Thursday, May 29, 2014

Questions from a five-year-old

So where does earth come from? That was yesterday’s big question. 

Izzy and I were on our daily walk with the dogs on Hampstead Heath. It’s a great place for celebrity spotting – in the last few days we’ve waved at Ricky Gervais and Doctor Who, and Boots chased Kate Moss’s dog into a nettle bush, though Izzy didn’t recognize any of them. 

Look, there’s Nanny McPhee! I enthused. But the real Emma Thompson looks nothing like her warty on-screen persona and, besides, Izzy was too busy examining the ground to notice her.

After the recent thunderstorms, the Heath had turned into a sea of muddy puddles. Mabel, our golden cocker, had just come back from the groomers with silky clean fur, and so immediately jumped into the biggest pool and emerged a neat two tone – everything below her shoulders glistened black. 

“Daddy, why are puddles muddy?” came the first question. 

That was an easy one. 

“The rain mixes with the earth and turns it to mud,” I said confidently. 

As if to demonstrate, Mabel came up and shook a quantity onto Izzy’s new blue jeans. Izzy was still studying the puddle. 

“So where does earth come from?” 

I could have lied. Earth comes in big tubs from the earth factory and soil fairies sprinkle it on the ground after the rainstorms. But I’ve played that trick too often; Izzy is now an expert on fairies and their talents. Besides, it would have led to endless supplementary questions: Where is the earth factory? Can we go on Saturday? Next Saturday then? 

So I told her the truth. Mabel was, at that moment, conveniently defecating right in the middle of the footpath so, as I bent down and scooped, I gave her a lesson on the makeup of soil from organic matter like dog poop, leaves, sand and so on. 

Izzy asked me why I was throwing away a vital ingredient when I could just leave it to rot on the ground and make some more earth. I muttered something about Mummy’s new carpets, and hoped that would be an end of it. But Izzy was still thinking. 

“So what if there was no earth?” 

“Then we’d all die because there’s be no trees to make the fresh air.” 

“So we’d never have any birthdays,” she said. 


“Because if there were no trees, they couldn’t make any birthday cards.” 

I nodded. That would indeed be disastrous – Izzy would be five forever, and there would be no end to the questions. 

“And if there were no trees, there wouldn’t be any books, so we’d never get to sleep.” 

She’s right, of course. The primary function of children’s books is to mark bedtime. If only the world’s conservationists had spotted this argument, we’d never have destroyed the rain forests. Izzy’s reading is phenomenal. She even knows the word phenomenal. She devours words. We’ve just been to the first parents’ evening at her new school. They are very proud of her. 

“Was she good at reading at her little village school?” they asked, probably hoping the answer would be no. 

I paused. The honour of Belsay School was at stake. 

“Yes, it was a brilliant school,” I said truthfully. 

Later on our walk, Izzy was telling me how much she missed Northumberland, and especially the school and her friends. She missed seeing the foxes and the deer out of the window in the morning. Now we just see celebrities. 

As we walked through the wood that leads back to the house, she suddenly asked: “Daddy, why did the hunters kill Bambi’s Mummy?” 

“Er, for their supper?” I offered. 

At first she seemed satisfied. But then she added: “Didn’t they know you don’t put real deer in quesadilla?” 

It took a few seconds. Izzy is learning phonics. Then I twigged:

“Ques – a – deer!” I exclaimed. 

“Yes, Daddy, but quesadilla doesn’t have real deer in it. You use cheese. Why didn’t the hunters know that?”

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