Tag Archives: Childhood

On learning to love the mud

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Boys love mud. I’ve had to learn to love it, too. Last Sunday we went for a walk around Lardon Chase and The Holies, just outside Streatley, and even on a sunny day we slipped and slid. We left the pushchairs behind, put Teds in the back carrier and Henry in wellies.

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You notice a lot more when you’re going one-eighth of a normal walking speed. The feeling of crunchy bark on the trees, the pattern of sunshine and shade on the ground, the exact sucky-squelch of the churned-up soil. Sticks become swords and molehills launching pads. He tends to be more interested in where we are than where we’re going, and I try not to yell for him too often. Wandering by yourself in a sunlit wood is one of those childhood experiences that needs to be lived so you can remember it later, and the mud on the seat of your trousers is your triumphant souvenir.

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Pets at home

I was in Bradford one Saturday, and passed a gang of youths (this is the technical term) glowering their way across the car park. They were intimidating enough that a very sheltered sixteen-year-old might reasonably cross the car park to avoid them, except that I was wearing my sports shop uniform, so felt a tiny bit gangsta myself.

“What’re we doin’?” one of them said.

“Goin’ to Pets at Home’, growled the largest, beefiest one. ‘Goin’ to see t’ rabbits”.

Thug life, my friends. Don’t imagine that stroking rabbits in a pet shop doesn’t feature heavily in their down time, because it does.

I thought about this on Tuesday afternoon, when I took Henry out for a treat after our museum trip, and decided to pop into Pets at Home first. To see t’ rabbits. I couldn’t help but feel that a handsy two-year-old would strike more fear into a rabbit’s heart than a burly teenaged hoodie, so really, we were the most gangsta of all. Hen was over the moon, trying to count the fish and yelling escape instructions to the hamsters through the glass cages.

Hamsters don’t need escape instructions. They are artists. We were never pet people, mostly because my dad wasn’t a pet person, and passed his hair-spit-and-poo aversion solidly onto the next generation. But I kind of fancied myself as a pet person once, the way you might fancy yourself a hat person and try out a few, before you realise you don’t have the right nose for hats. Before I realised I didn’t have the right nose for pets, either, I had hamsters.

The first was a peach and white Syrian hamster, called Toffee. She was a lean, angry warrior hamster, who never took to us in the way the books said she would. I tried all sorts to make her love us, but she still spent all her spare time scratching at the corner of the carpet, or leaking milky pee all over us out of spite. One day, I left the cage door open by accident, and she ran for it. We had a boiler cupboard in the bathroom, with a sizeable gap in the floorboards to let the pipes through. Just made for a hamster with no fear and something to prove. You can see why we thought she was done for.

After a fruitless, sobby day of searching, we were put to bed with the promise that Dad would leave her little ladder down the hole, and her cage open on the floor, in case she found her way up in the night. It’s the sort of thing parents say when pets are definitely dead. But the next morning, there she was, huddled in her little house, a scratch on one side of her nose. AMAZING.

Now I’m wondering if my parents went out, bought another hamster and roughed it up a bit. Surely not.

She was like Braveheart, that hamster, but even Mel Gibson rodents will succumb to convulsions. About a week after her passing, I mentioned to Mum that hamsters sometimes hibernate and look like they’ve died.

‘Kenneth, they hibernate’, Mum said. Apparently forgetting that she’d witnessed the hamster die from convulsions.

My dad tried to look as though he didn’t know where this conversation was headed. ‘So?’

‘So what if she’s hibernating?’

‘She’s definitely not.’

‘I’m so worried about her. You need to go and check.’

And so on, until Dad went out, in the middle of the night, to dig up a hamster that had been dead for a week. He came back in looking like he was suppressing a gag reflex. She wasn’t hibernating. At all.

Hamster no. 2 was called Smoky. I must be searingly honest here, dear readers, in the interests of journalistic integrity. And so I confess to you that I abandoned him – heart, soul and hands – because he turned out to be male, and had large balls.

I was young and shallow, but they were very large. And weirdly soft. And dragged along your hands when he walked. It was incredibly off-putting. So I handed him over to my sister, who took him on and loved him like her own. (If you’d like to know the difference between me and my good-hearted sister, this incident would be a good place to start.)

He died of hamster cancer, and I was sorry, but by then my reputation for hard-heartedness had lost me the right to grieve. I’d like to think that now, older and wiser, I’d be able to look past his supreme genital over-endowment and appreciate his equally large heart. But I dunno. Maybe, deep down, I’ll always be the sort of person who’d wrinkle their nose at being caressed by hamster balls. If that’s not the sort of self-discovery that blogging was made for, I don’t know what is.

I don’t think we will be pet people, either. Not even for t’ rabbits.

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Though he still has hopes for a lion.

The making of a boy

Someone told me that when a baby puts something in their mouth for the first time, they log it away for future reference. So you still know what sand tastes like, even though you only tried it once and however many years ago it was (no need to specify).

Henry won’t be trying it again, I assume.



I love these firsts. I love how they feel so exciting to us, trivial as they seem. What I can’t get my head around is how we’re creating a childhood between us. His hazy first memories will be made up of our normal lives. The stories he’ll tell his friends about the exasperating quirks of his parents will be woven from our personalities. I feel the weight of it when he has a problem that only I can fix, when he cries and cries until I lift him up, and he buries chubby hands in my hair and quietens himself, I feel it: I am the mother, I am the quiet in his baby storm, and this is a childhood we are forming together.

I know we are destined to be desperately uncool to him one day. I’m so glad that it’s not quite yet.

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