’ which was announcing the units of age attained by a friend celebrating his 60th birthday.

Last weekend we visited a relative up north where I was expecting to have to contain him indoors, a prospect I faced with some horror on account of his explosive energy and my 77-year-old aunt’s glass-fronted cabinets.

However Snooks provided a solution himself repeatedly shouting, “Sun!” while pointing out of the window, inspiring two visits to the wonderful beaches of the north east coast and hours of pushing Clairebear around the back yard in his boy buggy.

I was doubtful at first that this could really be what he meant, but resolved to try to see what he sees, instead of telling him what my myopic, ground-level vision tells me.

Back home, as I was putting him to bed the other night he ran through his list of favourite words. "Sight," he announced, pointing at the light, (fair enough). "Ayee," he said, poking himself and then me in the eye (par for the course). "Boat," he said, pointing at the Paul Klee print Der Niesen which hangs above his changing mat and which I have believed, for the last 26 years, to be a painting of houses surrounding a mountain.

"No it’s a…" I stopped myself, just in time.

Who am I to say it is not a boat? I am just production and marketing. He’s the blue sky baby.

Monday, 3 August 2009

puppy love

When I was a toddler I had a dog called Patrick.

Patrick was my loyal companion for some part of my life between being able to walk and going to school.

I have based this estimation on the fact that I cannot have been more than a couple of feet tall when I was taking Patrick for walks. I know this because Patrick was not really a dog, but in truth the bath plug being pulled along on its chain.

I have always assumed that this was an idiosyncrasy all of my own, born out of being the youngest and so in need of someone to master.

The logic behind the plug choice was that the chain reminded me of the dog leads I had seen tethering mutts outside our local shops, while on errands there in the pushchair.

The name, I only understood years later, when my Dad and I visited an old friend of his and heard him call “Paaaaatriiiick” at which an old but very friendly labrador appeared at his side. It all fell into place.

So when I saw Snooks starting to drag around pieces of cloth, bits of string – anything that reached the floor from his hot little hand, I knew exactly what was needed. We soon had Barney in a collar fashioned from an old head-band, with Snooks’ snake belt hooked onto it as a lead.

The likeness to a real lead and collar are the measure of fulfilment derived from the whole dog thing, as I recall.

I was eventually weaned off the bath plug when handed responsibility for the family dog Fido, whose long woolly body, knitted by a friend of my mother’s and stuffed with old tights, was for a while the flesh and blood of my own best friend.

It was a partnership which ended abruptly one night during the 1970 power cuts, when my father, having a quiet cigarette in the pitch dark, tried to pick up the pillar ashtray beside his chair, unaware that Fido, obediently awaiting my return, was tethered to it.

Once the contents of the ashtray had been spilled on the carpet, both the ashtray and Fido were flung out of the lounge window.

It was not long after the incident, that Fido’s thespian career took off as he landed the part of second lamb in the local school’s nativity, which I imagine is still running to this day.

Snooks’ interest in dogs has never faded since he first started shouting out to them as we passed them on the common. And now, pulling Barney around by a lead seems to have awakened a new interest.

This morning, after a long Snookle in bed, I suggested to him that Barney might need a walk and watched as he gently pulled the pet down the hallway looking behind to make sure Barney was following.

Surely he can’t have inherited it. Is Barney following in the prints of Patrick and Fido or is there a more obvious explanation - a need for companionship?

Snooks will not have little brothers and sisters to torment (come on, we all know it is the pay-off to older siblings for having to play second fiddle when the new one arrives) as the Engineer and I figured we had just about snuck under the wire begetting one; A second, at our advancing years, could well be asking for trouble.

Besides it is hard to imagine loving another as much as I love this one. Sharing myself with anyone else feels like a betrayal. Of course the Engineer does not count. That’s different.

Anyway, it was probably no coincidence that, just as a couple of mumfriends are now expecting their second, I found myself shouting “Let’s get a dog!” while watching the birth of nine, outrageously cute labrador pups on telly the other night?

The Engineer, so far, has kept his silence.