The Girl turns ten next week, and is becoming an adolescent in many ways – not yet old enough to put away childish things, but old enough to take them down and look at them wistfully. I like wistful; it makes a good alternative to regret.
“Do you remember reading these to me?” she asked, holding up Charlie and Lola, part of a series of books and BBC cartoons she loved a few years ago.
I would prefer children not watch television, but I had to make compromises, so I made sure she watched limited amounts of healthy shows. The BBC has many great programmes, all advertisement-free and many focusing on subjects I’ve never seen in US cartoons, like rural life (Ballamory, Postman Pat, Fireman Sam); gardening (Mr. Bloom’s Nursery); or science (Nina and the Neurons). Even a “first-words” series for toddlers like In the Night Garden was made oddly fascinating by their choice of narrator: instead of any voice actor, they got Shakespearean veteran Sir Derek Jacobi. Picture “Dick and Jane” read by Alan Rickman and you’ve got the idea.
Her favourite, though, was Charlie and Lola, whose simple line drawings and real children’s voices reminded me of the Charlie Brown cartoons – but sweeter and less gloomy. Lola was a vivacious pre-schooler, by turns charming and exasperating, and Charlie was her extremely patient older brother who guided her through life. Each 10-minute episode– Lola’s first day at school, delaying going to bed, refusing to try new foods – perfectly nailed the single-minded obsessions, creative logic and intense drama of childhood. The series often ended with them exchanging good-nights, and The Girl and I often did the same as a running joke.
I remember them, I said – you used to call me Charlie.
“I still think of you as Charlie,” she said. “You’re like my big brother.”
I’m pleased we’re that close, I said – as long as you know that I’m your father first, and I’m still going to lay down the law for you -- even more so as you get to be a teenager.
“You always lay down the law,” she said reassuringly. “Why more when I’m a teenager?”
That’s when you’ll want it least and need it most, I said.
"What’s for movie night?" she asked.
You know how much you loved Robin Hood? I asked. How would you like those same people – Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, everyone --- in a pirate movie?
“Even Basil Rathbone?” she asked. You bet, I said, and it has the best pirate movie title ever -- Captain Blood.
“That doesn’t sound very scary,” she said.
Not scary? I asked, laughing. How can you have a better title than Captain Blood?
“Say it in an ominous voice?” she asked.
CAPTAIN BLOOD, I said slowly.
“Okay, it’s growing on me,” she said.
When she came downstairs for her teddy bear I let her have a sip of the elderflower champagne I made. It’s okay, I said – it has hardly any alcohol yet.
“It tastes great,” she said. “What’s the white stuff at the bottom?”
That’s the yeast, I said. It’s eating the sugar and turning it into alcohol, and do you know what their growth rate is?
“Um … exponential!” she said, pleased at knowing the answer.
Right, I said. What's their reproduction model? "R," she said.
Good, I said. What happens next?
Good, I said. What happens next?
“They go into overshoot?” she asked, tracing a steep curve in the air with her finger, and I nodded.
“How long before die-off?” she asked cheerfully. It will look fast to us, I said, but will probably seem slow to the yeast. Right now, I told her, it’s time to go to bed, and we’ll have another lesson tomorrow. We have a lot of lessons to get through before you’re grown.
"That won't be for a long time yet," she said.
It seems a long time to you, but will feel short to me, I said.
“Goodnight Charlie,” she said, kissing me.