Friday is repost day: here’s one of my favourites about my three year old nephew, Big Al, in the days when he still went to little school.
I knocked on the door of Big Al’s nursery. It swung open onto another world: a word of happy, slightly over-excited people under the age of four. Most of them were going swimming, but one wasn’t. One never does: because Big Al comes home with me.
He bounced out with a wonderful, jovial air. This, his body language announced, is going to be great fun. I just know it.
“Has he been good?,” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” a nursery assistant smiled with fresh-faced good humour.”He’s listened really carefully.”
Listening is Al’s big thing right now. He lives on Planet Al, which is full and brimming over with fascinating experience of many kinds: bonding with cats; superintending a large and spacious sand pit; practicing rhetoric in the style of Thomas The Tank Engine.
Listening just isn’t a great priority right now.
Getting Al to listen is like lassoing a fish. One is forever questing for eye contact and attention: but I am only a human, and I am competing with Everything Else. I lose ground hopelessly to a chance bird; a train; a bloke wearing a rabbit outfit on the street. I don’t stand a chance.
“Oh, Alasdair!” the pretty nursery assistant exclaimed, “we forgot your cake!”.
This reached Planet Al. Food will always focus my three-year old nephew with all speed. He beamed proprietorially. “Yes! ” he agreed happily. “My cake!”
As someone pottered off to retrieve The Cake I relieved Al of his diminutive rucksack and a copy of ‘Sir Stanley Stinky Socks’, a story which he loves with a passion and had brought in to Show And Tell.
Immediately The Cake arrived, I regretted this arrangement. My hands were full, Al’s were empty. And the Mary Poppins nursery nurse simply placed The Cake into Al’s chubby little waiting fingers.
What do they teach them at Nursery Training School these days? This cake was a confection of unparalleled delight: a sponge base with pale pink butter icing and comfits on top. It emitted cake-rays which said ‘Eat Me’.
All right, Al replied.
We had walked just three steps before the gap between cake and mouth was closing with alarming rapidity. I dropped the three-year-old shoulder furniture and the book and intercepted the cake before it reached its destination.
But it was a close thing.
We skirted past the huge coaches and towards my illegally parked car which featured flashing emergency lights. I fell into the car with Al, bag, book and cake. “I have it now?” he asked.
A reasonable request, you would think, but dinner was on its way and I happened to know his nursery had drilled him that it was for Later. I know this because despite the almost-slip betwixt cupcake and lip, he had been repeating “It’s for later” all the way to the car.
I strapped him in. And I put The Cake on the front dashboard.
“But it’ll fall off!” he exclaimed, deeply concerned for the fate of the cake. I scrabbled around and found a tray in which to stand the cake. I put the tray on the front seat.
Then I turned to Al.
“Al,” I reasoned, “we are not having the cake right now. Auntie Kate will put the cake on the tray and it will be safe. We will drive home and have red pasta. And then we’ll have the cake for pudding.”
We started the engine, and Al enquired as to whether his cake had falled down. “No Al”, I said. “Its safe. We’re having it for..”
He finished: “pudding!”
That’s right, Al.
But there was a complicaton.
It was a complication which I had brought along for company on the drive to Windsor. This complication had four shaggy legs and a moustache, and he smelt questionable.
But he also smelt a perfect, chintzy little cupcake.
He moved from his position lurking at the back of my Big Bus and lurked his way forward to the front.
As I drove, a pair of badly disciplined ears appeared at my side, and his nose, like a compass, turned in a roughly north-westerly direction, pulled by patisserie.
I had a situation on my hands.
All the way home – some 25 minutes – I felt like a player of that old computer game Pong. One minute an enquiry as to the whereabouts and wellbeing of the cupcake would fly from one direction; another, the nose would turn westwards, questing for party food.
How I kept the three of them apart – the cup cake, the boy and the dog – I will never know. But we got home, and we had red pasta, and Al was finally presented with his current obsession.
“Are you enjoying that, Al?” I asked, smiling.
There was no reply. He was not, Reader, being impolite: he was simply resident on Planet Al.