THE SANDPIT RULES, OKAY?
‘Daddy,’ my twin four-year-olds came and told me today, ‘we did more learning to read and write today. Our teacher, Miss Green…’
‘Theresa,’ added Jenny.
‘…said we should learn this.’ Jake waved his piece of school notepaper at me.
I studied the sheet he gave me with its half-inch high letters that were misshapen and all jumbled up. ‘I’m not very good at reading,’ I told them, and handed it back.
‘I’ll read it to you then, Father,’ Jake offered. I tell you – the patronising looks that four-year-olds can give their parents!
‘We’ll read it to you, Father.’ Jenny was not to be overlooked here. ‘There was once a man called Mister Fulghum who wrote a book a long, long time ago.’
‘He learned everything he needed to know in the sandpit,’ Jake helpfully explained, ‘and he wrote his book all about it.’
‘His sandpit was called a Sandbox. And he said that everything worth knowing was learned in there, when he was very young.’
‘The first thing he wrote was, “You should play fair, and not take things that aren’t yours”.’
‘I’m one hundred percent with him there, Jake,’ thinking of one time I was in the Sandpit Tavern, playing dominoes. I accidentally picked up their captain’s drink, and he was very distracted by it. I slipped a couple of dominoes down while he wasn’t paying attention, and we won the game. So the trophy was rightfully ours, and we won it. That was within our understanding of the term “Fair Play” in the Sandpit, and I did give him his drink back. ‘Fairness is a very good thing to learn, Jake. What else did Mr Fulghum say in his book?’
‘I think this says…’ Jenny turned the paper round. ‘ “We should clean up our own mess and say we’re sorry if we hurt someone.” ’ She was struggling with “someone”. I think she’d written it upside-down. Thick crayon print doesn’t help, either.
‘That is so true, Jenny. That would be good to remember.’ Indeed, it put me in mind of one Sunday lunch down the Sandpit Tavern. We were in the bar, and a rather posh couple brought three kids into the bar for a meal. In the bar! In the Sandpit! I ask you! The feller was really snooty, lording it round and commenting very loudly on what a heinous pack of ruffians the locals were… Yah yah yah. His kids were laughing; and wifey was all smirks. Until I just happened to trip over as I was walking past carrying a trayful of beer slops. I went tumbling down, knocking their meals all over them. They were drenched in stale ale and gravy; and they had to help me up because I’d obviously fainted and it had been a total, terrible, accident. I was saying, ‘Sorry… sorry… so sorry…’ and everybody was watching with those oh-how-awful expressions.
Tommy-behind-the-bar had gone into the kitchens for something, so it meant this poor family had to clean their mess up themselves, and clear the plates and crockery away. I managed to stand up, and continued to apologise most profusely before Daisy whispered that I was over-acting, and she helped me out into the laughing room – I mean the toilet.
My beloved daughter Jenny could see that I was taking their school lessons very seriously, as indeed I was. So she took up the next line, ‘Right Father, Mr Fulghum wrote, “Be aware of wonder.” That means look at everything that is wonderful…’
‘Like flowers and butterflies and trees and mountains.’ Jake was brilliant with his examples.
I was entirely in agreement with them and Mr Fulghum there, ‘I did a lot of wondering in my time, Jenny.’ Oh, yes, I well remember being in awe and wonder of Alice Springer… Mary Jenkins… Georgina Fisher… mostly round the back of the Sandpit Arms. ‘There are indeed some wonderful things to be experienced at the Sandpit, Jenny,’ I agreed.
Jake and Jenny were looking at me in admiration that I so readily related to all these new things they were telling me about. ‘What else?’ I enquired. ‘This is really good stuff.’
‘I think this says, “Always flush”.’
‘That means flush the toilet.’ Jake thought I mightn’t understand.
‘Because Jimmy Riddle doesn’t always…’
‘And, “Wash your hands”.’
Jenny was having bother with Jake’s writing, ‘I think this says, “Have warm cookies and cold milk every day”.’
‘That is so true. A bright man, indeed, your Mr Fulghum. I think when you grow up, they are still very good things to do, but sometimes you might want a Chinese, Indian or Italian meal and a few drinks of something different – purely so you appreciate the milk and cookies even more. Anything else?’
‘Yes, Daddy. “You should have a nap every afternoon”.’
‘I do so agree. What a clever man this Mr Fulghum is. There are so many times I would like to go to bed in the afternoon.’ Yes, indeed, with Miss Klinger or Mrs Doubledee – preferably both of them. ‘But it’s just not possible, the way things are.’
Jake was coming to the end of his writing practice, ‘The last one I had time to write, Daddy, was, “You should hold hands and share things”.’
‘How true that is,’ I exclaimed brightly, again delighting them that their father was endowed with such bounteous understanding and enthusiasm. ‘I used to say that all the time…’ thinking of the occasions I said that to Maxine… and Jessica Rowlers… and Freda Harrison…
‘Your mum understood that one particularly well.’