I'm sitting in the lounge of the lovely house we are renting this week listening to 'The Man With A Child In His Eyes' by Kate Bush. The sun is shining and I have just been left alone by most of the cast who have headed off to the theatre to get ready for tonight's show. I don't have to be there until nine o'clock, so I have been left to tidy after our gorgeous BBQ this afternoon which involved me, mostly, sitting in my car with the top down acting out all the roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for Chris Larkin's wonderful children. I didn't even eat much. It was an absolute joy.
I love small children. They are so open to fun and adventure and if you are enthusiastic with them they will repay you tenfold. Chris's children were certainly happy today to be at the beach and see a pirate ship and pretend we were flying over the mountains. So was I.
I almost certainly get it from my dad. He was brilliant at creating 'adventures'. A game he used to play, in the summer holidays, one that I have done with my own children and their friends, was to jump in the car and let all the children take it in turns to choose which direction we would drive in, right, left or straight on. This may sound like a recipe for disaster on a Heston Blumenthal scale, but we always ended up at some amazing castle or lake or the beach. Of course, he knew that's where we were heading. It just took us a bit longer to get there than if we had gone there directly. Still, that wasn't a problem. We had all day!
The other brilliant thing he did was to tell us, on walks, that there used to be money trees near where we were. "That was in the old days," he would say, "before people got greedy and cut them all down. What a shame," he would sigh, "otherwise we could just gather the money that used to pop out of the bark and buy an ice cream?" He had already been to the wood and planted small coins in to the bark of the trees on the route of our walk. Once we spotted one we would be off, dashing all over the place, giving off shrieks of joy whenever we spotted some more. There was always just enough for us to buy an ice cream each.
I once did that on a holiday in France. We were sharing a large Chateau in the Dordogne with about thirty other families and, as dinner was prepared, I was put in charge of entertaining the children. There were about 15 of them between 3 and 7 years old. One evening I suggested we walked through the woods next to our stunning house. I'd walked the route earlier in the day and placed centimes in all the trees. I told the kids about the greedy people who had cut down all the money trees and they agreed that it was a shame. I had to drag the story out because they were taking a long time to spot the shiny coins sticking out of the cracks in the bark, but, once one had been spotted, they were off! Half an hour of very egalitarian money harvesting. Children can very generous with each other, especially when they think there is an endless supply of something. The coins were shared out and we returned to the house after about an hour, each child clutching a small, sweaty handful of almost worthless coins; not that they knew that or cared. To them, and me, it was a moment of magic. Well done, dad.
Later that evening I was taken aside by the father of two of the children. "Mike," he said, seriously, "I have spent the last five years trying to teach my children the value of money and you have managed to destroy that education in one fell swoop. Please don't do it again."
I still know those children. They are lovely. Very sensible, responsible teenagers. Bright, thoughtful and caring. A credit to their parents. But every time I see them they talk to me about the money trees. I refuse to admit, as they claim, that it was me that put the money in the bark. I tell them that money trees still exist in France if they ever want to look for them with their children? Have a look yourself sometime. It's well worth the effort.