Saturday, April 01, 2006


Mr Thomas came out of the loo. He was wearing a grey blanket to which flakes of pastry adhered. He gave a sobbing cry. 'My house,' he said. 'Where's my house?'

I worked something out earlier today, on my knees, replacing the lids on felt tip pens scattered by my daughter. Youth is an exploration of the possibilities of chaos; age is a quest for order. As children we resent any control, any delimitation of what we can do. Adults require a robust police service funded by reasonable taxation.

Let's say I'm playing a computer game, my daughter is watching and the character representing me within in the game falls to their death or is otherwise thwarted by a glitch or developmental quirk. As the on-screen me spirals towards oblivion I'll attempt to wrench the joypad into pieces cursing the game for its non-linear reasoning and general shittiness. My daughter will pull her knees up to her chest and giggle irresistibly. For her, the fun starts when things go wrong.

I can't train myself out of the problem-solving habit, nor should I, not now. It's part of what a father does. But it wouldn't hurt to swim with less caution in the choppy waters of the unexpected, I live comfortably in a affluent democracy, after all.

This is an oversimplification, of course. Most children depend on routine and are wary of the unknown. And grown-ups dream of a job where they do something different and exciting everyday. The difference lies in how we respond to a setback, perhaps. If she writes a number the wrong way round my daughter won't mull over her error, she'll raise her eyebrows and write it again correctly. She says "Oh, sorry," sotto voce, to herself. She is still at that age where failure can be spun as an opportunity to do something again and to do it better. As I approach middle age I am struggling to hold on to my belief in the perfectibility of human nature. But I want to believe. That we can get it right. Meanwhile small children everywhere are hoping for the worst, for bombsites to play amongst, for rubble to sculpt.

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