Tuesday 19 June 2012

On the evidence so far, nature beats nurture every time

As the fates of Europe and Egypt hung in the balance in elections at the weekend, I was more preoccupied with the turnout of three-year-olds who had taken over our house to celebrate my elder son’s birthday.

Charlie is coming on very nicely as a Mini-Me. His extremely modest list of present requests included a spotted handkerchief “just like Daddy’s” to sport in his top pocket, oblivious to the facts that it is a hopelessly old-fashioned affectation even in me, and that he does not actually possess a suit of his own.

When his mother delivered the glad news that a little girl he particularly likes had become a late addition to his party guest list, his reaction was to let out a deep sigh and shake his head before warning: “Mummy, there won’t be enough room for all these people.”

While by the time that party games were in full swing after lunch on Saturday, he was closeted in the sitting room by himself, stubbornly refusing to join the fun, insisting that: “I want to play with my toys ALL ON MY OWN.”

When did I last come across such an obstinately antisocial child? Only in my fading memories of what I myself was like 55 years ago. And while I acknowledge that I can now face my own death completely without fear, knowing that a perfect duplicate of me should be walking the Earth for most of the rest of this century, it was certainly not the outcome I had anticipated or planned.

Indeed, we have done our very best to eradicate the worst Hann hereditary traits by sending him to nursery, encouraging him to interact politely with other children, and taking him to swimming and music classes plus a range of other activities precisely so that he will not end up a bookish, curmudgeonly, overweight couch potato like his Dad.

Charlie can’t actually read yet (though he resolutely insists that he can) and he remains encouragingly slim so far, but otherwise nature seems to trump nurture at every turn. Discussing this with other parents at his party, I found most of them equally baffled by the way their offspring were turning out. Particularly those with more progressive inclinations than mine, who were bending over backwards to avoid traditional sexual stereotyping, yet found their daughters determinedly interested in dolls and their sons contemptuous of pretty much anything apart from cars, lorries, tractors, trains and aeroplanes.

One thing that has changed since my own childhood in the 1950s is a distinct absence from the toybox of anything overtly militaristic, but at the end of the party the entertainer we had hired to stave off a miniature re-run of last summer’s riots presented each guest with a piece of balloon art of their own choice. All the boys opted for swords and enthusiastically whacked each other with them while the girls peacefully contemplated the flowers they had chosen instead.

I forgot to take any photos of Magic Philip's balloon swords or flowers, but here is a cute small dog he knocked up for Charlie's younger brother

It could be worse soon, since Charlie’s godfather thoughtfully observed, later that afternoon, “When I was his age, I had a double-barrelled pop gun and a pea-shooter,” and promised to seek them out.

Still, I can play one card that my own father had before me. Enjoined to play hide and seek before the party guests arrived, I waited a very long time to be found and heard Mrs Hann asking Charlie whether he could see me. “Yes,” he replied, “He’s behind the curtains, but I’m just waiting over here because I’m a little bit scared of him.”

The birthday boy ticking the box for 'no publicity'

I suppose I should not have put that in print in case it comes to the attention of social services, but I privately hope that a little bit of wariness and respect may long continue.

Though if his godfather does come up with that popgun, the balance of terror in the Hann household will no doubt be reversed as swiftly as a Greek or Egyptian election result that fails to deliver the required answer.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.


CC said...

Can't thank you enough. Was suffering from Charlie and Jamie Hann withdrawal.
Looks like a great time was had by all and wishing Charlie a belated very HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
As always, thoroughly enjoyed your narration of the doings.

Nicola said...

Your memory IS fading! Can I remind you of one of the infamous 191 Cromwell Road birthday parties? In full swing (Bald Rat's wife dancing gipsy fandango, plenty of alcohol still left, many of the City's finest retail analysts drowning their misforecasting sorrows), when you retired to your bedroom (the sitting room being fully and actively utilised, with the words "F**K off you bastards".
Happy days. Love Nicola

Keith Hann said...

Nothing wrong with my memory. I only ever held one party at that address, so far as I can recall, and it was not for my birthday. It was a Leap Year party, held on 29 February 1984, in the hope that someone (preferably female) might propose to me. Naturally it did not work. In fact I had to wait another 25 years, almost to the day, before I did get married.

The other fatal flaw with that party, apart from my failure to inspire any interest among the eligible females present, was that I had to be up at an unfashionably early hour on 1 March 1984 in order to catch a train to Newcastle and spend a day getting to know my first serious PR client, a well known baker. The colleague who accompanied me recently reminded me that I was so hungover that I could barely speak, which was tough on him given that I was the recognised expert on (a) food and (b) the North East.

In the circumstances, I think my suggestion that it might be time to wind up the evening (of which your memory is accurate) was understandable if not forgivable.

The point of the column is that we have bent over backwards to stop Charlie turning out like that. And yet, despite our best efforts ...