The small blonde boy beamed beatifically at me as I brandished his snack.
I was a little out of breath. Mainly because with four minutes to go, I had locked myself out of my house in which were my car keys, and had unwisely chosen my husbands decrepit old bike, a gearless brakeless wonder on which to career chaotically down to the school gate.
I wheezed, “Hello, Al!”
My five-year old nephew takes his aunt’s shortcomings in his stride. He ran over and hugged me with gusto, and I took his hand and we walked out into the school playground.
He had an empty orange juice carton. He followed me obediently to the bin. “Go on, Al, pop it in there…” I said. But Al was not to be moved. “Mummy says I must put it in my packed lunch box,” he instructed me sagely. And with the air of a gangster money-launderer opening a case of bank notes, he unzipped his diminutive packed lunch box and slipped the treasured carton inside with infinite care.
The bin tried hard not to look offended.
But Al did not notice, for we were trundling off on our way to collect the others: his sisters, and my son, his cousin, Felix. We acquired them effortlessly and then, as I trailed off up the path for home, I remembered that I couldn’t get in, because I didn’t have any keys.
I experienced fleeting panic as I pictured the five of us wandering the streets in sub-zero temperatures, a Victorian style waif and her little strays, calling passers-by Mister and asking if they could spare any coppers.
But there were a few hopes between myself and destitution: two keys.One at my mother in law’s house up the road; the other across town with my mother.
A call to my long-suffering mother brought her hurtling across town as we neared my front door.
If had expected the children to moan and grumble their way home, my expectations were confounded. They chattered and laughed, and as we approached our road the local strumpet-cat, a long haired moggie, walked over to us and began a complicated routine involving rolling comically on the floor to encourage tummy scratching, and then getting up and charging off when we attempted to oblige, before rolling once more on the dusty pavement.
Al was in stitches. “Look, Auntie Kate, that cat is like a cucumber! It’s a cucumber cat!”
And it did indeed, roll and yaw with all the grace of a cucumber on the deck of an old sailing ship. If such a thing ever existed.
The cat led us, rolling and yawing, all the way to out front door, where we watched as my mother drew up in her car with my front door key. Strumpet-cat gave way to the black wraith who haunts our doorstep, the Shrewsday shadow, Clive Bond.
“Hello, Bond!” the little boy said affably, and the cat began to dematerialise wisely away onto a high shelf. Al could still reach his tail, though. I put my arm round Al and spoke close to his ear. “No, Al,” I said. “I think Clive Bond needs some sp…. sp…..”
It’s a trick I have. Start the word off – in this case, ‘space’ – and the child finishes it off, demonstrating that they have properly understood the situation. Clive Bonds needs his personal space.
Al finished triumphantly: “Spaghetti!”
Clive sat there, gazing with his gravid green eyes, indicating fervently that the last thing he needed on God’s own earth was a bowl of personal spaghetti.
I took the little boy by the hand, and led him away from the cucumber moggie and the spaghetti-eating cat, towards a drink and a snack of his own.