Son, Can You Play Me A Memory

When I became a parent I was somewhat unprepared for, well, everything really. But in particular it is the feelings and emotions that have developed, or rather been exposed and brought to the fore, that I was least prepared for. Perhaps most surprising have been the feelings of paranoia. I expect most parents, especially new ones, go through this for a while.

Fifteen months in, I’m still going through it. If anything, I wonder if I am getting worse. Every cough must surely be consumption. Every mark or blemish is definitely meningitis, or at the very least chickenpox. Every time I go into the nursery at night when they are sleeping, when they are in an especially deep sleep, I have to check their breathing. Fortunately my hearing is acute so I haven’t yet had to resort to holding a mirror in front of their mouths when in slumber, but it’s been close. Both Arthur and Henry on occasion have vomited in their cots while asleep and the panic is they will inhale this and die a rock star death.

They are both living a rock star life. Sort of. Both Arthur and Henry love music, Arthur especially. Whenever he hears any sort of music, he will start rocking away in time to it. Even when an advert containing music comes on the telly he will move to it. I have mentioned Ukulele Club many times, far more than I should have, and I have spoken about the guitars I own and cannot play. I also have a harmonica that I’m not particularly adept at playing and in addition to all of these instruments, up in the loft room I have a keyboard that I picked up cheaply and on occasion attempt to play. Arthur and Henry love it – they will sit on my lap and bash out something that vaguely resembles a tune.

Granted, they won’t be troubling Rick Wakeman any time soon. Nor will I, because every time I try to knock out a tune, it inevitably morphs into the Night Garden theme – it is the only thing I seem to be able to play and no matter how hard I try to put an alternative series of notes together, I fail. All roads lead to the garden.

I don’t know why – we barely watch the Night Garden any more, which is kind of worrying because Mrs Aitchworld and I have spent a small fortune on tickets to see the live show. They set us back more, in fact, than it would have cost me for a couple of tickets to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain when they play locally to us soon, even at full price before gaining Ukulele Club discount. This is somewhat academic as Mrs Aitchworld has flatly refused to come along to the gig with me anyway, should I buy tickets. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have access to musical instruments from an early age. I don’t think my parents liked noise. One of my grandparents, my mum’s mum, had a piano. She didn’t live locally until I was about six or maybe seven years of age, by which time I was well past developing any natural “from birth” musical prowess such as the boys now have. We were having the familial home extended to incorporate, quite literally, a granny flat, when a bungalow over the road came up for sale and she bought that instead, moving from her beloved Norfolk all the way to Cheshire. This meant that she could keep her prized upright piano, which would have almost certainly had to go if she had downsized into a part of our house.

I say prized; I never actually heard her play the thing. I don’t know if she could play it, come to think about it. I must ask my mum. It is one of my great regrets that I don’t know more about my grandma, despite her being the only grandparent I knew. Her husband, my grandad, died a year or so before I was born and my dad’s mum died, I believe, when he was still very young. His dad, my other grandad, was alive when I was born. Very shortly afterwards, on his way to meet me for the first time, he had a mild heart attack at the wheel of his VW Beetle, which resulted in a crash on the motorway embankment that killed him. Instead of him arriving at my parent’s home, the police did, in order to inform them of the accident and so I never got to meet him.

I know my mum could play the piano, but as children we were never allowed to bash away at it like I let Henry and Arthur do on my keyboard. I guess the difference is that the piano represented a large investment when it was bought and was therefore thought to be very valuable, whereas the keyboard I got was second hand and cost me about the same as three pints of Guinness.

When my Grandma died, still a few years before I left home, I was hoping the piano would cross the road into our house, but apparently it didn’t match the furniture my parents so coveted (and they still do. I don’t know why – it’s all G Plan and pretty hideous) so was sold off at auction. It would have been nice if they had have kept hold of it until I bought my first place, but then my first place was a first floor flat with a steep set of stairs that twist though a right angle at their summit, so it wouldn’t have got up there anyway. I have visions of that PG Tips advert from the ‘70s in mind, with my dad and me playing the part of the monkeys.

As it happens, the piano probably wouldn’t have matched our IKEA furniture anyway. It’s academic anyway, the instrument went long ago and between then and now a variety of styles of furniture have been and gone before settling on the convenience and simplicity of the Swedish flat-pack. Another reason is the addition to the house of ugly baby gates (I don’t think there is any other sort), ruining the style and the flow and general Feng Shui of the house.

Henry started crawling, of a fashion, a couple of weeks ago. Arthur followed suit about a week later. Henry hid his light under a bushel somewhat – the first we knew about it was one day when we briefly left the boys in the playroom, quite happily playing with toys and watching some form of nonsense on the telly. We knew he was spinning round and on occasion rolling over to make his way around a room to get to other toys, but on our way back to the playroom we found he had crawled the full length of the playroom and was halfway across the living room beyond, crawling much in the fashion of a beached seal, pulling himself along with his arms and dragging his legs behind him.

Arthur, we noted, was even coyer about his crawling talents. He practiced getting up on all fours and building up his strength, before committing to moving around. He tended to do this too when he thought no-one was watching him. He does this. We had no idea he could get himself from a prone position to sitting up, until we found him sitting in the corner of his cot one morning, looking at us as though he had been waiting for hours to come in and open the curtains. I think the fact he hadn’t worked out how to lie down again also had something to do with the frown on his face. A week after Henry started moving around from room to room, Arthur followed suit, giving up on all notion of crawling properly and just wanting to move around like his brother, dragging himself around in a similar manner, although his legs do make at least an attempt to move, whereas Henry’s legs are somewhat motionless. With this level of mobility, it was time for the baby gates to be mounted in the doorways to the nursery and the playroom.

Of course, this ability to traverse rooms has meant that both Henry and Arthur can get to drawers to open and close them. They can open cupboard doors and slam them shut. They can also get their fingers in the way of these drawers and doors. Soon, we will have to baby proof the whole house.

Obviously I don’t remember the arrangements when I was a baby, but I was a toddler when my sister was born and I recall her coming home. I have many and various memories of this time, most of them quite accurate it appears when I have quizzed my parents about them and compared notes. What I don’t have any recollection of is having any safety devices around the house. I don’t remember my sister having a dummy, so assume I didn’t either.

I asked my parents about this, this weekend, while they were round admiring the boys’ prowess at crawling about in a paddling pool and blowing raspberries in the water. The boys, that is, not my parents. What they get up to in the privacy of their own paddling pool is their business. My mum couldn’t remember any baby gates either. She said I was content sitting in a playpen playing with toys. This is patently untrue as I didn’t have any toys – this was the 1970s and we were poor. At one point we only had one car – that’s how poor we were. Austerity, thy name is 1970s suburban Congleton!

I think by toys what she actually meant was lumps of coal, bits of soil and worms. I was a forerunner for messy play. I have seen a picture of me holding a worm, and another taken allegedly a few moments later, empty handed. No one knows where the worm went, but legend has it that I ate it. What there is a notable absence of in the photograph is toys, so that’s all the evidence I need right there. My sister was apparently a bit harder to entertain, but she was shoved in a playpen anyway. By that point I was four so old enough to be allowed to go out and roam free. Different times.

I asked my dad about security arrangements of my early formative years and he couldn’t remember specifics, but that he was bound to have “rigged something up”. He was always very handy at knocking something together in an inventive manner. This is troubling me though, because this is the man that “rigged something up” with a car battery, a length of bare wire and a sheet-metal plate in order to deter cats from pissing up our front door. I dread to think what he could have invented to keep me or my sister away from the stairs. I know I can’t walk over any sort of metal walkway without completely losing any urge to urinate that I may have had. Maybe that’s where my dad got the idea for the cats from and I am a living guinea pig. It would explain lots…

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