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22 May 2007

Coast

Being rude but getting away with it - every child’s dream

By Simon Munnery

We are drawn to the coast. Well, dragged there by our parents initially. Look at the sea; remember the past. Look at the sky; imagine the future. Look at the land; think of the present. And at the most profound place, where land, sea, and sky are one – there ye shall play volleyball.

What is it about the sight of a flat horizon that eases the mind? No predator in sight? Endless possibility?

What generally is the influence of landscape on psyche? Does for example, the sing song quality of the Welsh accent owe something to the mountainous nature of that region? And is the well documented low monotone of Norfolk’s inhabitants a consequence of that zone’s flatness? And what of Northampton? I performed there recently, and after lambasting the audience for the inaccuracy of their town’s name (Southampton – fair enough; any further south you’d get wet, whereas Northampton is not even in the midlands; it smacks of laziness) I enquired if anyone in the crowd was actually from Northampton. Unsurprisingly many were. “How long have you been here – how many generations?” I asked a man in the front row.

“Six,” he replied.

“Six!” I exclaimed “Can anyone top that?”

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A voice from the back shouted “Four”.

It was hilarious at the time and still amusing in retrospect; either the owner of the voice considered not having been in Northampton for as long to be a victory, or he’d lived in Northampton so long that basic maths was beyond him. Shoe-making was Northampton’s old industry; just as hat making was Luton’s – perhaps there were other towns specialising in trousers and shirts; and as the traveller journeyed south he could bit by bit get dressed.

I’ve got children. Sounds a bit like “I’ve got lice” doesn’t it? I may have lice, it may be connected. The thing is, once you’ve had children you take more interest in them. It’s natural. How I came to have children was slightly unusual. Five years ago I had testicular cancer and had a testicle removed. Next thing I knew; wife pregnant – turned out I didn’t need the other one, it was just holding me back. Now I have two lovely daughters, with another one in the tap. When my first born was born born born (I like the word) we came out of the hospital – Homerton Hospital in Hackney – and got in a cab to go home. As soon as we set off the driver turned to me and said “What is it – boy or girl?”

“Girl” I replied

He said “Yeah; I got girls; you know they steal…”

Since then I’ve asked girls “Do you steal?”. They say “No,no”. I say “from your Dad?” They say “Well; that’s not stealing…”

Babies are very small, but come with a lot of equipment; there’s a whole room full of stuff they need – pram, cot, special seat for the car, a thing that goes over them and dangles, a steriliser for their bottles – they’re eating maggots off the carpet the next minute; but in between it’s very important to sterilise their bottles. And the cot: they don’t sleep in it; they start the night in it, but using their magical baby powers – they cry until you haven’t the strength to put them back – they end up in the bed.

You’d think with three of you in a bed you’d all lie in parallel lines to make best use of the space, but no, babies rotate so that their feet press on the father’s ribs and the head points towards booboo.

I was walking down the road – well, pavement; I’m not a complete idiot – and there were two little girls behind me making a hell of a racket. I turned round to find out what was going on, then realised they were making a noise because they wanted attention and I’d just played into their hands. One was about six, the other a little older and she was doing this rap in a loop, over and over again: “Dick! Dick! Dick! Dictionary!” Being rude but getting away with it – every child’s dream – in case her aunt was listening out of a window or something, but her friend or sister, every so often over of the top of this rap would shout “Penis!” which can’t be covered as easily. Encylo-penis-dia I thought later, but that’s a bit advanced.

I am now and have been for as long as I can recall possessed by the urge to get the bottom of things; to find out how it works. It seems I can only do that by taking it apart and attempting to put it back together again. I tried it with the radio – successfully. Less so with my sister. So many bits left over.