Bumpy’s Reprise

Even when you are eight years old, there are times when beloved old toys are pressed into service.

My son Felix has many Important and Highly Significant toys. His Lego corner resembles the iconic Metropolis; since I forbade the instructions he has let his imagination loose on the tiny bricks and created a space station to end all space stations: Death Star, move over.

His games are carefully filed on a  shelf: Monopoly, The Game Of Life, Operation and so forth. These are dear to his heart and while he has not yet resorted to the King’s Shilling to press us into service he has developed deeply persuasive ways of making us play.

He has his bucket of soldiers, which are set out in formations across landings on a regular basis; and action figures with which he can while away hours.

But when all is said and done, the world stops turning if he cannot find Bumpy The Elephant.

Every night, just as he is trying to get to sleep, he will realise he does not know where Bumpy is. Phil will hunt high and low; many is the time we have wished mightily that Bumpy came fitted with a built-in homing device. Someone should invent an app called Find My Bumpy. We’d keep it busy.

Today, the last day of a spectacular week’s holiday and the last hours before return to school, a Bumpy project of impressive dimensions emerged.

Felix wandered into the kitchen as I was putting the final touches to Sunday lunch. He was holding a cardboard box.

“Mum,” he enquired, “may I use this shoe box to make something?”

We cleared the kitchen table and he set to work: for today was the day for making Bumpy a car. The plan was that he would make the cardboard prototype; and then he would enlist master-painter Maddie, his 11-year-old sister, to help him paint. “Because she’s a really good painter, she can give me a few pointers,” he added confidentially.

Not even Roald Dahl’s Professor Potts could have been more industrious than Felix and his cardboard-box car workshop, during the next two hours.

After banging, bumping and a testing request for sticky tape (I can never find it when I want it) the car emerged with four diminutive wheels and a comfy bench seat, over which the Bumpster can lean a proprietorial elephantine elbow as he uses another leg to turn the steering wheel.

Headlamps were scrunched up paper painted yellow, huge eyes like blowlamps for this VIP mobile. And then Maddie came home for crunch talks on the paintwork.

I eavesdropped shamelessly, as I was scrubbing the floor. I might, between you and me, have been scrubbing the floor as a pretext.

“Where do you want the car’s face to go?” asked Maddie helpfully.

“It has to go at the front,” said Felix emphatically. The two paused and stared at the front of the new car, crowded as it was with headlights and bumpers and such. There wasn’t room for much more.

“Or,” Felix ventured, we could have it on the back.”

Maddie was vastly doubtful about this. A face? On a behind? Is there a precedent for this? I could hear her thinking.

Felix read her like a book. “No,” he corrected himself, always mindful of her good opinion, “put it on the front.”

Maddie had a dilemma. She could accept her brother’s acquiescence; or she could find out what he really wanted.

She went for the master stroke.

“I know!” she exclaimed. “Why don’t we ask the one person it’s all for? Let’s ask Bumpy!”

I froze, listening. In all their games Felix does Bumpy’s voice. Felix has a great deal of street cred. He has a healthy appreciation of what is acceptable and what is absurd. He does not suffer fools gladly.

But he is eight.

Bumpy obliged. “Actually,” the small elephant intoned, “I’d love to put it on the front but there’s not enough room. So let’s put it on the back instead.”

Oh, the power of role play. To draw us in on a day we might be thinking sad thoughts; to involve us in a creative project which absorbs our intellect and creates a quiet, deep-running joy; and to help us express our misgivings when we ourselves just don’t want to hurt feelings and go against the edicts of those we love.

And I wonder: is that what Dionysius was all about, the Greek God whose followers danced themselves out of self-conscious contemplation? Is that why a play or a television programme bring us so far away from the troubles of our lives?

Because if that’s so: lets never lose the skill.

Not even when we’re three score years and ten; not ever.


48 thoughts on “Bumpy’s Reprise

  1. Well, I am proud to report that just today, at the age of almost 43, I had my friend Alice in stitches pretending to be my father. It’s a role I can play like no other, made worse by the fact that my face is slowly becoming his face.

    He looks like an English bulldog.

    Now, I will smile and think of Bumpy, and I won’t care.

    (And, na-na-na-boo-boo to Lou. I beat him, only because I was determined to finish revising a chapter before sleeping, no matter how long it took.)

    1. And in my best “Bumpy Voice”, Queen A….”I shall remain above the fray of a na-na–na-boo-boo skirmish….unless, of course, we consider putting the face or Roydra on the car.

    2. Andra, I find that really inspiring. A real-life example of role play which betters us. I love playing my father in law: he died about five years ago. He had a ponderous Lancashire accent and called his wife “Norm”. He sounded like a fog horn. I love doing his voice. I liked having him around and miss him now he’s not here.

  2. Bless your eavesdropping, floor-scrubbing heart–and your impulse to record these firefly moments, shining and lifting off in the brief dusk of ordinary life.

    I always love to hear what your children are up to, and you seem like a perfect fairy godmother–except, perhaps, for that shocking decision to forbid instructions, which alarmed the OC vein that runs deep in my nature. Of course, I have to support your position from both a creative and intellectual standpoint, but something very primal in me raged Gollum-like at the idea that my precious instructions might be withheld. (My older son’s Lego collection was extensive, and I spent years on the floor with him mindlessly following instructions, stupidly happy when they resulted in a perfect replica of the design.) We all have our shortcomings.

    1. I think there’s a wonderful pleasure in completing a kit, Barbara. I have many great friends who enjoy this aspect hugely.

      In truth, I have just hidden them 😀 I got so tired of a huge pile of beautiful Lego being consigned to the “reject” pile simply because a few pieces are missing. Lego have used these kits to make us consume more, I feel sure….and I bet they never gave Brunel instructions when he was a little boy 😀

    1. They have their share of bickering, Col, like any brother and sister. But I think this combo, with this age gap, is a particularly serendipitous one. I know other brother-sister teams with a similar bond and the ability to actually work together.

  3. Lovely! my favourite time of the day is the time I get to listen to my twin boys playing, especially the role playing

    its also taught me not to take myself so seriously as i hunker down to learn the rules of another new game and try not to offend the sensibilities of my 6 year old playmates!

    1. Hi Tony – thanks for coming along to read and comment. I know precisely what you mean: the working day just falls away as you listen to them talk, doesn’t it? Kids are the drollest playfellows: they always have the power to surprise us.

  4. Mavellous. I well remember the loss of Hobsey and the desperate nocturnal searches.

    Now of course you could buy one of those key finders which respond when you whistle and attach it as a sort of necklace to poor old Bumpy and he’ll no longer be able to hide in secret behind the living room curtains. .


  5. It is indeed so much fun to hear about a brother sister combo of 8 and 11 getting along so well. If these two were brothers, I have a feeling it would be much more contentious. I get the impression from your posts that Maddie watches over young Felix like a mother hen.

    My brother is 16 months younger than me and I can guarantee that the discussion about the face of the car would have wound up in a skirmish with the car being steamrolled like a bug on a windshield.

    We do need our escapes from reality and the troubles of every day life and TV offers that respite with craziness and drama and comedy that lets us live in a pretend world for a couple of hours a day. We started watching Downton Abbey this year and got hooked on it, not always an uplifting escape, but, it was a world that we have only read about and found just mesmerizing. We will watch the finale this evening since we always tape our shows to eliminate the commercial clutter.

    1. Ah, I plan to take you all to Downton shortly, Lou, with a visit to its location, a stone’s throw away. Stay tuned!

      Boys 😀 A whole new game. The idea of Bumpy’s squished car, I confess, had me grinning. Yes: Maddie has a lot to do with the peace in that relationship.

  6. Imaginative, peaceful and productive Sunday afternoon — two great kids, an encouraging Mom, a car for Bumpy, and a clean kitchen floor into the bargain!!

    Your tales are also wonderful little “escapes” for many of us who regularly visit here. 🙂

  7. We are beginning to implant chips in our pets so we can find them if they get “misplaced” . . . maybe the same practice is on the horizon for our beloved stuffed animals.

    Loved this cooperative endeavor between Felix, Maddie, and Bumpy. Thanks for listening in and sharing with us.

  8. Oh, Kate, these are the best moments of childhood, aren’t they? The sense of play and imagination and what comes next? Yes. As adults we do use television and movies and books to escape our realities and help solve our problems.

    I love to hear of your Maddie and Felix playing and working together.

  9. I love your Felix stories, and Bumpy and his rear-faced car sound perfect.

    Our Felix has Beek. A blue blanket of Linusesque proportions. Beek has a seat at our kitchen table and likes what the adults are eating, even when the Small Boy protests. Beek is all things in a pinch, sidekick, foot warmer, roof, pouch and carryall… And I hope when Felix is eight, Beek still has a place… and a voice.

    Oh, and forbidding the instructions on the Legos? Brilliant.

  10. I’m behind in my reading because I’ve had my two little gals with me! And as they are sleeping in the other room, one with her orange kitty (no name yet) and the other with her thumb (the older one) my heart has just melted with the wonder of the loving and tender exchange between Felix and Maddie. His little eight-year-old spirit is so winning, and Maddie is a special girl, too, to take such a helpful approach to her little brother. I’m so glad you caught this exchange…it was very special! I see your comment above about balance…I think that’s completely right! Sometimes after a particularly special exchange with a child I feel I’ve been touched by the Divine. Really! Debra

  11. Oh, I was so glad to find this wasn’t another Case of the Missing Bumpy story. And isn’t Maddie clever, devising ways to get at the real wishes of her young brother!

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