Thursday, 09 April 2015
A Dad's View 23: Kids and the city
Confusion over the identity of a pig leads Tom Dunmore to question the wisdom of raising children in the city
Look Daddy – elephant!' says Erik, pointing at a pig.
'That's a pig,' I say.
'Elephant.' insists Erik, with the immovable certainty of a two-year-old. And before I can respond he's off, singing 'Baa baa black sheep' to a nonplussed goat.
We're at the Lambeth Country Show, a sprawling village fête reinterpreted for the city. It's a unique festival, where jousting knights rub shoulders with jerk chicken chefs and sheep-shearing is soundtracked by pulsing reggae. Somehow, it works – the cracks papered over by the stupefying effects of Chucklehead cider. It's everything I love about living in then heart of London: a fun, intense and liberating clash of cultures – but it certainly isn't 'the country', or at least not as I remember it.
You see, I was brought up in a farmhouse. As a small child, I could walk out of our front door and wander for hours in fields, with nothing to fear except myxomatosis and the occasional combine harvester. When I moved to London after university, I fancied that some day
I'd settle down and have my own children in the same idyllic, rural bliss. But never gave much thought to how I'd get there.
Two decades later, when I finally got round to the business of raising a family, I found myself firmly rooted in a central London job - and staring down the barrel of a move into suburbia in a futile attempt to chase the Arcadian dream. It was all shaping up to be more like The Good Life than Far from the Madding Crowd. And to make matters worse, my already taxing commute was set to become so heinous that the only time I'd see my kids during the week would be when they woke up crying in the night. (So I'd still be seeing them quite a lot, it turns out, but hardly on the best of terms.)
So we resolved to stay put in the city that, in truth, felt more like home than the open fields of my childhood. I sometimes feel
guilty, though – I have a nagging feeling that I'm denying my kids something special. Fortunately I have my single, childless friend James to help put things in perspective.
'Why would you want to live more than ten minutes away from a cinema?' he asks. 'And a hospital,' I add, trying to be a little less self-centred.
'And when they grow up, everyone will live in cities,' he continues.
'Probably floating ones. You're giving them a head start.'
But now, as I argue with my two-year-old about the identity of his favourite-tasting farmyard animal, it strikes me he's growing up with no connection to the countryside. Is it possible that Erik actually sees as many elephants as he does pigs (Peppa aside)? Does he think sausages are tiny trunks? I need some wisdom, so I seek out his sister.
'Would you like to live in the countryside or the city?' I ask Ava as she attempts to brush the candy floss off her teeth.
'Countryside or the city? Hmmm,' she says, pausing with the closest thing to a furrowed brow she can muster. 'Countryside,' she declares.
'Why?' I ask. 'Because you can collect shells and... and... that's why.'
'What about the animals?'
'There aren't any animals in the countryside!' she says, with that I-know-you're-teasing sideways nod.
'Yes there are. There are lots of farms, with cows and sheep and pigs.'
'I don't like pigs. They're dirty. They like to roll in the mud,' she says.
'Don't you like to roll in the mud?'
'Nope,' she says, 'I like to dance in the park.'
City it is, then.