The other day, I happened to be feeling rather grateful to the wonderful Bill Bryson.
Well, I’ve always felt quite grateful to him actually. As the incredibly talented, witty, top-notch, best-selling author actually WROTE to me when I lived in Africa. In fact – the rather lovely fella has actually sent me TWO letters. It’s great to receive such fan mail, it really is!
Okay, okay – I’m lying about the latter, but neither did the comms from Bill contain a missive from his solicitor, demanding me to abstain from the stalking activities. And I’ve always loved Bill’s style of writing, would have read his stuff anyway – but the fact the chappie took time out to scribble a few lines to me – meant a hell of a lot to a budding writer. Pure gold, that kind of thing. So I always do my absolute best to read his books. Brilliant for a laugh and for pithy, social observation. But this week, I was particularly glad that I’ve just finished reading one of his more recent books. Because I ended up having one of my usual – rather strange and contorted – conversations with my 8 year old boy. And without Bill’s help, I wouldn’t have been able to interpret it.
The chat with the lad centred on me relating events that took place in 1980. To cut to the chase, the moral of the story of today’s parental lecture was all about me, trying to persuade the lad not to make ‘unwise’ swaps of toys. Because once you’ve swapsied, most kids don’t want to swap back, yeah? So I told the kid of a similar time in my childhood. That on seeing my flute teacher’s case for her instrument, I had envied it. Because hers had a handle. Mine didn’t. So she offered to swap it – and this was of mutual benefit to both parties.
And even though the handle came in handy (it was MUCH easier to smack my brother over the head with it) I almost instantly regretted the swap. Because just a couple of weeks later after the novelty of this had passed, I noticed that she had a brand new, sleek flute case. And me? I had a scruffy old one. With my brother’s skull-marks imprinted in it. Albeit with a handle, of course.
“Soooooo,” I told my son. “I still look at that flute case today and regret it. I wish I had kept the one I originally had.” He asked me, “So didn’t your teacher ever give it you back?” “No,” I replied. He snarled and then yelled;”That’s MEAN!” And then? And then he grew suddenly quiet, with a strange and distant look on his face. “Hang on, though,” I said. “I never asked for it back. I felt silly about asking for it back. I’m sure she would have given it to me, if I had. She didn’t do anything wrong. She was a really nice person!”
He suddenly looked guilty. “Uh-oh,” he said. He wouldn’t respond when I asked him what he meant. I began to wonder what was going on for him. And then – thanks to Mr Bill Bryson and ‘The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid’, I quickly realised why. “I know why you’re looking a bit worried,” I told him. “You’ve just killed my teacher haven’t you? Using your superhuman mind powers. Boys do things like that, don’t they?”
Bless him, he had the decency to look slightly abashed. “Yes,” he replied. “Well!” I answered, “You can just ruddy well bring her back then! If you’ve got the power to kill someone with your mind, you can at least resurrect them. You go to a Church of England school – you believe in that kind of stuff! C’mon! Bring her back!”
“Sorry …” he sang – as he wandered off to find some plastic superhero figure or another with which to entertain himself with; “…when I’ve killed someone with my supreme mind death-ray, they can’t come back. But don’t worry – your teacher would be well-old by now. So she’s probably dead anyway.”
And would you believe me if I told you that this lad has natural charm – in spades?
Nah. Probably not.