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.