I had the pleasure of the company of two delightful boys this week, grandsons of a friend of mine, who were on a month’s tour of Europe, visiting relatives in the UK and Ireland before returning to their home in Delhi.
The boys, eight and ten, were charming, beautiful and fluent in French and Hindi. They spoke in their mother tongue, English, with a faint Irish accent.
I met them while Snooks and I were hanging around in the foyer of a church hall where we had retreated as Snooks’ attempts to take part in the discussion inside were not being appreciated.
The boys were waiting for grandma and were instructed by her (an Irish matriarch of the old school) to entertain Snooks. “Tell him a story,” she ordered, before disappearing back into the meeting.
I looked at them in dismay. I didn’t think even I was capable of telling him a story, despite my inside knowledge of his cast of favourite characters (Daddy, Iggle Piggle, Clairebear and Barney the Dog), let alone these sleepy looking youngsters. I expected they would ignore this instruction and go back to the bored lolling they were doing when we arrived, regardless of grandmother’s wishes.
But to their great credit, within minutes, the boys came up with a game, which combined football with a bit of tickling, pulling faces and chasing. Spanning the age difference with gorgeous grace, these lovely lads engaged Snooks in play, which they let him lead but they nevertheless seemed to be enjoying.
It was a relief from the daily clattering Snooks gets from older toddlers at playgroups where anger and frustration are more in evidence than cooperation and tolerance, virtues which maybe these two year olds have not yet had time to learn.
It was also a far cry from the picture of aggression and testosterone-fuelled rebellion painted by Steve Biddulph (see oh boy!) as the natural development of young boys who have not been correctly nurtured.
As I pondered whether moving to Delhi was the key to raising happy boys (actually I asked my brother once how he had produced three such lovely children and he said he told them he loved them, every day. Delhi wasn’t mentioned) the younger of the two came over to talk to me.
"He speaks French," he announced in that marvellous matter-of-fact way children have of informing you of major events.
"Really," I answered, trying not to sound incredulous but with enough doubt in my voice to let this young fry know I was no fool.
A pair of watery green impassive eyes fixed me gently. He was obviously going to have to explain it to this mono-lingual unbeliever. He reminded me of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Little Prince, perplexed by adults who can’t tell a drawing of a boa constrictor which has swallowed an elephant, from a drawing of a hat.
“He says balle and quoi. That means ball and what," he said, slowly and clearly.
It was true. He does say those things. Green-eyes had asked me earlier, before the games began, if Snooks could talk, assessing how best to approach grandma’s task, and I had said no, he was too young. I had clearly got it wrong.
“Well actually his cousins speak French," I said, throwing in a misleading fact, which only confirmed for him my lack of attention to my son’s linguistic development.
In fact distance in age and geography mean that unless Snooks is communicating with them telepathically, in French, he could not have picked up his cousins’ Gallic tongue.
Anyway the thing was, I wanted green eyes to be right, or at least to think he was right and so the case was closed and he ran off to tickle Snooks while wrestling the ball from him.
I was sorry when it was time to go and I had to break up the game and persuade Snooks back into the buggy for the long walk home.
“We’ll go home via the park so you can get out and run around on the grass for a bit,” I told him as I strapped him in with the aid of a sugar-free elephant-shaped banana-flavoured biscuit.
“D’accord,” he replied cheerfully.
Green eyes shrugged and waved bye bye.