This month's task for writers' group was to write something from a child's perspective. This is what came out.
If I were a grownup
stay up all night
on the blue channel
on the television
that needs a PIN code
to get into it
(I know, I’ve tried)
and I’d travel
round the world
in a yacht,
have a job for
until I had enough
to be on holiday
all the time
and I’d live in
a big house
on the top
of a hill
with three televisions
and a big bathroom
and lots of pets -
a dog, no two dogs
and a cat and a
hamster and a goldfish
and a guinea pig
and a rabbit.
And maybe a horse.
Or a donkey.
And I’d drive a
big black car
and go wherever
I wanted – to the beach
mostly, not to boring
castles or gardens
or garden centres
or the supermarket.
And I’d have ice cream
and never have soup
and have spaghetti bolognese
for tea every night,
well maybe pizza
and only eat
mangoes and grapes
and I’d have a cupboard
full of sweets
and nothing else.
Just for me
and my friends.
I have been asked a few times recently, what I paint. I have happily told the questioners that boats feature a lot in my paintings at the moment; ones from both the east and west coasts of Scotland. And then I mention the sheds, and they look slightly bemused and I feel rather apologetic. I'm not sure why this is, so I have spent some time thinking about it, as I suppose there really should be some underlying reason as to why I feel drawn to sheds, particularly ones with corrugated iron roofs.
This is the conclusion I have drawn. It all goes back to summer holidays spent in Lochcarron, in Wester Ross, in what had been my paternal granny's house. Not just summer holidays, when we would spend hours on the shore turning over rocks looking for butterfish and crabs, or digging very fast to try and outwit clams which scooted down into the sand, or for lugworms, beneath their telltale casts, to use as bait on fishing expeditions. No, we were often there at Easter too, and in the winter as well. There are diaries of those holidays somewhere. One day I'll look them out.
At the back of my granny's house were a couple of wooden sheds, where the garden tools and coal (I think) were kept. They were quite well-maintained, these sheds; wooden slats with sloping corrugated iron roofs. They were of no particular interest to me. It was my job in the summertime to clip the long grass away from the outer walls of the shed, so the wood would not become damp and rot. This job was done with an old pair of sheep-shearing shears. I loved using them. I learned to scythe in those summers too, when the grass was thigh-high when we arrived, and had to be cut down before it got trampled flat. There is a rhythm required for scything - enough speed is required to cut the tough grass stalks, but go too fast and you get tired very quickly and the grass is not be properly cut.
But the shed I liked best was the one away up at the back of the plot or land (part of a croft at some time, I suppose). It had no door, but the doorway faced away from the prevailing wind, so it was always sheltered and warm. I think it even had a little window, grimy and cobwebbed. I set up a wooden table and a stool, made from logs and planks of wood that I found. It was my den. I swept it, tidied it, put a jam jar filled with wild flowers on the table. And then I had a visitor. I think he lived in the shed next door, or under a nearby pile of branches. A hedgehog. I provided a saucer of milk, sat in the corner, barely breathing, watching, listening, drinking him in. I was in love. In my shed.
I have been listening to Woman's Hour on Radio 4 again this morning, as I do most mornings. The discussion was about choosing to have children versus choosing to remain childless. I was reminded of a piece which I wrote a while ago. Coincidentally, my thoughts have been on babies and children for the past few days, as our younger child turned twenty yesterday. Finally, the teenage years are over. A new chapter is beginning. Here is the piece.
I Wish them Luck
the young married couple next door
have decided to have a baby
good for them
I wish them luck
No really, I do
But I also wish someone would tell them,
and I know that no-one will
and even if they did, the poor souls would not listen
to a word of it,
that they are not just having a baby –
they will be having
a tiny infant
who cries in the night
and demands their attention -
no-one else is going to
attend to its needs
they will have to
and they alone
if they choose
a teething, gurning
one year old
who cries in the night
and demands to be soothed
not just once,
but many times
a defiant toddler
who says No before he learns to say
Yes, or please,
who lies on his back on the floor
and kicks his feet and screams
very loudly when he does not
get his own way, and produces
large amounts of tears, snot
and poo, generally into nappies
and eventually, after you have
worked out some sort of system
or read a very clever book, but
probably mostly just listened to your own
mum, into the toilet.
a small child who socialises with
other small children and learns things
from them, not just from you.
Words like bum and fart and other
useful terms for bodily functions
a small child who has to go to school
but may not understand why this is so
who may go there the first day, come home
and say – so, I’ve been there, where do I go tomorrow?
a small child who asks interminable questions,
usually in the car at roundabouts or hazardous crossings
or while you are trying to remember who you are,
where you work and what you should have with you
in order to do that work. A functioning brain is often helpful,
but scarily difficult to retain.
a slightly larger child who likes to have friends round to play
which necessitates conversing with other parents,
which often leads to comparisons which are nearly
always, no in fact are always distinctly unhelpful.
Especially if their smart little Alec can read before
he enters primary 1
So, the slightly larger child sounds a bit easier – yes
and no – they still go to bed largely when you say so
you know where they are all the time , as you have a calendar
strapped to your person at all times so that you don’t forget to
collect them from swimming/judo/karate/piano/French lessons,
but they have by now decided what they do and don’t like to eat.
So you eat what they eat. Do you like being an eight year old again?
No, I didn’t think so. Best to feed then what you have, if you possibly can.
The even larger child is lurching towards being a teenager.
A word that did not exist in recent times.
well, when I was one, I wasn’t. It wasn’t. They weren’t. There weren’t any.
Well, there were, but they didn’t know that they were. If you see what I mean.
Maybe you still are one. And have just had a baby. How scary is that?
So, the teenager emerges from the cocoon of puberty, only they don’t hide
away much. And they’re quite noisy. Play loud music. Assert their rights.
Without taking any responsibility. Treat parents like slaves. Only worse.
But then that’s probably our fault.
And then, eventually, this tiny infant, baby, small child, bigger child, big child, teenager, becomes a …
so, not a baby, then?
no, a lot, lot more than that.
be careful what you wish for.