As the snow plopped down on the way from school, DS1 and his little gang were in their element. Walking along, mouths open to catch the snow soon degenerated into scraping it off the cars and, for one young man in particular, this meant putting said scraped snow into his mouth and crunching down on the already icy substance.
Even setting off a car alarm failed to deter them. The inevitable snowball fight ended with DS1 taking a shot to the eye.
The shock and the cold hit him. He was in bits. He was soaked, freezing and distraught. So much for the boy who once claimed he could bury himself naked in the snow and he still wouldn’t be cold.
Five minutes later he was snuggled up on the sofa in dry clothes, hoodie with the hood up, woolly hat, gloves, two scarves, a blanket, a snug rug and a duvet. Oh, and three pillows for good measure.
The next morning, snow still on the ground and a definite Artic chill in the air, he dressed in just a school shirt. No t-shirt underneath, no jumper.
“I’ve got my coat,” he assured me.
“Yes, but it’s freezing out, remember how cold you were yesterday… and you can’t wear your coat indoors.”
“I won’t be cold indoors.”
I looked at him.
He sighed. “I’ll wear my gloves, then.”
This extreme reaction to temperature reminds me of a story that failed to make the cut at the time.
He was back in Harry Potter mode when the recent Fantastic Beasts film came out, and I found him wearing his school jumper – you know the one that’s never actually been worn to school.
“How come you’re wearing your school jumper?” I asked, as you would.
“It’s for Hogwarts,” he answered, as if that cleared the matter up.
“Well, if you can wear it for Hogwarts, why don’t you wear it for your school?” I enquired, not unreasonably I thought.
“Because my target is three years [for not wearing it] and I haven’t even got to two yet.”
Talking of school, this term’s topic is World War I and World War II. DS1 has thrown himself into this with abandon.
“Dad, can we build a trench in the garden,” he asked last weekend.
“Because I don’t want a 30-metre long, six-feet deep hole in my garden.” (Why do we still mix up metric and imperial measurements like that?)
I refer you to the answer I gave 30 seconds earlier.
But as you can imagine, he wouldn’t let it lie, even making an aborted attempt to fetch the spade from the shed.
In the end, to his credit, he realised he wasn’t going to get his way and improvised.
We have a sunken patio area, which he transformed into a trench: an old goal net became the barbed wire, and an assortment of weaponry, maps, candles and pencils (for some reason) were strewn around the place, as he set about re-enacting various battles.
Would you believe it when I said he copied out on to a piece of paper every major battle from the Great War? Of course you would.
The lists have started again in earnest. As well as the battle list, he is compiling one of people that fought in the two world wars. Some fictional (from a book he is reading at school); others are our ancestors, taken from the family tree we created last year; characters (real or otherwise) from Horrible Histories sketches have been included; and more have been added following a search on the interweb.
“Dad, I’ve got another name for the list,” he told me one evening.
“Oh, yes, who?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m sure there were a lot of people called Michael who fought in the war, yes… Where did you get the name from? If he’s famous we may be able to work it out.”
“It was just in something we were doing at school. I don’t think he’s real.”
A hard stair
Riding on this new obsession, I decided to go over the top and took him to the Imperial War Museum.
With the requisite packed lunch prepared, we set off for the train station. I could tell he was a little on edge, but was sure once we were on our way to London everything would be fine.
We secured a secluded double seat on the train and he grabbed his lunchbox. Before I had time to settle, he’d thrown it back at me.
“You idiot. I’m not eating that?”
“Why not?” I replied, a tad confused. It had all the usual food suspects within its confines.
“I’m not eating it, and that’s final.”
“Well, it’s all we’ve got. What’s the problem?”
He gesticulated at the unopened bag of crisps, which had a smear of mustard on the packaging from where his ham sandwich had fallen apart.”
“That,” he spat.
“It’s just on the packet,” I said. “I’ll just wipe it off and it will be fine.”
Funnily enough, it was – although he wasn’t so sure. Grudgingly, he returned to eating – not the crisps, though.
The underground would prove to be the next hurdle. Usually he loves an escalator. Can’t get enough of them. In fact, when he went to Paris with the wife last year he complained bitterly when there wasn’t one in a station.
Admittedly, recently, if there is a stair option he prefers to take it, but escalators have never been completely off the agenda. Until now.
As we headed for the Bakerloo line at Waterloo, the only option was the escalator. The stairs were under maintenance and, as a result, inaccessible.
“I’m not getting the escalator and that is final,” he harrumphed, arms folded defiantly.
“But you’ve been on escalators before… You can hold my hand… If you don’t go on the escalator we can’t go to the museum,” I pleaded, throwing everything I could think of at him.
He stormed off.
A long walk, two lifts and a travelator later we were on the tube.
At the museum, having checked out the Spitfire hanging from the ceiling, we ventured into the extensive World War I exhibition.
He was spellbound. Not by everything it has to be said. Some of the things that caught his imagination surprised me, others that I thought would were dismissed out of hand.
Anything where you could press a button to read or hear about certain aspects of the war captivated him.
However, if I dared walk off a few yards to check out an adjacent exhibit, he would hiss: “Get back here now!”
If I didn’t react within a millisecond he stomped over and hauled me back, tugging at my arm.
Whether this was because he was anxious about being on his own with lots of people around (although I was never more than a few yards away) or whether it was a ‘how dare you not be interested in the same thing as me for the same amount of time that I am’, I’m not sure.
He tried on a helmet and battle jacket, with a look of bemusement on his face as he studied himself in the mirror. I tried to take his photo, but he turned away – I was only allowed to take a picture of him in the mirror.
He was eager to get to the Somme section, the story of that battle having captured his imagination. But on reaching it, he quickly dismissed it as “rubbish” and moved me on.
I don’t know what was so bad about it. Maybe it hadn’t met his expectations, maybe it was the crowds (although it wasn’t over busy) or just someone standing where he wanted to be – who knows? But we soldiered on. Do you see what I’ve done there?
We reached a reconstruction of a trench, which was also declared “rubbish”. Sure, the floor wasn’t a quagmire, there weren’t hundreds of men squashed in along its length, there were no rats or lice and the barbed wire wasn’t real, but I thought it was pretty good.
A small display of miniature flags, though, had him mesmerised for ages.
“When we get home we should watch Grandpa’s Great Escape,” he said, on our way out.
For those not familiar with the David Walliams book/film, it’s about an old bloke with dementia who was a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain.
“That will teach us more about the war. And we can add Grandpa’s name to the list [of people that had fought in WWII].”