Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Story time; or, the bears are very growly

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sometimes, during these trips to my cousins, the Three-Year-Old and I get to hang out together, just the two of us. We are very, very old friends. I first met her when she was three weeks old and I came to stay for a week. She smiled at me. Everyone said it was wind. I knew it was not wind. She looked right at me and smiled.

Now this has become family folklore. ‘Tell me about when I was a baby and I smiled at Tania and everyone said it was wind,’ she cries. Sometimes her mother has to act out the whole story as if it is a little sketch.

This morning, we are having one of our special times. It is just her and me and The Pigeon, who is flaked out on her very smart new shearling rug, which I bought two days ago from a nice man in the market.

‘Right,’ I say, quite business-like, because there is a lot to do today. ‘Have you got your colouring book?’

‘Yes I have,’ she says.

‘So you can do your work and I shall do my work?’

‘Good idea,’ she says.

We settle down at the kitchen table. It’s all very industrious for a while. Then she tears from the room, rampages upstairs, and comes back with a huge book of stories.

‘What’s this one about?’ she asks me, pointing.

I look at the picture. ‘It’s about the circus,’ I say.

‘Very good,’ she says.

Here is the amazing thing she does. Or at least, I think it is amazing. Maybe all three-year-olds do this. She sits down, opens up her book, and even though she cannot officially read, she reads the stories out loud. She just makes them up as she is going along, but acts as if she is speaking them from the words on the page. It keeps her enthralled for half an hour at time.

Sometimes there is a proper narrative, and she will tell a bit of a story. So we’ll get something like this:

Deep in the farm, one day, many moons ago, there was a horse, of course.And then she will read quite a long tale about a horse.

I assume she has had this sort of thing read to her in the past and is half-remembering it. I do not imagine that many three-year-olds would say things like ‘many moons ago’ off their own bat. I think that many moons ago is a tremendous expression and I resolve to use it more often.

Then there are times when it sounds as if she is doing some kind of jazzy scat, just free-stylin’:

‘With scary claws the lion roars, here to go we watch the show.

The ballerina comes along; you can see her.

The parrot flies; we met a parrot; he met a boy and said hello; hello he said back, you are a very nice parrot.’

Then it gets a bit more surreal:

‘Silly and struggle and dragons to believe; and two little girls and a horrid old bicycle; throw out the flight.’

‘What does throw out the flight mean?’ I ask.

She grins all over her face.

‘The turtle went on the aeroplane, of course,’ she says, as if I am a bit thick not to get that part.

Then she grows pensive, turns a page, says:

‘The beauty of her love was a unicorn.’

Well, that’s a lesson we can all learn from, I think.

The story changes again. This one is snappy, quick, and filled with rabbits:

‘The three little sweet rabbits, they liked playing tag with fun. Lots of things they liked to do by the duck pond, when a little man came to go fishing. His sister and his mum were very nice.’

I ask a question: ‘What happens to the fishing man when he sees the rabbits?’

She narrows her eyes, thinks, smiles. ‘Nothing,’ she says. ‘Because they are hiding in the long grass.

Then we play with the dogs for a bit. The two other black dogs have come in and are lolling about, gazing at us with yearning eyes.

The Three-Year-Old suddenly decides that she must read The Pigeon a story. She calls the dog over, settles her down on one of the enviably smart dog-beds that they have in this house, sits down next to the old hound, picks up the book, and slowly reads:

‘Noddy was going to find a chicken, he looked everywhere but he couldn’t find a chicken at all. No chickens allowed, said The Captain. Noddy didn’t know what to do.’

She looks up. ‘Does The Pigeon like Noddy stories?’ she says, very seriously.

‘Are you joking?’ I say. ‘She loves Noddy stories.’

She goes to get another book.

‘Do you think The Pigeon might be scared by bear stories?’ she says, holding up a book with a huge brown bear on the cover.

‘Only if the bears are very growly,’ I say.

She puts her head on one side. ‘I think they are quite growly,' she says. 'Perhaps you had better come and read it, in case we all get scared.’

She looks at me with enormous eyes. She looks around at the dogs, who are also looking at me with enormous eyes.

I see that there is to be no more work for me, just now. I have been smoothly outmanoeuvred by one of the finest minds of her generation. I know when I am beaten.

'Let us read the bear story,' I say.

And I can tell you, that bear was very, very growly indeed.


A few quick pictures of the sweetness. My indoor pictures are rotten really; the flash just makes everything look awful so I refuse to use it, and the limitations of my camera are exposed when it comes to low light. The Olympus PEN is brilliant and a real treat, but it is not an SLR, nor ever promised to be, and it is at times like this that it shows.

But a bad workman blames his tools, so I shall really have to take responsibility myself. The point is not to give you a pin-sharp, perfectly composed photograph, but to show you in visual terms some of what I have been talking about.

Three-Year-Old, supervising feeding time:

22 Feb 1 22-02-2012 09-35-54

The amazing thing about The Pigeon is that you can pull her ears, hang on her tail, tickle her nose during her breakfast and she will not snap, growl, or even look askance. She has a very, very good line in resigned faces.

She also loves attention from the small people:

22 Feb 1 22-02-2012 09-36-13

Three-Year-Old doing excellent dog training:

22 Feb 3 22-02-2012 09-39-32.ORF

And reading the Noddy story:

22 Feb 5 22-02-2012 09-46-14.ORF


I've bleached her face out in the last two, which is why the light is a bit funny. I don't know if I'm being much too precious or paranoid, because lots of people put adorable pictures of their children on the internet all the time, with no ill effects. It's a sort of strange privacy thing, I think, the same impulse which leads me to give everyone, including the dog, a pseudonym.

Perhaps it is because the blogging and tweeting and doing things on Facebook is all so new, and no one quite knows what the unintended consequences will be. When I go and visit The Young Niece's Facebook page from her first term at university, I put on my most auntly aunt voice and say things like: 'One of you might want to be Archbishop of Canterbury one day'. They don't care. They put their lives up on their walls for everyone to see and they do not give it a second thought. Perhaps the young people have it right; all the old politicos always say that sunlight is the best disinfectant, after all.

In the meantime, I am gently protecting the privacy of my subjects, even if it means my photographs look slightly hokey.


  1. How beautifully observed. The picture of the little one reading a Noddy story to the dogs brought tears to my eyes. The small things - life is all about the small things, and you see them so clearly. Thank you.

  2. It sounds as if The Three Year Old has quite a career ahead of her! The imagination of the very young surpasses the vast majority of mainstream authors; I think a life in professional story-telling beckons.

  3. I agree! Your cousin certainly has a brilliantly creative future ahead!
    Love the "enthralled" Noddy audience (with the Pigeon protectively close)..

  4. Wonderful, children +books+imagination+attention+dogs. Somethings in this world are just perfect. My 5 year old now reads to me I the car on the school run, spelling out words she doesn't know. Quite a feat of attention for me when I'm trying to deal with London traffic. She often says, 'I'll wait until you are through these lights Mummy, I know you find it difficult to concentrate on more then one thing."

  5. I remember doing that myself when aged about three or four - and that's a very long time ago!

  6. "The beauty of her love was a unicorn." That thought will keep me occupied for some time. Thank you.

  7. It sounds as if the two of you nourish each other well. A wonderfully symbiotic relationship.
    I struggle with this 'privacy' issue often...however, after reading Zukerberg's open letter just before Facebook's IPO, I am choosing to surrender to this more transparent world.
    My philosophy? The bad guys will find out what they want and do what they want regardless of my attempts to cloak...better to put loving kindness and trust into the Universe and let the angels take care of me.
    "The beauty of her love was a unicorn."...a properly angelic quote.

  8. Beatiful! Your words, her words. The photos. The DOGS!

    She sounds an exceptional little girl and quite a wonderful person in the making.

    The whole thing makes me want to gather dogs, cushions and books and get myself quite comfy!

  9. It is sweet you blank out the faces, I am in France and it is normal to fuzz out children's faces here simply as they didn't, well can't, give consent. You'll get a documentary on TV with a few faces blanked as the production crew didn't get a signature or whatever. It doesn't even come under privacy in my book, just courtesy. I am cluttering your comments with this spiel as I am on a bit of a quiet crusade to try and convince the whole world that it would be nice for everyone to use this as a default mode. I would just like to add my permanent vote for more dog pictures, as ever, lovely.

  10. Gorgeous final image - even with the bleach effect. I know exactly what you mean about childrens' pictures; I try to camouflage any I include as I don't want faces to be discernible. It's a strange place, the web...

    I love that you get on so well with the three year old - much can learned from our younger friends. And the dogs - look positively regal. Lou x

  11. Today was an awful day news wise, so I thought I would finish the day on your blog hoping for something uplifting to read, and boy did you deliver! My three year old niece, or twee as she says, is 3000 miles away and I can vouch for how wise and wonderful they are at that age. There is nothing better than a small child approaching you with a book and settling in for a good read. They are particularly funny if they are trying to extent "staying up" time, thinking that the adult in charge has no idea what is going on. This adult in charge is often quite happy to play along and enjoy their company for ten more minutes.
    Thank you again for the burst of happiness.


    So enjoyed reading about your wonderful young cousin. And that photo of her with the dogs is just the sweetest thing. Thank you so much for this post that has lifted my spirits from personal bad news this week, just what I needed to remind me that life does continue on.

    My older daughter used to do this, in fact one ABC book she had absolutely memorized, so it really was just as if she were reading it.

  13. Delicious! I'd forgotten how wonderful three year olds are. Beautiful pictures too - I think you are quite wise to bleach her face.

  14. Aw, she's lovely, and the looks of utter contentment on those dogs' faces is just adorable.

    On another note, just thought I'd let you know that the old blog link of mine you've got in your blogroll is utterly defunct now - this is my new one. Feel free to remove, or replace, or whatever takes your fancy!

  15. Oh, oh, what incredibly lovely comments. Thank you all so much. The last day has quite got away from me, so I am doing you the discourtesy of not replying individually, which feels like the height of bad manners after such generosity and kindness. Shall get back to normality tomorrow, I hope. :)

  16. The last two pics are really good Tania.

    (And it is a good idea to blur the face).

    Nice post. I could almost see you talking to your niece when I read it.

    Bon weekend.


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