For most of us the world is a different place when you’re child. You see it differently, and therefore you act differently and it always makes perfect irrefutable sense. So when adults look at what a child is doing, cocks their heads top one side and raise their eyebrows in sheer disbelief, they ought to remember the clarity they had in their early years. It’s something we lose as we age, as does our memories of the things we used to consider perfectly normal or acceptable (that or shame has erased them from our minds). The things I describe here, were common practices I conducted between the approximate ages of 5 and 8.
Where does fruit and vegetables come from? It’s grown of course. It’s something I marvelled at every time I sunk my teeth into a peach and found it unbelievably irritating to find a pit in the centre, or the seeds of a watermelon. I don’t know why my parents insisted on buying them. We bought seedless grapes after all. So when I demanded to know why I couldn’t enjoy wiping peach pulp across my chubby face without bumping my nose into what could only be, a rock, my parents were less than sympathetic. (Next time you eat lasagne, throw a couple of rocks in there, see how great it tastes then). They told me that a peach tree would grow from the pit; that’s why it was there. So I was really happy I didn’t eat that rock, naturally. I mean, it would be stupid all by itself, but to then find out a tree would start growing in my stomach, well, that’s a fate I refused to accept. (It took approximately 3 more years before I was able to eat oranges without regarding the seeds in absolute terror).
At home, I decided to put this theory into practice. We had dirt and we had water. I could grow something myself. But not peaches, or oranges, or even strawberries, no no. Why think so small? If you’re going to grow something, choose the easiest of crops. In my case, sweets. I went out into the garden at the tender age of about 5 or 6, and dug a series of small holes. In each one I planted Skittles, Sherbets, Rownstrees’ Fruit Pastels and strawberry laces. Using my mother’s gardening shovel (the one that’s miniature, designed for tiny hands), I carefully levelled the soil over them and then filled the watering can with some excitement. I continued to water them every day after school until I decided after about a week that they weren’t growing fast enough. But whenever it rained, I’d rush to the window and stare into the garden, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sprouting tree that would bear my sweets for harvest. It rains a lot in the UK.
Speaking of holes, this lateral thinking of mine extended on holiday. We went to visit my father’s uncle in Mallorca and spent most of our days on the beach. But the trouble with the beach is, it’s hot and its sandy. Sand gets everywhere and I didn’t like it. I complained to my mother and she suggested I wash my hands and feet in the sea. A sound proposition. So I ran down in my plastic sandals and plunged into the shallows, feeling satisfied as the sticky scratchy sand floated off my skin. One step back onto the beach and more stuck to me. What could I do? Spend my life in the sea, unable to leave lest the sand get to me again. No, instead, I devised a cunning plan. I filled up a bucket of water and then triumphantly raced back to my parents to start digging a hole by the towels we’d set up. A rock pool all of my own, to dip my hands and feet in whenever I liked. No need to be in the ocean where the slimy green paper was. But I was dismayed when after pouring the water into the sandy trench, it simply vanished. Anxiously I demanded to know where the water had gone and my parents explained as best they could to me that it was under the sand. Well, I thought, there’s a simple way of solving this. I obviously need more water. Eventually it’ll fill up underground and then pool up into the hole. So i rushed back to the sea, filled my bucket and repeated the process. I repeated this for four hours of hard labour, until my mother worried about my health (both physical and mental) managed to hold me down from completing my conquest of the sands.
He was real, everyone knew that. They made you pray in school, and sing hymns, and we get presents on his son’s birthday. Oh and chocolate and rabbits on the day he died. Sure that was a bit weird, but I liked all the stories in the bible, so much so that my father bought me a children’s bible. The good samaritan, Jonah and the whale, Moses’ grand little adventure, all very interesting. But I didn’t really understand how you described people that knew God was real, but a word I caught a lot of was Jew. I wasn’t sure how they were different from Hebrew, but I knew I would be fine so long as I sounded disgusted as I said it (-ew). So I announced with confidence, that was Jewish because I believed in God; which came as a bit of a surprise to my Closet-Catholic father (Closet-Catholic: someone raised in Catholic institutions but unwilling to declare their belief, in spite of their vigorous brain washing. They say they don’t believe in an actual deity, but clearly do and would be so much happier if they ‘came out’. These individuals are known for saying things such as “God isn’t real…..but he’s everywhere). My father kindly asked me lots of questions to try and gauge why I’d suddenly adopted this new faith and learnt quite quickly that it was a point of confusion on my part. I did not understand the difference between Jewish and Christian. So to make it clear, he explained that the Jews wanted Jesus dead, and Christians did not. Now, I knew my children’s bible, and Jesus seemed like an ok guy. I didn’t want to kill him. So I quietly apologised to God in my school prayers, and adjusted my terminology.
Alas my knowledge of God’s existence took a slight hit when he continued to ignore me. I’d put my hands together, close my eyes as hard as I could (like Santa, he only comes out when you’re not looking) and did my best to strike up a chat. But he never replied and it was very disheartening. I asked my father about this and he gently explained that God doesn’t really talk to people, except maybe the really crazy ones (being Spanish, my father brought up general Franco to me at this point). But he’s always listening and he always helps. Well, I thought, I sure didn’t see him around when I had my spelling test last week. But maybe he only come out for important stuff. So one night when I discovered a spider on the ceiling of my bedroom, I knew this was easily an important thing he could help me out with. I couldn’t wake my parents up because it was too late for that, so God would have to help me. I quickly put my hands together underneath the duvet for protection, and declared if God took away the spider then I’d be good forever. But he didn’t. I always wondered if he knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that promise.
I was lucky to have a great many toys, from action-men dolls, to Star Wars figures, to knights in shining plastic armour. The wars were gruesome. Figures flew up into the air when I mimicked explosions, shots were fired with classic sound effects from my own mouth, and many a poor soul was impaled as I pushed one toy into another. But wars can go on for some time, especially on Saturdays and are often interrupted by necessary thing like lunch. After eating I would return and insist the soldiers eat too before they continued fighting. Except after lunch, and then their lunch, I would get sleepy lying face down on the floor while I positioned soldiers for the next assault. Before the battle begins I could use a nap, and really, I believed the soldiers could use one too. So I laid them all down on their backs, used their guns as makeshift pillows and when I was satisfied everyone was comfortable, I joined them for a nap. Unfortunately nobody won the war because when I woke up, all the fight in us was gone.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know already that I’m not the most efficient at waking up early. I was worse as a child, but no less inventive. As a boy, my parents would never allow me to miss a day of school and to enforce this rule, I would be woken up by them or my sister with some aggression. This sometimes included being physically rolled out and dropping me onto the floor in a heap. This was not a fun experience. So how I could maximise time spent sleeping without compromising the time we had to leave? When the alarm went off, I zombie walked out of bed to brush my teeth, groggily climbed into my school uniform and then, and only then would I get back into bed. Fully dressed. The genius of this plan was that I could sleep right until the minute we had to leave. My parents would storm in in a rage, complaining we’d be late the moment they found me asleep again. And then I’d prove them wrong by leaping out of bed, fully clothed, bag already on my shoulders, shoes on my feet. I tried going to bed in my uniform once, just so that I wouldn’t to get dressed at all in the morning but alas, this was not allowed. And eventually, even this meagre strategy wasn’t accepted. Apparently it was necessary for me to have breakfast too and it was difficult to accomplish that while unconscious.
I feel this would be an easy mistake to make, and you should all read this and nod with understanding. I once ate soap. When I eat at a restaurant and declare its bad, so bad that it tastes of soap, trust me on this. I speak from experience. At no point have I ever looked at a bar of hand soap and thought, hmm that’d go well with a handful of Skittles. No. The soap I munched on was in nautical shapes; dolphins, sea shells, crabs and the like. In luminous blue and crusty white. The expensive soaps my mother wanted. Except I’ve found that expensive soaps look just like sweets. I promise you, they do not taste like them.
There are many implements atop the table and its hard to navigate them all. Having a grandfather who worked in flashy hotels and restaurants, my family was not unfamiliar with seeing multiple shapes of spoon at dinner. But as a boy, a spoon was a spoon, no matter what it looked like. More importantly I had no patience for tools that were, as I deemed, unnecessary. Such as knives. Why did I need to cut food with a knife of all things? I was born with a perfectly good set of teeth, and saw to it that they were properly employed. No matter the size of the dish in question, be it a stew or as large as a steak, I’d pierce it on my trident and ripped into it at will while it perched helplessly. This usually wasn’t a huge issue at home; my parents would scold me and place the knife in my right hand (where the fork obviously belonged). But when we had guests round for dinner, this could no longer be so casual. During polite conversation between my parents and their guests, I decide sit was time to tuck into my food in earnest. Gravy did manage to fly a fair distance.
Breakfast was an entirely easier matter, especially when I discovered honey (if someone told me all goodness in the world came from honey I would completely understand). I was usually not interested in breakfast, until my parents drizzled honey on my cornflakes. After that I knew that bees had been put on this earth for a reason; to be the one thing that could get me up. Every morning for years, I’d happily stretch up on a chair to fetch the honey bottle, and drizzle it over breakfast. Not just cornflakes, but over toast, over crumpets, scones, croissants, there was nothing it couldn’t make delicious. Which is why, when my parents asked me to make toast I did my best to make the best breakfast I could; I brought them a plate of toast, floating in a pool of honey. Nobody appreciated it the way I did unfortunately. No taste.
For all these mistakes, there was something in them that I miss. I never at any point, afforded to doubt over my beliefs and decisions, and that is a very uplifting thing.