Big Al’s stature may be small, but he has a whole lot of personality. Built like a tiny rugby player and with the charisma and charm of a celebrity in waiting, life has never been the same since he exploded, an affable little incendiary device, into our lives.
Two year olds don’t understand birthdays. They rarely realise that all the festivities are for them, because they are still busy separating their own identity from that of their mother.
Generally, all that present stuff, it’s just more white noise to your average two year old. The cardboard boxes get more airtime than the shower of toys from well meaning grown-ups.
When you’re three- well now, that’s a totally different matter.
And in anticipation of new heights of awareness, one of our traditional Shrewsday crispy teas had been laid on. Bowls of crisps in crazy shapes and designs, with crazy additives, dwarfed the traditional fruit and salad. Just for today. And pride of place is given to a sumptuous birthday cake trimmed liberally with chocolate buttons.
At one end of the table was stacked a luscious pile of presents.
This had not registered on Al’s advantageometer. He had not realised these packages could be pregnant with possibility, because they were not moving or talking to him.
Macaulay the dog, now, he gets plenty of attention. Children talking to him merit eye contact. Food may not move or talk, but it has on many occasions ably demonstrated its many uses, and Al takes a great deal of notice of this.
But the packages remained in the Everything Else that forms Big Al’s background noise. Although the rest of us were quite excited.
Felix had helped Granny Norma pick out a football just the right size for Al’s eager feet. He was hopping from foot to foot himself, impatient to have the sellotape which bound it breached.
We had bought Al a Harold The Helicopter with added sound effects. Every time someone knocked the bag, it started talking and making helicopter noises. Several members of the party permitted themselves a quiet snigger, but Big Al remained unmoved.
Playmobil from Grandma, a long-awaited railway tunnel from Mummy and Daddy and the Princesses- the list was long and illustrious.
However there was a hitch to today’s festivities. Big Al was feeling decidedly dodgy.
His eyelids were a little droopy, his face a tad paler than usual. And evidence was growing that his problems were gastric in nature.
This was conclusively proved when he ran to have a look at all the bright coloured cups and plates and ballooons on the table, and caught sight of the food.
We expected delighted exclamations, questions about the nature of the small sausages on display, requests for advance booking on the crisps.
Instead he involuntarily uttered a theatrical heave-come-belch which that celebrated London Thespian David Garrick might have been justifiably proud of.
Steps were taken, and within minutes he was recieving first aid and cuddles, which did the trick in a trice. Literally. His little blood cells must just race around his system, in much the same way he does around his house. They carried paracetamol to all the parts that mattered.
Very soon he was leapfrogging around the sitting room with his sisters The Princesses, in front of a relieved audience, and the idea of bringing presents in was mooted.
In they came, with pomp and circumstance. Still, the significance of these monoliths had not hit the consciousness of the smallest Shrewsday. The first present was opened: the small noisy helicopter we had purchased.
It is always gratifying when someone likes what one has bought them. Big Al fixed on Harold, initiating him immediately into the Toddlerati. He talked to him in hushed tones, wandering off into corners to confide. For a short while, there was no-one for him but Harold The Helicopter.
So improved was he, that it was decided Big Al could look at food once more. He was lifted into his high chair, surrounded by his chattering cousins, who were all feeling incredibly optimistic due to the high crisp:fruit ratio.
He sampled a sausage, and found it not to his liking, so he gave it to Harold. When the latter was unable to oblige, being a plastic toy, Al tossed it back for someone else to try amid choruses of protest from his siblings and cousins.
Presently he fell to creating original art using those long tubular yoghurts they make for kids nowadays. Painstakingly he created forms on the tablecloth, lovingly he smudged and re-worked this fresh new medium.
The candles were lit on the sumpuous cake, and duly blown out, which could never fail to delight anyone who is three.
Everyone got down and played, each to his own, trampolining, disco dancing, sampling more and yet more cake until movement was impossible.
Across a post-party cuppa, as we talked, it became clear that Alistair was at last realising that presents meant prizes.
As I collected Maddie and Felix and supervised our passage out of the front door, the front room was a blur. A small whirling dervish was flying from monolith to monolith, unwrapping everything in sight. It is a wonder that grandparents remained wrapped.
Happy birthday, Big Al.