Friday, 15 June 2012

Grubby Monkeys and the Air Biscuit

As a parent of two little terrors aged five and seven, I have much sympathy with hardworking mums and dads everywhere who spend a great deal of effort managing their little ones from one place to another in as timely and orderly a fashion as realistically possible. One of the many fun experiences a mum or dad can especially enjoy is the delight of managing your little darling when forced by circumstance to join the commuting throng on public transport in the rush hour.

Now, as one of these commuters, I am aware of the harsh truth that commuting, in common with rush hour driving, is inevitably a survival of the fittest dog eat dog affair. There's something about the daily trudge that turns otherwise normal, decent and reasonable people into elbow wielding, instantly angered psychopaths set on securing the best seat on the tube and to hell with the consequences. People can be sardined into a space the size of a single bed, squashing against their travelling comrades in sometimes deeply inappropriate ways, yet still completely ignore each other except when there's a need to shove someone when alighting. It's a tough and undignified existence, but it is what it is and your seasoned commuter accepts it with a dour inevitability.

Then, into the fray comes Mum. Mum has a buggy. There's a wriggling two year old in it. She is accompanied by another grubby faced little urchin, perhaps about five. As she steps on board, Mum immediately breaks rule number one: she speaks to you. "Excuse me, excuse me, buggy coming through..." This type of unsolicited conversation is always likely to provoke a raised eyebrow and disapproving grumble from the hardcore commuter, who will also take a dim view of having a buggy roll over his foot (even though there is nothing Mum can do about it due to the overcrowding). Then, the little urchin, excited by the adventure but bundled about because he's too little to hang on to anything, delivers the killer blow. "Mum, have you parped (sic)?"

Another of the dubious pleasures of the crowded morning commute are the abdominal exhalations which occasionally waft around. Let's not pretend this doesn't happen; I'm sure we've all been trapped on a train desperate to escape some unpleasant selfish oaf's noxious emissions and yet been powerless to move (or breathe). But the commuter gives out a disapproving glare, or just pretends to blow his nose while breathing through a handkerchief.

"No!" blurts Mum. But five year old urchin is the author of his mother's undoing. Playground lore dictates that "you denied it -- you supplied it," and, thus condemned to guilt by association, Mum is hung out to dry.

I expect some unpleasant character in a gaudy shirt and tie combo was the real perpetrator, and no doubt he had a good laugh about this with his mates when he got to the office (as I am probably doing with this blog if you think about it -- we're all damned!). But it made me think about situations when little kids have unintentionally embarrassed their parents.

My own five year old entertained my wife's friends at the bus stop one morning. The littl'uns were all being taken to school by my wife, but they were not their usual prompt selves. They arrived at the stop, panting and flustered, just as the bus came round the corner. As Mrs Nam got her breath back, her friend said to my five year old in that slightly patronising talking-to-kids voice that grown-ups adopt, "you only just made it today didn't you?" My son said, "We're a bit late because mummy had to have a poo."

I recall attending a wedding many years ago, a big lavish affair in the north of England where it felt like the whole of a hotel had been booked out by the bride's family, and the guests numbered in their hundreds. A colleague of mine was attending with his wife and kids. They were casually chatting in a small group with others while their children were pulling up flowers, one by one, from the hotel's carefully tended flower beds (I won't deny it, I was standing nearby with a group of my twenty something friends, and we may have been slightly encouraging the little cheeky monkeys -- pity about the mud on their lovely clothes...). Their father suddenly realised what was going on and screamed a pained "No!" before running over, admonishing them, and attempting to replant a row of around twelve doomed tulips. My group of co-conspirators didn't help at all, but were certainly delighted to witness the spectacle of Daddy now muddying his own smart suit.

Ah, the little darlings. Listen, it's hard work ferrying kids around, so if you're on the tube and a parent arrives, cut them some slack, OK? And if you're a parent -- well, you know what it's like, right? The kids will love you and humiliate you in equal measure. Goes with the territory.

Are you a parent whose little darlings have made you wish the ground would open and swallow you? Let me know your story. Leave me a comment, here or on the Facebook or Twitter links. Thanks!


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