At the End of the Day

Why all babies are Royalty really

My granddaughter has decided that steamed courgettes are just so yesterday, which is worrying for her mum given that she only persuaded Lyla to like them about a week ago. Lyla’s method of making this clear is to throw the courgette slices all over the kitchen with enormous gusto. She has the same stubborn mule face after doing so that reminds me of her Mum at the same age. So the bolshie genes are intact.

Lyla’s diet is remarkably eclectic, in that it consists of three colours (green gunge, midbrown gunge and orange gunge) with additional variety provided by off-white milk and light yellow apple filling gunge for pudding. From time to time she eats chicken bits, but gives lamb the kitchen courgette treatment. Anyway, Katherine Duchess of Cambridgeshire has this all to look forward to – or rather, her bevvy of servants do. It may not be of any interest to you at all, but the celeb mags over here knew Kate was going to have a girl. Oh how they laughed at all the British press – gagged and thus disallowed from printing the news. Oh how silly they look now she’s had a boy.

It’s very hot down here in the South West, and extreme heat does of course knock 9-month-old babies flat. But Lyla’s got a lovely temperament anyway, so the little person is very easy to have around at the worst of times. The heat is, meanwhile, bringing with it the ankle-biting flies (hot on the heels of the nose-investigating flies) but at the same time, the infinitely more enjoyable Swallowtail butterfly.

Swallowtails look like a larger version of a British white cabbage butterfly that’s been smoking just a little too much hash. So they flap about like butterflies are supposed to, and then gracefully dive without warning before lazily rising back up again. Their progress through the air thus resembles the Big Dipper at Blackpool….or more prosaically, sheet music directions during a typical Mozart andante movement. They bring a certain gentility to a raging hot day.

That is nothing, however, compared to the stylish and broadly grinning manner in which Lyla bobbles around the pool in her Baby Support Boat. As is so often the case with things designed for small children, I immediately look at them and think I want one now. It is a bright yellow rubber ring equipped at the centre with a little steering wheel and seat. Give me a decent paperback and I could spend an entire afternoon in such a craft. Give me a copy of the 1956 Beano Annual, and I’d be in there for a week. My granddaughter doesn’t need such sophistication: she hits the water, it splashes, she giggles. Life is so straightforward at age nine months.

About 99% of you will be too young to know of the song written for Frank Sinatra by his chums Phil Silvers and Jimmy Van Heusen to celebrate the time they met his later famous daughter Nancy as a toddler. Either way, it contains this lyric:

She takes the winter and makes it summer/but summer could learn/some lessons from her/

I got a terrible case/of Nancy with the laughing face

It has a haunting, loving melody, and is made greater than great by Sinatra’s late 1940s voice, which was as close to perfection as any performing artist is ever likely to get. But the description of a baby’s smile – its miraculous transformation of a grey moment into the expectation of early summer morninging sun – has always stayed with me. Lyla’s mum had it too. If only one could bottle such times, and then open it at crucial moments to make the likes of Bob Diamond and Rupert Murdoch shrivel up in its beam of indefatigable humanity.

bilkoPhil Silvers went on to become the legendary Sergeant Bilko, a con artist so exquisitely drawn in every way that to watch the show now is to have an appreciation of America in an age of innocence……when the huckster was a laughable minority who could – in his perpetual failure – be lovable. Silvers’ two unwilling partners in crime Henshaw and Barbello were not quite so put upon as the luckless Sergeant Rizzo, the dumb mark who fell for every sting the motor platoon sergeant could dream up. And no episode was complete until Bilko had charmed Colonel Hall’s wife, much to the irritation of her long suffering husband played by the unsung genius Paul Ford. My late 1950s mid-evenings were enriched by this wonderful comedy.

I’ve decided over the decades that it’s not innocence that makes babies special – given half a chance they will be as egotistically manipulative as any adult – but rather their sense of wonder at everything new. And at that age, almost everything is new. Most adults lose this capacity for fascination at puberty, when the tedious desire to seem cool kicks in. I lost it for years, but 13 years ago I was lucky enough to get it back again. In this sense, my ambition is to remain a baby until the day I die.

Earlier at The Slog: How neoliberal thinking destroyed a mutual success story