I’m en famille here at the moment. When asked by her mum what my granddaughter wanted to eat, she replied , “Gettys”.
I was thrilled: my daughter and son-in-law had done a fine job if, at the age of just under three, their first child wanted to eat billionaires. Sadly (or perhaps not) it turned out that this was her word for spaghetti. Lyla certainly does like spaghetti. And scream. Scream comes after spaghetti, with okkolit. Sometimes she has heez on her Getty’s. When she wants to do what you ask, she says “K”. I never thought it would be possible to abbreviate ‘OK’, but my granddaughter is obviously a trail-blazer. There’s no abbreviation involved in the response when she doesn’t want to do something. It starts with a long consonant (r) which then inherits an ‘n’ and then a stream of vowels. Sort of
Also here are my son-in-law’s sister, hubby and three kids all under eight. That is, the kids are under eight, the parents are a little older. It’s brilliant, because each twenty-minute slot contains at least five good gags, ten silly questions, three crises and ten sets of tears. And the kids can be a bit of a trial too.
The time I like the best is bedtime: not because it’s time they went to bed as it were, but because the excuses for coming back down restore one’s faith in British creativity.
“I think I’ve got malaria,” said Liam (aged 8) on the second night, the wackiness of which left me awed. He’d been bitten in the pool by something he suspected was a mosquito. Eve wanted a glass of water (far more conventional) but then thought she had might have a lizard in her ear. Alix had an ache in her ear. I suggested that if Eve poured a glass of water in her ear, the lizard might come out and then deal with Alix’s ache. They both looked at me as if I might need permission to go out alone.
That’s the thing with kids: they can do surreal – and characters in bedtime stories are allowed to be odd – but they become anxious the minute real adults start doing it. It took their mum quite some time to explain that Opah* the host was a nice old man really but had suddenly decided to grow his hair very long and develop an obsession with Belgian mobster Guy Verhofstadt. This, she explained, had sent him what doctors call “spiralling-out-of-control bonkers tonto”. They seemed more than happy with this explanation, but expressed a degree of sympathy for poor Mr Von Moustache. I need to redeem myself a little before choosing the right time to tell them he doesn’t deserve it.
It’s a long time since I was at this stage of child-rearing, so I had completely forgotten the biblical-locust ability of young western families to consume. All my current guests being unbelievably generous, I’ve yet to put my hand in my pocket, but their trips to the supermarket are up there with provisioning for the first attempt to walk backwards across the Arctic Circle. Both fridges here are straining under the weight of yoghurts, pasta, chicken, salami, and unfeasible amounts of soft fruit, crème fraiche and laughing-cow cheese slices. Open either of the doors, and it looks like Damien Hirst has been let loose inside with no boundaries this time to hold back his darker side….except the ‘blood’ is raspberry juice.
And yet oddly, watching the antics of the kids feels incredibly similar to writing about the playground posturing of eunatics, bankers, finance ministers, mouthpiece hacks, senior Met policemen and US envoys. But while the behaviours are almost identical, the charm of childhood innocence (and the near-certainty that they will learn from their errors) is in jet-black-to-snow-white razor-sharp contrast to the dysfunctional sociopathy of those who seem to keep rising to the top of the fermentation barrel.
The small people in and around my pool each day are immature minds representing our only hope for a more creatively ethical future. The small minds in and around the trough of Mammon are damaged as a result of self-inflicted comfort greed….and/or an unfortunate childhood being parented by privileged airheads. I’m sure I should feel sorry for such goblins, but I don’t. Instead, I’m having a ball laughing and larking about with real people. And while these family members are luckier than most, I know they will be encouraged to laugh at shallow richesse, and feel a kinship with those in the depths of poverty.
*As we lucky ones live longer and divorce more these days, there’s a need for each grandparent to have a clear ID to separate them from the fifteen other versions. Mine is ‘Opah’ (German for Grandpa) out of respect for the father-in-law from my second marriage.