The house was full to bursting with experimental children.
That is all very well if those children are over five. Children over five know about cause and effect, more or less. But there was one conspicuous absence in the main body of activity: my diminutive nephew, Big Al.
Big Al has just turned five. His experiments generally show a broader vision and higher level of questioning than everyone else’s. Questions like: what would happen if I posted this ten pound note into this pint glass of apple juice? Or, Do cats like to dance?
When you haven’t heard Al in a while, you need to follow it up. Because if it’s quiet, he’s absorbed in something heinous.
There were four noisy children. But the silence from the youngest was deafening.
My niece appeared, breathless with News. “Auntie Kate, come quickly!” she urged. “Alastair has the red paint and….”
She was continuing, but the words had imprinted themselves rather like bright sunlight sears an image on the retina. Big Al. Red paint. Oh, Thor’s drawers.
And I sprinted past her, and flew up the stairs Mary-Poppins-Style, because not even the words of a beautiful little princess would be able to describe what Al could do with a tube of red paint and five minutes.
I arrived at the scene of the crime: my beloved office, a large airy room with huge windows looking out onto the road outside.
It was carnage.
For his installation, Al had employed four main media: red paint, water, cold tea and various manifestations of new technology.
What I beheld, though catastrophic, was highly creative. The desk had a large turdesque red-paint stool near its edge, surrounded by a pool of water. On closer examination, the water was mixed with tea in a nice blue mug from Whittards, the tea-accessory shop. It gave the whole thing a very English feel.
In the centre of the pool lay an iPhone, and to its left, precariously close, sat the family iPad.
The Artist was suitably daubed. His face was red, his previously blue jeans were red, his hands were red.
And he had been hand painting. There were perfect bright red hand imprints all over the carpet to finish the installation perfectly.
I was calm until I saw the iPhone, and then I bellowed, in my Lady Bracknell voice: “Alastair!!!!”
Some people have no respect for great art.
Swiftly prioritising, I dived for the iPhone, dried it and put it in the airing cupboard. It appeared to be behaving. The iPad followed suit.
“I am very cross!” I informed The Artist severely. For the first time, he slipped out of his artistic reverie, and looked around him, and consequences began to dawn. Oh, nuts, I could see him thinking.
“Look at everything, Al. What shall we do to put it right?”
Al is never short of ideas. “I will clear it up,” he volunteered.
I handed him a cloth. “Right. Let’s start with the red paint.”
He took the cloth and landed in it the centre of the paint-glop. With commendable enthusiasm he moved the cloth in circular motions, quite the Jackson Pollock. A new work of art was appearing before our eyes.
We washed, we rinsed, and everything, everywhere, seemed red.
“Did you do naughty things when you were a little girl?” Al enquired affably. I did not answer: I was contemplating Al’s trousers. The washing machine seemed the only recourse.
We trooped downstairs. I wandered idly if Picasso’s mother ever had to do the same thing. We posted the trousers in for a short wash, washed face and hands, poured a glass of squash and got out a biscuit.
Late that night, I tucked the children up. Friday night means crisps and a film and the sofa bed in my study. And just as I was about to leave. I glanced up at the piano.
Where there was a green plastic wine glass filled with deep purple squash, bottomed out with scarlet paint.
The Artist is still a very young man indeed.