Tuesday 12 November 2013

What could possibly go wrong?

We are told that the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that measures risk – is not fully developed until the age of 25.

This is apparently why teenagers are so vulnerable to making inappropriate connections on the internet, and disproportionately liable to die in car crashes.

It seems, on the face of it, a serious design misjudgement. Unless it was reckoned that there might be a shortage of volunteers for traditional high-risk youth activities such as warfare and childbirth if potential participants were equipped with a “Hang on a minute …” control.

The odd thing is that the Hanns are clearly exceptionally late developers in almost every respect. Hence I find myself living with a nappy-wearing toddler at an age when I should really be looking at compact retirement flats and glumly calculating how long it may be before I need to wear a nappy myself.

Yet a major part of the explanation for this is that I have always been preternaturally risk averse, and found that my brain was completely full long before I had completed the list of “what could possibly go wrong?” in the matters of marriage and having children.

It is interesting to observe my elder son, now four, following precisely the same path. His school has already had to invest in a padlock for one of its gates because young Hann was fretting so much about the risk of a little boy or girl running out into the road.

And it was seriously spooky to hear his howls of distress on Sunday as he begged his mother not to force him to go to his swimming class: an activity I similarly loathed with a passion.

He is very worried indeed about what might happen to him in the deep end, which strikes me as entirely reasonable.

In my first or second lesson at school I was knocked over in the shallow end by a boy called Shaun Corry, propelling himself smartly backwards in a tyre inner tube. My whole short life flashed before me as I began the process of drowning, and I have never since been able to enter a swimming pool with anything like equanimity.

After some discussion between us my wife gave in and was relieved to find that Charlie’s preferred alternative activity was a trip to a public baths, so he clearly has an aversion to a particular teacher rather than to the concept of swimming in general.

The only place in which our boy does not seem to be massively cautious is the car. His mother’s slow and careful driving provokes a constant back seat commentary. “Can you get past that truck for me, please, Mummy? Go on, you can do it!”

Having undermined her already fragile confidence on the road, he has now set himself up as a fashion critic, too. Dressing up for a rare night out recently, my wife made the silly mistake of asking Charlie whether he thought she looked nice. He shook his head.

“No, Mummy. For so many reasons.”

He then flung open her wardrobe door and said: “Let’s see what else we can find you!”

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is the prime achievement of my life to date. Producing a child who appears to be a weird amalgam of me, Sebastian Vettel and Gok Wan.

But mainly me, as he will find when he is pushing 60 and similarly regrets that there are so few photographs of his early years, because he has the same resolute aversion to the camera that I felt at his age.

It has taken me decades to get over it, and I still much prefer to be behind the camera rather than the subject of a photograph.

As for moving pictures – well, I successfully evaded those for a lifetime until a TV crew started following me round and I felt that it might be a career-ending move to tell them to clear off (though I did drop a number of hints).

Luckily Charlie hasn’t seen my appearances, which he would no doubt regard as letting the side down. 

“Daddy on the TV? Don’t be silly, Mummy!” was absolutely his last word on the subject.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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