That’s Men: When school’s out, the parents entertain and one boy and dog put on a show
‘You’d be surprised how many people stopped for a coochie-coo without even asking. Never again.”
He had bustled onto our carriage on a train in the North of England with a child, a woman and a dog.
The woman sat beside us so quietly that after a while we forgot she was there, preoccupied as we were with man, child and dog.
I gathered that his complaint about people having a coochie-coo referred to dog lovers stopping to make affectionate sounds at his animal. To me, said animal looked like it would bite your head off without a second thought and I certainly would not be coochie-cooing it.
“People say all sorts about these dogs,” he declared to the carriage in general. No one replied.
An announcement was made to the effect that the seat reservation system had broken down. If anybody had been given a seat number on the ticket it added, “you have no claim to that seat today”.
“I think it should be anarchic,” our man said. “No queueing system whatsoever.”
I wondered, for some reason or other, if he was a reader of the Observer.
At this point his son, who was six years old, began to chant a rhyme very loudly while laughing hysterically. Although he chanted it perhaps 100 times I could not make out the words apart from the first line which was “pull your knickers down”.
“Act your intelligence and your age,” the man instructed the boy. This struck me as a particularly ineffective intervention. The boy, after all, was already acting his intelligence and his age.
At the next station a passenger left, thus freeing up a seat for the dog. None of those who were standing, tired after a day’s work, decided to argue. The dog slept soundly through the rest of the journey.
The boy now ran up and down the carriage shouting “Pull your knickers down!” and laughing. “Stop putting it on,” the man said. “For that, you won’t be watching your film and you won’t be going anywhere.”
“Fine, I won’t behave, I won’t do nothing,” the boy said. As all possible punishments had by now been dished out there was no point in him behaving himself and he was free to do as he pleased (lesson: always keep something in reserve).
“He’s a child,” the man declared. “Compared to other kids. I mean, look at that big lady from Essex, Supernanny.”
That his son was better behaved than the little terrors seen by Supernanny seemed, in his eyes, to clinch the argument although nobody was, in fact, arguing with him at the time.
The shouting and rendition of “pull your knickers down” was brought to an end by a woman who happened to be sitting beside the boy and who spoke to him as a child about where he had been that day and what he had seen.
Her air of quiet authority, not at all condemning of the child, quietened the boy down. “Are you a teacher?” he asked at one point. “No,” she replied. “Only, you know everything,” the boy said.
Perhaps the boy will encounter this sort of authority when he goes to school, I thought, and will learn a better way of relating to the world. “Will you be going to school after the holidays?” the lady asked.
“No,” the father said. “We’re home teaching him. He’s quite brilliant.”
When they got off the train, the woman whom we had all forgotten and who may have been the boy’s mother, left silently with her liberal husband and her brilliant son and her now refreshed dog.
Addendum: While I was having a pint at The Old Monkey in Manchester, a large party of naked people cycled past. The English took no notice of them while the cyclists wore looks of grim seriousness on their faces (yes, I looked at their faces too). They all wore their cycling helmets, though. A very British affair.
Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@
yahoo.com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.