So: my three-year-old nephew, the youngest Shrewsday has hit his stride.
Specifically, at the junior school sports day where his elder Shrewsdays, graduated to big school, were trying out their athletic prowess or lack of it.
Big Al must be all of three-foot high, built like a tiny but perfectly formed England rugby player. In his eyes hovers a highly unpredictable light, a wild-card wanderlust which sends him investigating whatever comes into his path.
Tuesday saw the school sports day dawning bright, clear and sultry, and the usual happy gaggle of parents lining up on the sidelines to cheer their beloved ones through sack race, obstacle course and mad dash.
The four junior-age Shrewsdays set off, each in a jewel-coloured tee-shirt reflecting the colour of their team, and each with running shoes on their feet. My overworked sister was on Sports Day Duty while I swanned off to work at a school in another dimension.
There was an air of end-of-term optimism in the air. Facebook was full of well wishes for the children from their excited mothers, the air carried companionable buzz and chatter and the odd bug which had got up earlier than all the others.
Big Al is a barometer in these matters. He gauges the unseen vibes, the feel-good factor, and reflects it in his very face and demeanour. And he was feeling most optimistic about this running races business.
It was only when the races began to start that Big Al made his first realisation: little three-year old boys were not allowed to run. Running was for schoolboys and girls.
Oh no, thought Big Al, that simply will not do.
He interrogated his long-suffering mother. When could he run? Now? In a minute? Soon?
Well, she told him, there was sure to be a baby race.
Al is not one to sit around and wait for life to happen to him. No; Al gets life to come to him.
He has a huge opera singer’s voice, tuneful but ever so piercing. He stomped proprietorially up and down the starting line, just behind the teachers, planting those podgy legs at advantageous spots and filling his lungs with air: and then booming out, louder almost than the loud speakers, in affable two-tone singsong: “Can we have the baby race please? When is it time for the baby race please?”
Mothers giggled, teachers rolled their eyes. We’ve got a right one here, they concluded.
Meanwhile, Maddie was doing her dogged best to be a good sport. She announced to me later that she came last in every race, and second in one. In the one where she came second there were only two people in the race. She was sanguine though: she comes from a long line of people for whom sport of any kind is a necessary evil. My father shared his very similar experiences with her, and they laughed companionably.
Meanwhile Grandma had been recruited to start and finish the alternative, three year old running races. Ready, steady….go! was enough to send Al off up the field, sprinting for all he was worth, in preparation for that holy grail, The Baby Race. All one had to do was wind him up and set him off. He’d come back eventually, although he was apprehended going up to a completely strange parent and announcing engagingly that he really was very thirsty.
Felix and the princesses were lining up first, second and third badges on their t-shirts. They loved every minute of it. Eventually all the races were run but one. Its most vociferous campaigner assembled his sisters the Princesses on the starting line, a flotilla of support. Al meant to take no prisoners.
From afar my sister watched as the two little girls took their brother proudly by the hand. But this was not Al’s plan; he shook them off crossly and assumed a ‘runner’s pose’, legs bent, arms pointed towards the finishing line, a small compact dynamo with determined balled fists.
The starting whistle went and those small legs went like the clappers. So did everyone else’s; but none with quite the piston-sure juggernaut determination of this blonde bombshell. His sisters, their legs long like small gazelles, couldn’t keep up.
I wasn’t there. But I do have a picture, of a three-year-old Ghengis outstripping the vast majority of the under-fives that ran that day, flanked by two small beauties with huge grins on their faces; his face filled with all the determination of a great general leading his army.
He came second. And the race had made his day: nay, his week. Possibly his year.
Sports Day is over for another year. But one toddler in town is racing still.
All it needs is a little persuasion from Al, and some grown up with a bit of time to intone: “Ready, steady….go!”