Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Invisible Hand

Your father would show you no such consideration. There would be no chivalrous downplaying of his competitive instincts. He had this notion – well I say it was his, but actually we were both pretty much in accord as to the broad principle – of inculcating an understanding of money and an appreciation of its value from in you from an early age. What agonised deliberations that ensued, (in those balmy days when we still sat down to discuss parenting strategies and our mouths didn’t just gape uselessly, infected with the muteness we’ve contracted from you), occurred around the methodology. The plan of attack. The invisible guiding hand. You were to be given regular pocket money, but then we assume no further responsibility for buying you any toys or games outside of birthday and Christmas. Save for books, which as with Value Added Tax, were deserving of special exemption. An allowance, incidentally, you have scarcely bothered to dip into. Nor were you expected to pay for your own clothes, Child Benefit supposedly went to defray that. Ha ! Have you seen the price of trainers these days ? And I don’t mean the ones from Supermarkets that fall apart within six weeks. Well what am I saying, obviously you’re fully au fait, since I didn’t buy you those. How exactly did you come by the sizeable finances required to obtain them yourself ? And then to go and denature them with scissors ? No, that’s an inquest for another occasion. Sticking with this one, back at that time, I registered my disquiet over the possible subversion of your carefully regulated dietary thresholds. Should you elect to augment the weekly treat trove of one fizzy drink, one chocolate bar and one packet of crisps sanctioned by the household shopping budget. Wasn’t that in of itself, enough of a disciplined self-management in action ? Delayed gratification and the like. Craig remained unswayed and calmly shot me down in flames. Positing that this formed an integral part of the very learning process itself. If you wanted to dissipate your finances on such fripperies, then your toy fighting fund would never amount to much. The carrot and cattle prod of the free market. In such a way he postulated, you would not be indulged and spoiled like so many of your peers. And the clincher, if you truly had to scrimp, how much more treasured would be the purchases you finally elected to invest in ?

Or so went the theory at least. Since what we failed to account for, was that we were also buying into other nefarious aspects of the free market. That the culmination could never quite match the expectation. The contents of a box sempiternally failed to live up to the overweening aggrandizement of its cover. Whereby the dark arts of the graphics department, had been lavished on the surface depiction, rather than the features contained within. Toy helicopters never bested gravity. Fire-engine hoses failed to stream jets of water. The blue shag sea beneath a pirate ship Plank, contained no salt to sustain a hovering shark. Lukewarm ribena approximations of boiling oil, poured over the castle battlements, could only kindle an ogress’ shrill reproach against staining her carpet. And try manfully (childfully ?) as you might, your fertile imagination was further thwarted by human anatomy. Though blessed with reversible thumbs, we still only possess two of them. So unless you had a friend round to play – something else that seems to have been extirpated and consigned to history, long before we tear off each unmarked month from the calendar – being an only child you were forced to enact both parties in a duel, or mobilise each of the bodies in a pursuit. Either you were forced to hold them rigidly in their ramrod pose, or put one of the antagonists down, in order to manipulate the other’s cutlass-bearing arm; to seat the rider on his motorcycle; or hitch legs to straddle some rigging. It made for a very stilted joust. Any and every chase was more akin to a three-legged race. Time-lapse in place of speed cam. Your misfortune, to be born both with fully functioning and the correct quantity of limbs. The more drastic birthright, was to be born to a father far too busy earning a crust seeding you this toy fund and then seeking release from the stress of his labours, for him to muck in and play. Added to a mother who also shirked getting down on the floor and help play your boy toys, with their bewilderingly implicit violence. Well, I’m on the floor now aren’t I ?

If a parent delivers such a deficit of unfulfilled promise, it is just another mark against us in the column of shrinkage. That we are no longer all-powerful demigods. (A stretch at the best of times, right from the outset of your birth). But when the child is forced to confront such disenchantment at their own hand, their own miscarriage of the moral law, a paradigm of the way of the world is rammed home alright. I reckon you drew your conclusions pretty sharpish – or bluntish as the case was. For I eventually observed you crashing, rather than racing miniature cars. Solving the incapacitating laws of physics, by hurling the deformable object right at the immaterial force. You smashed your helicopter into the Medieval castle walls and didn’t even scramble your emergency rescue team, which you faithfully used to do with great tenderness. And who can blame you ? For in all that time, I never discerned you wide eyed on opening up any packaging. Gradually your eyes became slits, narrower even than the embrasures in your model castle and they were too small to fire your toy archers’ arrows out from in the first place. In disillusion, you backed away from such fraught investment decisions. You renounced toys and games entirely, as part of your self-annealing. Covering up against exposure. (Opting instead for the interinactivity of computer games that spoon feeds the imagination. Or ladles might be more fitting).

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