Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stoke-on-Trent

One week ago, Alex’ paternal grandmother called to ask if he would be able to join her, and his grandpa and cousin Harry (‘He’s nearly eleven’), for a trip to the theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The answer was ‘Yes, he is able and willing’. And so, they planned to see Jacqueline Wilson’s The Suitcase Kid, on Saturday 20th October.

On Friday 19th October, grandma received a friend’s review of the play and from that determined that ‘It may be unsuitable for the boys, it might unsettle them’. Thus, their trip was cancelled - they would not see the play.

The key context here, for grandma, is that both Harry and Alex (whose Dads are brothers) were born to couples who split-up a short number of years after the births of Harry and Alex, respectively. In other words, both grandsons are subject to the kinds of reconstituted families that are at the heart of The Suitcase Kid story.

Despite feeling disappointed at grandma’s turnaround on their theatre trip, I recognised that she was acting for all the right reasons – even though she may have been underestimating her youngest grandson, at least. At short notice, this had left a bit a gaping hole in Saturday… until, that is, grandma floated an alternative suggestion by Emma.

Emma: Shane.
Shane: Mm?
Emma: Celia says that she and Eric will still have Alex and Harry on Saturday afternoon.
Shane: Mm, good.
Emma: They’re gonna go out for a country walk.
Shane: Good – great outdoors and all that, good for them to get out before winter properly kicks in.
Emma: Mm. (pause) And she’s asked if we would like to join them.
Shane: (pause, processes the very idea) Oooooh.
Emma: Don’t freak out.
Shane: I’m not.
Emma: I know it sounds a bit -
Shane: Aaaaah.
Emma: (laughing) I think it’ll be ok.
Shane: Ohhhhh - spending a Saturday afternoon with the parents of the Ex of your partner...
Emma: It’ll be fine.
Shane: It’ll be weird - very weird.
Emma: A bit weird, but they like you.
Shane: They don’t know me.
Emma: (pause) But they know Alex.
Shane: No comment.
Emma: I'll take that as a ‘Yes’, then.
Shane: Eh?

So, Emma, Alex and I joined Celia, Eric and young Harry (whose Dad and stepmother had gone shopping), shortly after midday. The boys were excited; the grown-ups were polite, if a little shuffling. From the grandparents’ house, we headed for a Woodland Walk close to the nearby Trentham Estate - once the site of a Beatles concert, now famed for its Monkey Park.

Once the boys had initiated a game of tag, it was hard to feel anything other than playful. Unfortunately, grandma didn’t have a chance. In fact, she rather made me think of the word 'behemoth'. Perhaps that was unkind.

From a bridge, we played Pooh sticks. I explained to Harry that the ‘h’ was the most important letter in the name of that game.

There were pleasing sightings throughout the walk. There was a pony.

There were some really interesting trees – gnarled and fallen and lovely and liney.

There were chatty strangers, with a basket of allegedly edible fungi. It was his first walk through this wood. He was from Bucknall, a nearby town. It was her umpteenth walk through this wood. She looked and sounded as though of South East Asian origin.
.
I contemplated the power of the internet.

There was a fleeting dog – a dog that did fleet.

And as Celia and Eric had, by now, become fully enthralled by the mushrooming opportunities about their very feet, I too paid closer attention to the floor.
.
Leaves, so gorgeous.

And sky – not without merits.

Boys being boys, there had to be some stick-carrying.

But mine was bigger.

A couple of hours later, we had garnered the materials to return to Celia and Eric’s for an alternatively artistic end-of-afternoon with their grandsons.

And they didn’t disappoint.

Back at home, we reflected.

Emma: Wasn’t bad, was it?
Shane: No, it was ok. Harry’s a good kid - Alex clearly likes him, and Eric’s a nice man, and Celia… she is nice also.
Emma: What were you and Eric talking about?
Shane: Places, mostly. He asked me what my first impressions of Stoke-on-Trent had been.
Emma: And?
Shane: I said I liked it – it seemed like a very unpretentious place
Emma: Mm, good.
Shane: …and that it had a lot to be unpretentious about.
Emma: Shane!
Shane: It’s alright – he laughed.

And out of what seemed like nowhere:

Alex: I think I’ll live in London (where his Dad lives) when I’m grown up.
Emma: (a bit shocked) (trying not to sound a bit shocked) Oh right. Why’s that then?
Alex: Cos it’s got big bridges – loads of them. The bridge that we went over today was titchy. Tower Bridge is massive!
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From the mouths and rationale of Suitcase Kids...

4 comments:

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Titchy. Tower Bridge. And so on. I would be glad to give my comments on this piece if I knew what it was about. I didn't see any "bloody" here. Was that an intentional omission, Old Sport?

Oh. Glad to see you and Emma getting along so well. And Alex, too, of course of course.

PI said...

That got a chuckle from me Shane. No hot buttered crumpets? That would have been the finishing touch to a lovely afternoon.
My gangling 6' 2" grandson was a nipper like that only last week. Make the most of it.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

"but mine was bigger" - hahahahaha!!!

bittersweet me said...

Lovely. Taking sticks for walks and all.