Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Bedtime Story (23/8/2017)

I've been thinking a lot, recently, about how we sometimes get so used to certain sights, that we need to take a step back, change our perspective and see them again as though for the first time, to stop us from taking them for granted.  I wrote this story with that idea in mind.

This story is, as always, also available as a podcast.

"Open Your Eyes!"

Toby's face crumpled into a frown, as Mum and Nan settled into their deckchairs.   "Are you serious?!"  He pouted.  "We're really not going out for the day?!"

Mum rolled her eyes.  "I've told you a hundred times; Grandad has the car, so the furthest we could go is the park, anyway.  And last time we went, you said you were getting too old to play there, anymore."

Toby folded his arms.  "But that doesn't mean I don't want to go anywhere," he insisted.  "We could get a bus and go into town!  We could go to the cinema, or the swimming pool, or..."

Nan motioned to Toby's little sister, Mabel.  "Why don't you help her build castles in the sandpit?"  She suggested.  "She's perfectly happy staying at home, today.  It's a nice day, so we thought we'd sit in the sunshine and have lunch in the garden, later."

Toby groaned to himself.  "There's nothing to do, here.  It's all boring."

Mabel sat, quietly playing in the sand.  She wrinkled her nose at her brother, unable to understand what all the fuss was about.  "I'm going to make a really huge castle," she told him.  "Why don't you look for pebbles and stones to decorate it?"

Toby plonked himself down in the grass and shook his head.  "I may as well do nothing," he huffed.

Mum sighed.  "Don't be like that, Toby.  I'm sure you can think of something fun to do, in the garden."

"How?!"  Toby exclaimed.  "I've been in this garden a million times.  I know everything you can do in it.  I've seen everything there is to see in it.  It's dull."

"Okay then, smarty pants," Nan replied.  "What are those scratches on the fence post, over there?"  She pointed to a wooden post, with deep grooves cut into it.  It looked like someone had tried to carve writing next to the grooves, too, but from where he was sitting, Toby couldn't see what it said.  He turned to Nan and shrugged.  Nan smiled.  "It's where your grandad used to measure how tall your mum and uncle Jack were getting, each year on their birthdays.  If you look closely, you'll see her initials and the number 7 next to one of the lines, and you can see how tall your mum was when she was your age."

Toby strode across to the fence post and squinted at the carvings in the wood.  He found the one he was looking for and put a hand to it, laughing to himself.  "Look, I'm taller than you were when you were seven, Mum!"

Mum grinned.  "That's because your dad was much taller than me," she reminded him.

Toby bit his lip.  "Do you think we could measure me?"

"I don't see why not," Mum said.  "I'll go in and get the tape measure."  She got up and wandered back into the house, whilst Toby carried on looking at the fence.  

"There's a big dent, here," he told Nan.  "Like something has hit the wood."

Nan chuckled to herself.  "Oh, your dad did that, years ago!  Grandad keeps saying he'll fix it, but he's never gotten around to it.  I think your mum likes it like that, to be honest."

"How did it happen?"  Toby asked.

"You were a toddler," Nan explained.  "And your dad was showing off to you, flying this remote-control helicopter around the garden.  He tripped over one of your toys and the helicopter flew straight into the fence!"

Toby giggled.  It was nice hearing funny stories about Dad.  He shuffled his feet and blew out a puff of air.  It was going to be cool to be measured and mark his height on the fence, but once that was over, he was still going to have nothing to do.  He glanced around at the plants and flowers.  "Can I water the garden?"

Nan nodded.  "The watering can's in the shed," she told him.  "And you can use the outside tap to fill it up."

Toby headed for the shed, then paused, realising there was something he had never asked Nan.  "Why is your shed concrete, not made out of wood or plastic?"  He patted the outside wall with his hand.  "And why does it have that curved roof?"

Nan smiled.  "It used to be an Anderson shelter," she explained.  They were used in the second World War, to hide in when the bombs fell.  Usually, they were made of metal and covered with earth and mud, but whoever lived in this house before us, decided to cover theirs with concrete and add a proper window and door, probably after the war was over.  When we moved in, we decided to keep it, because it's a little bit of history."

Toby opened the door to the shed.  "So... People hid in here, during the war?"

"Oh, yes," Nan said.  There would have been beds and tins of food and drinks stashed away in there, and the whole family would have to huddle together.  It was safer than staying in the house, you see."

Toby gazed at the inside of the shed.  It was full of gardening things now, but in his mind's eye, Toby was picturing beds and blankets and wondering what it must have been like to hide in there.  It gave him an idea for a game to play, later...

Toby grabbed the watering can and headed over to the outside tap, close to where Nan was sitting.  "Why is the tap covered in little chips of red paint?"

Nan giggled.  "Oh, your uncle Jack used to turn it on all the time, when he was little," she grinned.  "He'd flood the patio over and over and then he and your mum would splash around.  Your grandad got so fed up with them doing it, he painted it red, to mean "stop."  But it didn't really work and the paint's almost all gone, now."

Toby smiled.  He liked imagining his mum and uncle being silly kids, once upon a time.

Mum arrived with the tape measure.  "Ready to see how tall you are?"  

Toby nodded.  "Mum, did you know the shed used to be a shelter, during the war?"

Mum glanced over.  "I did," she said.  "But did Nan tell you that your uncle Jack and I used to climb onto the roof when we were kids?  There used to be an apple tree next to it and we used to climb the tree and then sit on the roof of the shed!"

Toby gasped, wishing there was still a tree, so he could try climbing up there, too!  He wandered over to the fence post, ready to be measured.  As Mum unfurled the tape measure, Toby smiled at her.  "I never noticed the shed being different to other people's," he said.  "Or the red paint on the tap, or the marks on the fence post, here."  He giggled to himself, adding: "Or the dent in the fence, from Dad's remote control helicopter..."

"Oh, he was so funny with that thing," Mum sighed, fondly.  

"Can I have a remote control helicopter?!"  Toby asked.

Mum smiled.  "Maybe for your birthday."

Toby grinned for a moment, then frowned again.  "Mum, why didn't I notice any of those things?!"

From over in her deckchair, Toby heard Nan laugh.  "Because you're always too busy, searching for the next fun and exciting thing," she called.  "You never stop long enough to open your eyes and really look around you.  And you'll be surprised how much you learn, when you do."

Toby stood back and admired the groove Mum was making in the fence post, with a little stone.  "Can I carve my initials on there?"

"Go on, then," Mum stepped back.  She passed him the stone.  "So, are you still bored?"

Toby shook his head.  "No, I'm going to water the plants, then I'm going to pretend I'm hiding in a shelter, from the bad guys outside."

And with that, Toby rushed off to start his new game, in the same old surroundings he'd always known, but with his eyes wide open, as if seeing them for the very first time.


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