Thursday, 24 July 2008

Baby Buggy Blues

The daily grind of the weekly shopping. Or the weekly grind of the daily shopping. Or perhaps the daily grind of the weakly shopping. But you get the general drift. Pushing Amy along in her buggy. Unfortunately not the grand prix rally special I had for Suzanne. With its beautiful pneumatic purchase and light, responsive suspension, which cushioned and cradled her tiny frame against the impact of each pavement plunge. A streamlined chassis that allowed me to hurtle frictionless back to the car as soon as the rain came down. Suzanne safely encompassed in its plastic bubble (for, light as it was to push, I could not simultaneously wield an umbrella). We’ll pass over the rain’s redoubled frenzied assault on her exposed form, as I struggled to transfer her from the fettered prison of her bubble buggy, into the shackles of a car seat. That I feel, is down to the physical laws of stationary objects, rather than lay the blame at the wheel of my beautiful perambulator.

No, lamentably not that same buggy, for one cracked and sunken paving stone too far and her tubing was buckled irreparably. The rubber tyre no longer palpated the asphalt, but hung uselessly twisted in the air, compulsively dabbing and twitching before a non-existent reflex gavel. I knew it was fatal, but I demanded a second confirmatory opinion. So I took it to a toy shop (!), the only place that offered the requisite buggy repair service. They sat me down and told me in hushed tones, that she had dislocated and wrenched her foreleg and had to be put down for good. We gave the old girl a fitting send off, buried her with full campaign honours. Attached the unused (in two and a half years) sun parasol to her and slipped her beneath the meniscus of the wheely bin, so that the dustmen wouldn’t realise she was in there, until they had slid her beneath the waves of pared matter. We could but fantasise that her metal would temporarily arrest the grinding mechanism of the cart’s crusher. A pertinent temporary hush, that marked her repose in the way that she had lived her service. But the beast’s mighty jaws seemed untroubled by the task, licking its chops with a loud pneumatic sough, as it let out its brakes to saunter on down the road.

Amy’s buggy. Not exactly Suzanne’s mark II, let alone mach 2 like they have now. Scaled down dune buggies or quad bikes, that’s what current pushchair craft resemble. Bloody great pavement tanks, with baby bull bars to move pedestrians out the way. These buggies don’t get repaired in toy shops. It’s blessed garages for them ! Have you not noticed, now the armoured personnel carriers have vacated Ulster's roads, we’ve moved to fill the gash with giant people carriers and land cruisers of our own ? Either we cannot psychologically bear to be without this bellicose asseveration of our security, or we just need larger cars with hulking great boots to fit these new super buggies in even when they’re folded up ! No, this family refuses to fall in with that particularly pernicious line of fashion thank you very much.

We knew we weren’t going to have any more children. The calculation was therefore to get the cheapest, most basic pushchair there was. It may have been primitive, but had four wheels, collapsible metal tubing and some fabric to gather up Amy’s frame. All for twenty-five of your non-Euro pounds. Of course, Suzanne’s rain bubble didn’t fit, so that was another tenner. Still, for a finite two years of pavement pounding, it seemed enough of the real deal. Only, four wheels compared with eight on Suzanne’s, proved to be a false economy of scale. Since they were also fixed, they rotated but did not turn. To execute a change of direction, I had to drag-lift the whole fuselage and repoint it to the required bearing. The bloody thing had the turning circle of a World War One battleship. The sturdy metal tubing had no give in it whatsoever, so that other than for the restraint of the stubby plastic straps, (whose locking mechanism always demanded an offering up of nail and skin before it’s scything thumbscrew), Amy’s small core would have been shucked from the buggy at the first sagging flagstone. As it was, on landing at the behest of her harness, she had to unsettle herself for the nightmarish persecutions of cardboard corner claws and tin rimmed talons of the shopping in the net behind her back. For as substantial as it felt, trhe twill was mysteriously fistulous.

I know for a fact, that this bastard buggy would have chewed up the teeth of the dustcart and spat them out as shrapnel.

Another design triumph spawned by this cross-breeding of Harland & Wolff with Mothercare, was the permanent blindspot at ground level, either side of the two front wheels. We’ll scoot on hurriedly past (or through) the pavement doggydo as a constant source of aggravation and alight on the propensity for contretemps, whether bagatelle or catastrophic. Today’s had been catastrophic, in a slow-puncture sort of way. Of course, since Vulcan himself had annealed the rubber coatings of the buggy’s wheels, they could never actually sustain a puncture, slow or otherwise. I’m talking about a figurative deflation. For, ahead of us, an old man was dragging his wheelie shopping basket behind him. Now we each sported blind sides. I attempted to slow our progress, but we were in danger of being swallowed up by the throng of Saturday shoppers from behind. The push-me, pull-you dynamic was calling for a quick step and we were paired irresistibly together. I tried to slipstream him. Not in the sense of a sucking air turbulence, for he was shuffling along like a slowworm; while there was nothing remotley aerodynamic about my fortified piece of mobile scaffolding. Rather I sought to match every sway and roll of his dumb charge, as it mooched along the buffeting paving. But finessed responses were beyond the parameters of my beast and my forearms soon wearied of trundling curvet for the heavily laden buggy. Dancing round handbag rather than ambage was more my style. I brought the buggy to land on all four of its wheels again and plumped for a plumbline. All our fortunes were now in Fate’s hands and we didn’t have to wait long.

A chariot race in the circus minimus of the High Street and our wheels lock together. His neck slowly turtles round conveying a stooped head from the nuzzle of his chest. The only motion not proceeding in stages, is the glower brandished by the creases of his aged face. I had violently disrupted his creaking progress. I kept my expression neutral, awaiting the cranking of his ill-lubricated facial musculature, until his lower lip finally dropped like the safety curtain at a theatre. He projected yellow teeth at me as if wheeled out on rollers. His eyes admonished me even as his brow knitted together in complete incomprehension, as he tried to fathom. Then he looked down at Amy, beaming up at him from her low vantage point. How dare you impute that it’s her fault old man ! Before I can drape myself in front of her bound form, I trace a flicker of memory snail across his countenance and see he is thrown. His carriage heaves, his challenge now prostrate. The wheels of his upturned shopping basket have stopped spinning. I feel sorry for him now, as he yanks his felled mount and totters off, dragging it along the fabric rather than the axles, such is his hurry to reel away from whatever has crushed him. In that one passing moment, I saw in him what I have come to appreciate. That the seeds of being that lay within my life-giving egg, were also to signal my own dissolution. Decidedly deciduous, some are merely further advanced towards evanescence than others. Soon to be harvested as chaff. The old man hated Amy for her box seat dependence on me. But he loathed her more for daring to be at the start of her life. He would sire no more children. Nor would he have the elastic powers of growth, regeneration and recovery, with which Amy was unconsciously mocking him through her innocent smile.