Saturday 13 March 2010

Through A looking Glass 2

A couple of month’s ago i asked some folk who had been dropping into my blog to write a guest post.

I gave them the theme « Mirror » and i asked each of them to apply their Personal Mirror (whatever that meant to them) to any one of my posts, or part thereof.

These are the results.

The Mirror Series, Part Two. MARK. Here is a link to Mark's Website.

Mark lives in Germany where he performs and writes - but I have known him, and this may come as a shock, for longer than 25 years; a time when we were fit and healthy, slept until midday, never went to bed before 2 am and when we had so much time and money we didn’t know what to do with it.

A time when we weren't parents.

Mark is mirroring this post – Please let it be soft.

Mirror Post/Mark


My feelings towards book burning are quite clear. It is a violent desecration of everything upon which democracy and free speech are built: spiritual expression, human aspiration and bad sppelling.

'Book washing' on the other hand leaves me deeply ambivalent.
It's something I admit to having done once but, when the truth be told, it gave me no pleasure. It was a chore.

I am of course talking about those plastic books for infants. Each ' book' consists of two cushioned pages, that's four sides in total. The subject matter is usually limited to single 'Pop Art' - like pictures of an an apple, a bicycle, a bird, a car, a cat, and, or so I thought, a vagina ( it was in fact one half of a papaya fruit).

The infant reader has a special way of enjoying this literary feast. Taking the plastic tome in both hands he, or she, bites deeply into one of the corners. Up to an hour can be spent rubbing toothless gums against the pages, rivers of dribble running down the inner binding before looping elastically onto your lap.

Our two year old was such an avid 'reader', the 'book' had to be taken everywhere and that is how it ended up one autumn day face down in a large puddle on one of Cologne's busiest streets.

This being our first born, the book was not simply wiped and given back to the reader, now red faced and displaying all the symptoms of a massive heart attack combined with a stroke.

As with all first born children, should a dummy, or pacifier, be dropped on the ground, it must first sterilized in boiling water for at least 3 minutes, dried with a fresh towel and lightly sprinkled with essence of Eucalyptus before being returned to the fragile infant.

In the case of second born children, the dummy is simply wiped on a shirt sleeve and reinserted into the screaming mouth.

In the case of third born infants... well, the parents were too busy to pop out and buy a dummy and the infant spends it's first three years sucking on the end of an old wine cork.

But this being our first born, the book had to sterilized. Due to a warning printed on the back it couldn't simply be dunked into boiling water. So that is how I found myself, not only witness to, but actively participating in, my first book wash.

One could argue that book washing can never be so destructive as book burning... ah, but there's the rub. On being offered the newly washed book, the infant took it, tasted it and spat it out. Something deep in the schema of this masticatory masterpiece had been changed, violated and it was now rejected faster than a reproduction at Christies.

But this washed up literary treasure has recently experienced a renaissance. Perhaps not in the function for which it was intended, but when we are offered a second chance at love, do we care about the how and the why?

It is four years later, and my wife and I are directing the birthday party for our no longer infant boy. Because believe me, children's birthday parties need rigorous direction.

Having arrived, the little guests tend to drift around uncertainly, unsure of what the event entails. I remember this very well myself. If you are invited around to a friends to play, you get your coat off and get stuck in. A birthday party is something quite different. There are obviously rules but the guest is unsure what they are. There's a present to be handed over, a toilet to be introduced to, but just look at that table heaving with cake and confectionary. Surely, you can't help yourself... can you?

The situation is a bit like a large family gathering but without grown ups, except of course for the two hyperactive parents of the host demanding that you start playing. How can you play when you don't know half of the other children, some of whom arrived a few minutes earlier than you, and so enjoy the status of long time settlers.

This is where the direction comes in.

Once the guest list was complete, and all accompanying parents gotten rid of, my wife and I, with the gusto of two motivation trainers on amphetamines, marshaled the kids through a series of traditional games: 'blind- mans- buff', 'tail of the donkey', 'ring-a-ring-a-roses'.

At one point a ' we're-not-joining-in' faction broke out and instead gathered around a computer game that one of the kids had brought with him. What parents allow their child to take a computer game to a birthday party? Are they purposely training them to be anti - social? Do the parents themselves go to a dinner party armed with a laptop, and, taking a seat, clear the cutlery and glasses to the side before cracking it open demanding a W-lahn connection number?

Enough to say we broke down the cell of resistance and confiscated the computer game.

However, now the faction were forced to join in, they adopted a new tactic: sabotage. They struck mid way through a game of ' hit-the pot' ( contestant blindfolded tries to hit a pot, set somewhere on the floor, with a wooden spoon, aided only by the directions of the onlookers.) One of them picked up the pot and placed it behind the settee, an impossible target, whilst the others jeered the blindfolded child, who, tapping his wooden spoon around wildly on the floor, now resembled a desperate Stevie Wonder trying to locate his piano.

In an attempt to rectify the situation I reached behind the settee and pulled out... the little plastic book. With the years it had collected a good deal of dust and clumps of fur balls, but it was unmistakably the same book.

'Behind the family settee' is a mysterious place, a limitless space set in a tight squeeze, an elephants graveyard full of countless forgotten little souvenirs. No one knows how they got there or how they remain undiscovered for so long. If you consciously look for something you won't find it behind the settee. It's no use getting down on all fours and, with your face pressed against the floor, shouting curses into the shaft of darkness. Finding things ' behind the settee' is governed by a random principle. And in this case an inspirational one.

Dashing over to the blindfolded child, no longer tapping but smashing his way around our sitting room floor, I substituted the wooden spoon for the plastic book and explained a slight change in rules: the blind man had to swing the plastic book around and try and hit someone with it. When hit, it was your turn to be blindfolded. This change in the ruling produced a roar of approval from the 'we-don't want-to join-in- faction' and an hour of unbridled laughter, shouting, the unmistakable 'thwack' of cushioned plastic against skin, tears and more laughter.

Clearing up after they had all gone, sifting through the debris of paper plates, streamers and cake, I found the plastic book abandoned and twisted in the corner. The central spine had split and the stuffing was hanging out, a book first washed and now comically disemboweled.

The lump that sprung up in the back of my throat was a small stab of sadness acknowledging the passing of time, but in regard to who? Me? My boy? Both of us? I don't know. And it doesn't matter. In the end time washes all things away.

Everything you need to know about this Mirror series - click here.

Part One of The Mirror Series here


carol said...

Hahahaha... to both "please let it be soft" and "Bookwashing"..... and hello to Mark!

Being a parent eh?! It brings it all flooding back...
I'm not sure why, but I am taken over by an image of being slapped in the face by a soft, wet fish.

Just want to point out that the guest posts are missing the right hand end part of the page. The last two letters of the last words and the black frame...
Is this just on my computer?

Anne said...

I had the same problem, but I solved it by reducing the letter size on the screen: Control button and "-".

Sound of the day: Thwack!

popps said...

I could make the frame smaller if this is a problem for others, it seems to be ok on mine.
Let me know .

Vicki Hollett said...

Lovely Mark. I remember my brother describing how they wiped their first baby's mouth at meal times - cotton wool ball dipped in sterilized water. Second baby - a flannel was allocated for the purpose and kept by the kitchen sink. Third baby - whatever washing up cloth was lying around. I never dared ask about the fourth baby, but she seems to have survived and flourished nevertheless.