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Open Features: Mud Bath

...The next incident, perhaps I should call it disaster, was the state of the ground. Snow and rain had reduced a normally green and pleasant land to quagmire. I watched my charges slip and slid (with glee) through ankle deep mud. By the time we arrived at the duck pond I would seriously have liked to have dunked them in and wash them down....

Mary Pilfold-Allan records her mud-spattered day as an unwilling conscript in the roll of child-minder.

Half term and I am co-opted briefly into the roll of childminder. I say briefly because it is not my natural inclination to offer. After rearing four children of my own, grandchildren are a step too far when it comes to prolonged exposure. Do I hear gasps of horror at this admission?

My reluctance to child-mind is a fact I cannot deny, for although I love my own son and daughters to distraction and will fight like a lioness to protect them, small children are not my forte. Once they get to a stage where they can hold an intelligent conversation and do not need supervising at every step of the way, fine. Before that, I am very willing to look admiringly but leave the hands-on approach to the parents.

Hence last Wednesday, I was somewhat thrown by having to amuse three grandchildren for a ‘long’ morning, one aged seven and two five-year olds. Faced with this I felt it would be a good idea to meet up with a friend of mine and her three offspring, the ‘strength in numbers’ approach.

We chose to visit a park, where many years ago I would take my own brood. Then it seemed the perfect place for small people to let off steam. Ducks to feed, acres to run in and an area set aside for swings, a roundabout and a seesaw. I had forgotten two vital elements; one the recent weather and the other, times change.

As we drove into the car park there were embarrassed giggles from the back seat where the grandchildren were perched on their obligatory boosters. Some artist with a chain saw had carved diseased, and therefore now dead beech trees into wood sculptures. What a good idea you would think, but did the figures have to turn out to be so well endowed? It is a long while since I have had to explain to a five year old that pendulous breasts are all part of art.

The next incident, perhaps I should call it disaster, was the state of the ground. Snow and rain had reduced a normally green and pleasant land to quagmire. I watched my charges slip and slid (with glee) through ankle deep mud. By the time we arrived at the duck pond I would seriously have liked to have dunked them in and wash them down. As it was they managed to get fairly wet because I let them paddle, and as for feeding the ducks, most of the bread went into small mouths not beaks.

Eventually we arrived at the ‘play park’, the modern name for the secure area (away from dogs) with its soft landing surface and Health & Safety approved equipment. My friend, who is much younger than me, saw nothing strange in the conditions. I secretly wondered how children were ever going to learn to take care with everything so sanitised. When my children were young it had been a family joke that we had our own seat at A&E. Our First Aid kit at home had been reasonably extensive too. Has my cavalier attitude to ‘danger’ helped to turn my own daughters into overly protective parents?

Within minutes – could even have been seconds – of getting to grips with some rope assembly that children have to scale, hunger struck my charges. Thoughtfully a large piece of banana cake had been sent along by a daughter and deposited into my safekeeping until the children felt the need for sustenance. I had long forgotten that ‘Tommy the Tapeworm’ needs to be fed every half an hour and given copious amounts of squash. Do small children have hollow legs? Where does all the food go? Perhaps having been a post war baby I learnt restraint. Perhaps that’s why I am only 5’ 2” and why my grandchildren seem set to top me by a good half a foot, possibly within a year or two.

Finally it was time to go home. Yippee! I de-booted them, removed their muddy coats and strapped them into the car. The journey home was a riot of
I-Spy (I never knew you could cheat so much with a game of I-Spy). Depositing them safely back at base with deep apologies for the state of their clothing, was a relief, they were still intact after all.

I drove home as if in a trance, the lure of a strong cup of tea and quick read of the paper like a beacon shining in the distance. Eventually I resumed a state of equilibrium and felt capable of resuming normal duties, although the first port of call was the car wash and valetting service.

When are the Easter holidays? I think it might be time to take a trip abroad. Am I joking?

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