Dear Dave

Friday 19 October 2007

Keeping them in the dark

Dear Dave,

What do you do when you don't want Sam to know what you're talking about?

It's difficult for Sarah and myself to hold a conversation without a child in the vicinity and, now they're all old enough to understand what we're saying, this is becoming more of an issue. Admittedly, it seems they don't normally listen to a word I say but it's impossible to be sure. Fraser had speech difficulties when he was small and we thought it might have something to do with his hearing but then I ran some tests where I went out of his line-of-sight and whispered the word 'biscuit'. I was trying to find out how far away I had to be before he failed to come running, looking for a custard cream. I tried the other side of the room, I tried down the hall and I tried up the stairs but none of them was far enough. Then I went outside, muttered the magic word and got trampled by a mob composed of every kid in the neighbourhood.

I gave up. Children can listen perfectly well when it suits them. The question is how to avoid them gaining powerful information when it doesn't suit me. I don't necessarily want my kids knowing the details of our finances or what I need from the chemist.

I'm aware that some households spell words but I'm just no good at that. I can't do it. It was bad enough when Fraser was learning to read and he'd suddenly ask me something like, "What does 'p-h-o-t-o' spell?". He usually had to repeat himself a couple of times before my brain could picture the word and read it. It was just hopeless. Trying to have an adult discussion would be painful (and make me look like a total idiot). Before long, Fraser's going to be far better at it than me, anyway.

Similarly, I can't lip read to save my life, so mouthing words is useless. ('I'm sorry? What was that? You want some elephant juice!?') Charades attracts too much attention and has limitations. (Have you tried miming 'levitation', for instance?) Using a foreign language is out because I don't know any. Well, not really. All that I can remember of my GCSE German is, 'Mein Schnurrbart brennt,' and 'Ich bin ein Kuhlschrank.' Neither of these phrases is much use. I can think of few situations where I might need to secretly inform Sarah that my moustache was burning or that I was, in fact, a fridge.

Nope, we're left with two choices - being obscure or using very long words.

Again, obscurity loses me pretty quickly. For instance, if Sarah were to say, "Remember that thing we were talking about yesterday where the man might need to bring transport?" I'd just look blank. She'd need to give me quite a few hints before I understood. Even then, I wouldn't be entirely sure.

I'd need to check, just to be certain. "Oh, right! Do you mean the big skip we've ordered for all the kids' old toys?"

Kind of defeats the purpose, really.

That only leaves convoluted verbal exchanges using lexicographic ingenuity and artful confabulation. It's eminently possible to partake of some protracted deliberation with one's spouse by employing a succession of expanded utterances engineered to confound and discombobulate the juvenile contingent of one's household.

Well, it's working for now, anyway. There's a chance it may backfire, though.

We may effect a phenomenal increase in their linguistic capabilities that causes their vocabularies to outstrip those of their contemporaries and renders them incapable of conversing in anything other than a convoluted, antiquated and nigh-on incomprehensible fashion.

This is unlikely to help them make friends.

Maybe we should just accept the inevitable and move on to text messaging at the dinner table. Goodness knows, it won't be long before the kids start doing it so we don't know what schemes they're hatching...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Sarah bought a set of thirteen jelly moulds the other day. There's one for each letter of 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY'. I'm wondering what else I could spell in wobbly letters. All I can come up with is 'TIP A BAD HARPY DAY' or 'B HAPPY, BATH A HAIRY HIPPY'. Obviously, either of these would form a talking point as the centre-piece of the buffet at the next family gathering but I'm sure there must be something better. Any suggestions? (Keep it clean. Also, using any of the moulds more than twice seems like too much effort).

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