Games are easily mastered with only three years of life experience in your bones. Nothing about the world has made you cynical, nothing or no one makes you feel foolish. A game is whatever you think of, and whatever you think of is endlessly fascinating, hilarious, wonderful. The almost three-year-old had found the bouncy egg, a favourite. Everyone should have one. Shaped like a hen’s egg, it can be held between one’s legs, arms turned into wings and flapped whilst clucking, then the legs opened as the egg is laid with maximum noise and drama. Endless fun in that one, but throwing it is better, not least because of its unpredictable bounce.
Throwing the ball is called Eggy Windows. Eggy windows was quickly banned when we realised the child’s throw, on a good day, was rivalling Ben Stokes’ overarm, and there was a strong possibility he might shatter the double glazing, so we re-branded it eggy wall, or eggy plants, or eggy wherever-it-landed. It fell into bushes and planters, got wedged in the wisteria between a thick stem and the wooden fence, rolled in behind the brown bin stuffed with bamboo, buried itself into the fish box planted with strawberries. It tried its best to sabotage the peonies and roses, plonked itself into the watering can – which delighted and amazed the child. It rebounded off the wall and whacked him on the noggin and up came a matching egg on his forehead (pause to check for pain, not much, I wait for him to laugh, then join in, relieved). The best was a high rainbow arch of a throw which ended up in the pond with a satisfying splash. In went his wee arm, plunged deep into the brown gunge and murk. His dad made us wash the egg and our hands afterwards. (I had asked the child earlier if his hands were dirty or sun tanned. They’re dirty, he confirmed cheerfully.) Back outside, with clean hands and clean egg, it took him six seconds to execute the perfect Federer lob back into the pond. Plonk! At this age, games are about repetition, and there is no such thing as too much repetition.
Eggy pond was, I figured, going to result in a lost egg, so we changed the game to tents. Tents involved the two if us draped in a small blanket: we were Polar Bears and Paddington was joining us shortly (he never showed). Tents is about cuddles, about making sure no light can bleed in, about squirming and wriggling and banging the back of his head against my upper lip (very sore). It’s about pretending to sleep for three seconds and then waking up to go outside and eat grass, walking on hands and feet, bum in the air, snuffling.
Calls from inside told us his dinner was almost ready. Cue, a game of scary pie. Scary pie was invented months ago when he refused to eat a portion of cottage pie, called it scary pie, and I chased him round and round the garden shed with a cold bowl of mince and tatties in my hand trying to get him to eat. The game can now officially be played empty-handed, all I need to do is to chase him calling out, ‘scary pie’ and we run and run and run. So enthusiastic were we about scary pie that he missed his footing on the narrow bridge over the frog pond and in he fell, one leg in one leg out. Unless pain is felt, every misdemeanour is side-splitting. He puts his hands on his ribs, thrusts his chest out, and roars like the laughing policeman. Off came shoes and joggers and wet socks, out came pale, chubby bruised legs, and on we played, barefoot in pants (not me).
Everything is played without a break, one game moves seamlessly to the next and the cumulative effect is that I am more exhausted than when I used to go to circuit training classes twenty-five years ago. The other effect is that when I peeled off my clothes to climb into bed that night, I found both legs covered in bruises, just in time for my planned baring of them at next week’s wedding in Canada. Lovely.