Every Which Way But Loose

It is fair to say that Mrs Aitchworld, in her own home, is surrounded by males. There’s me, Arthur and Henry, and even the cats, Dave and Charlie, are boys. It’s inevitable then that, at some point, she would feel out numbered.

We did have hens, but these lived, in the main, outside. There was that one time when Henrietta was in her final days of old age and we brought her inside because it was winter and Mrs Aitchworld thought she looked a bit cold. There is also a picture somewhere of Dave having a stare off with Belle in the kitchen, him wondering what the hell a chicken was doing in his home (him and me both) but I don’t recall why she was inside the house.

These two occasions excepted, and discounting the female foreign students we have had stay with us over the years, since the boys came along (of the non-furry variety), it is a male dominated household and as the boys get bigger, this isn’t going to diminish in any way. We have discussed it previously and had agreed that we would consider having another child when Arthur and Henry are about 3 years of age. I suppose it shouldn’t have, but it still came as a shock to me when, towards the end of our recent holiday, Mrs Aitchworld announced she wanted to have a baby girl.

I don’t think we can plan it quite like that, and there is still a 50/50 chance that I might get to bolster my army yet further, so having a third child may yet work to my advantage. Until that day arrives though, we have bigger issues to deal with – Henry has learnt to walk.

He had taken his first few tentative steps while on holiday. Since then he had performed this trick a number of times, but never strung more than about three or four steps together. Last Sunday we braved a soft-play centre, in the absence of nothing more constructive coming to mind to entertain the boys. Both Henry and Arthur spent the afternoon crawling all over the under-threes section.

I spent the afternoon with soft-play-centre-rage. It’s like road-rage only much, much worse. The problem wasn’t with the centre so much, but with the parents who don’t watch, or care, what their darling little shits are getting up to. (Even now, a week later, I’m hitting the keys of the keyboard on my laptop even harder just recalling this). The under-threes section was clearly labelled and marked as such. It was a small area, but for an under-three must have seemed massive, and it was surprisingly adventurous in both height and level of equipment. The rest of the place, for the older kids, was huge and brilliantly equipped. If it wasn’t frowned upon, I would have gone for a play on all the stuff myself.

For some reason though, known only to themselves, there was a group of slightly older kids who insisted on playing in the under-threes section. They must have been at least seven years old. This is fine, but they were running about and paying no heed or attention to the small children, the ones the section was intended for, who were crawling around on the floor beneath them.

We tried a couple of polite “you know this is for under three year olds, don’t you?” type approaches to get them to move on, but they pretty much ignored this. We tried getting the staff on board whom, to be fair, did come over and point out the same as we had. This worked, briefly, but all too soon they were back. Like cockroaches. The rage got too much. I sat fuming in the corner of the ball pit, up to my chest in balls, surreptitiously arming myself with even balls under the surface in order to throw at their stupid little faces, should they poke them round this area.

Mrs Aitchworld on the other hand decided to go down the humiliation route. The next time one of the bigger kids crashed over Arthur, she pointed out, “This is the baby section. It is for babies. Are you a baby? Well, are you? If you want to behave like a baby, by all means stay in this section, but it will mean you are a baby. B A B Y; baby. Understand?” Surprisingly it worked. Not a raised voice or a plastic ball thrown in anger was needed, which was almost a shame because I’d psyched myself up for a fight!

Henry had all afternoon in an environment where had he wanted to walk, he could have practiced it and not worried about falling over in view of the soft landing he would have had. But no, he just crawled. When we got home we were all sat in the dining room with Peppa Pig on the telly (it’s always Peppa Pig – it’s the first thing that comes up in our Youtube suggestion list) and Henry decided that he would just get up and walk a complete lap of the island in the kitchen as if he had been doing it all of his life and it was the most natural thing in the world.

Now, a week later, there is no stopping him. I would even go so far as to say he is almost running. Last night, when I arrived home, he pushed Arthur out of the way on his trike and came running over to greet me. The moment he saw me his arms went up in the air and he toddled over to me in a manner not entirely dissimilar to Clyde, the orangutan in the Clint Eastwood films, so that he could have a cuddle.

No one has ever been that excited at my arrival at home. Well, maybe the cats, but that’s only because they know they are going to get fed. That has all changed though and they are having to all but fight for survival now because on a lap of the island yesterday Henry emerged round the other side chewing something. On closer inspection it turned out it was Felix’ As Good As It Gets. It transpired Henry was a fan and it really is as good as it gets, because he didn’t relinquish it willingly or easily. And he now has a shiny glossy coat! Charlie and Dave aren’t happy about their food disappearing in such a fashion.

Arthur has observed all of this and immediately wanted to do everything that Henry can do. Arthur looks up to Henry a lot. Unfortunately he doesn’t have quite the same sturdy disposition that Henry does and when he tried to copy Henry and take a couple of steps, he took on the appearance of a new-born gazelle. He managed a few steps unaided before falling into my arms, but it will be a couple of weeks before it all becomes second nature to him like it has with Henry. When we first tried to get him walking he wouldn’t bend his knees. At least he is doing that now, so we do have progress.

Of course, now they are walking, we have to think carefully about buying shoes for them. We’ve already bought shoes from them from Mothercare, but apparently these aren’t expensive enough. General consensus is that we have to go to a Clarkes shop to have the boys’ feet measured and then hand over many of our hard earned pounds for a pair of shoes so tiny that I could fit them in my pocket. And we have to do this twice.

Henry has slightly bigger feet than Arthur, so I was hoping once he was done with them, at least Arthur would be able to use them, but judging by the state of the Mothercare ones this isn’t going to be possible because they are fast wearing out.

“Buy them in the sales”, one friend advised. “In the last sale at Clarkes, I managed to get two pairs for £32”, she offered as a crumb of comfort. Well across a couple of sales between Brantano and Tesco I managed to get two pairs of walking trainers (in different colours) and a pair of work shoes for myself for less than this, and there is considerably more material in these than a pair of toddling shoes.

I still don’t know why everyone says it has to be Clarkes shoes. I was always dragged to the local Clarkes purveyor as a child and hated their shoes. Even though they came with a pin-badge to attach to your pencil case it didn’t make them any cooler. If anything, having that badge was just pointing out to the kids from the council estate whose parents couldn’t afford to shop at Clarkes that they had inferior shoes. It made one a target for discovering what the blue goldfish that lived in the U-bend looked like. They may have had inferior shoes, but they were infinitely cooler. Not that you had a chance to tell them this before the chain was pulled and the flush descended on your head.

My mum didn’t know it but I used to change into my trainers every day at school… Actually she probably did know this; mums know everything. And Dads. Henry and Arthur better not try and pull any of that shit with me – I will know.

The point is, my feet have turned out okay despite wearing trainers nearly every day of my childhood. I’m sure it is a myth perpetuated that if your children don’t wear Clarkes shoes, they will continue to walk like a new-born gazelle or an orangutan and that unless the appropriate footwear is purchased, at great expense, then the damage will be permanent. I don’t believe it. It can’t be proven, nor can it be disproven, without putting children at risk. If we don’t buy the shoes, then we are playing fast and loose with our kid’s feets’ futures. If we do buy them, we’ll never know if we could get away with buying just shoes. If only there were other countries where they don’t have Clarkes shoes that we could look to for guidance…