The rain, soft and steady, the need to go for a pee and his easily-made decision to crash-out at eight oh five p.m. the previous evening wake him up. He lies still – an unusual feat for him at any time, night or day – and sense scans his surroundings. The bedroom walls, shining gently with what he half-jokingly refers to as Russian-nuclear-submarine-grey (actually a sheeny mix of lilac and pale grey); the lack of any noise from either the adjoining room (until last night occupied – once again – by his daughter) and the lack of noise from the third bedroom (where for a couple of nights his nineteen month old grandson slept – if fitfully) roaring in his ears.
No need to creep ever-so-quietly (as if …) across the landing this time. To try and do the toilet business silently (again: as if …). Smiling to himself; happy that the parent/grandpa radars are still, at least reasonably, effective. Missing the need to be quite so responsible again. Missing the need to be responsive in quite the same way again.
Snuggled back in the familiar bed, he is soon asleep again. the predicted rain continues; the wind, so unfamiliar to his guests, background to his deeper rest.
When he wakes again, he is feeling refreshed. Refreshed and replenished. And he can … take … his … time.
There is no Lil’ Henry to see to, with his endless enthusiasm and sponge-like ability to soak up entertainment and skills. That joyous little face lighting up with a gazillion-candlepower beaming smile. And gurgles of welcome. And love.
Not that the tiny proto-human needed seeing to. Not in any serious way. His parents were more than capable of that.
He thinks of the past year as he consumes his soggy cereals, drinks his tea, watches the latest sensationalist news (pandemic, sports, charity, knife crime, HS2): the marvellous, inexorable development of his grandson. To the reasoning, thinking, character-filled creature he has happily spent time with for a couple of glorious days. His morning routines; standing on a step to clean his own teeth, feeding his own face at mealtimes, bottle, bath and story at bedtimes.
And the magical serendipitous scramble of activities in between.
Those moments in the back garden which had been seeded some months ago. When Lil’un had been carried outside while he added sunflower seed, fat pellets and peanuts to the bird tables outside. And Hen had dipped his hand (such a learner-by-mimicry) into the bucket. And had done so for the next few visits: tha feeding-the –birds being a part of autumn-through-winter life.
But this time damned if Henry hadn’t gone one stage further. Knowing (yes, knowing!) where the buckets were kept. And dragging one of them (weighing some four kilos or so) to the kitchen step, opening the door, stepping up (solo effort) lifting the cumbersome bucket into the kitchen (clear of the door) and pushing the door closed. Then, with that oh-so-charming smile, looking up into his grandmother’s eyes.
He didn’t speak (he will, don’t worry) but was clearly thinking
“So, where’s grandy then?”
And grandy, not so far away, was both surprised by the feats (such joined-up, purposeful thinking) and pleased to be involved, was happy to play the role.
Once outside the tables were replenished, little hands keen to have extra time to experience the tactile nature of the seed mixture; grandfather happy to have the time with him.
Then those truly joyous few minutes where Henry just became autonomous and explored the slightly deluged garden.
Leaving him to simple stand and watch. Those wonderful moments of play and learning. Waterproof snow boots eating up the metres, tracking puddles, paths, log store, borders, wildlife pond (“it’s okay, grandy is here,”), apple trees and beyond; though what processes were clicking inside the young brain he couldn’t guess. He became just absorbed in observing; sure, there for supervision, for safety … but happy not to be involved. Play which developed into a round and round the apple tree, through a puddle on the lawn (indignation about the two stray crocus flowers poking brave purple heads through the inch-or-so of water lost and irrelevant). A kind of new-tradition tribal dance. Left hand on the tree, circle, lift hand, duck and pause beneath the one-time oak gatepost now supporting the lean-down trunk, jig on the spot in the water, continue round (five paces), hand back on the trunk. Repeat.
So joyous. Crystallised down from a thousand billion branches of the evolutionary tree; from the Big Bang, via Lucy to Voyager’s ongoing mission, Leonardo (da Vinci or da Quirm doesn’t matter) and beyond to the reaches of infinity. Just moving. Just inspiring. A young Turk, learning the ropes for himself. In every way. Confident. Quick to learn, but enjoying every bouncing moment of his play…
… colliding and fusing so instant-well with all of the firework experiences and memories of times with his own children growing up, the unthinking investment of time, energy, love and giving that was showing the dividends that never need paying.
Every child has the right to play, says UNICEF … and here was the spirit of that, the timeless essence of that and every reason that it should continue to be so. Before his very eyes.
Birds tables would be stocked up this morning, but it would be a lonely task.