I am at another birthday party. It is in a park and it is beautifully sunny. A patchwork of rugs makes up the hub of the party. On it, there is celery, crisps, fruit, squash and adults. The children play around us, on the grass. An old man begins to talk to me. He is the grandfather of the birthday girl. He has a season ticket at Fulham and he enchants me with football tales from the 50’s. I like this old man. Our chats are punctuated by sips of beer and glances at the children, who are playing nicely. One adult is trying to orchestrate a game of Frisbee. I watch as the Frisbee is fumbled by every child. But not my one - she catches it with ease and distributes it with grace. I taught her that.
“Please take off my jumper”, says the old man.
“Could you please take off my jumper. I find it very hard to do on my own”.
“Of course”, I reply, and remove his jumper.
The old man doesn’t ask me what I do, and I do not ask him. He asks me about my interests instead. He knows that one’s job does not define oneself.
When the kids are sweaty and knackered, lunch time is called. They all pile onto the rug and plough into the food. Re-fuelled, the children roam back onto the green and continue to have fun. The old man once lived in New York, but he tells me you cannot see the sky there.
It is nearing time to return to the house for present opening and cake. The birthday girl’s mum gathers all the children on the rug, in an attempt to calm them before they are let loose in her home. They sit obediently, expectantly, their noses and foreheads moist, their hair matted.
“Right”, says the mum, “who has a song they’d like to sing?”
I panic. The four year old knows Rude Boy by Rihanna. But she is too tired to embarrass me. A child suggests Twinkle Twinkle, and everyone joins in.
“What about nursery rhymes? Does anyone know any of those?”
There is a silence, before one boy belts out Baa Baa Black Sheep. A classic - concluded with a cheer.
“Any other songs or rhymes that anyone knows?” asks the mum.
The old man removes his glasses, and places his head in his hands. He rubs his brow. He tuts and clicks his fingers. He is trying to summon something from his brain. The children look to him, we all do.
“Ohhh what is it?”, he mutters, with a brain mustering slap of his knee.
“I think granddad has got one”, says the mum, “Come on granddad, or someone else will choose”.
Some of the children now have their hands up.
“Granddad? I’m going to have to hurry you…”
He closes his eyes and casts his memory wide…
“Ah”, he says, “I cannot remember it. I know it ends with one little nigger boy left all alone. But I can’t remember the rest. No, nevermind, move on”.
The Male Nanny.