Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986

Lazily Copied From Facebook

Because I can.

Miles, early this morning, trying to show me pictures in a book while I was still half-asleep: “Mummy, looka dat! Is a steamroller! Looka dat! Mummy! I talkin’ a you! Mummy! PICK UP YOU EYES!”

* * * *

At the zoo today:

Me: “Hey Miles, look at the lemurs! Aren’t they funny? Look, that’s one’s jumping! Hasn’t he got a fluffy tail?”
Miles, after staring for a moment: “I want to see the dragons.”

* * * *
Me at health food store: “Hey, do you have anything for psoriasis?”
Lady, grabbing a bottle of Verm-Ez: “Now, this one’s *wonderful*. You might think from the name it’s for de-worming, but it actually works on a whole variety of parasites.”
Me, with the politeness born of fear: “Erm, isn’t psoriasis autoimmune?”
Lady: “Oh yes, I think it is, but you know, I had one lady come in who’d be treated for skin cancer for *fifteen years*, and after a week of this she saw improvement, and after two weeks it was completely gone.”
Me: “…”
Lady: “You know, when you think about it’s really silly – we de-worm our pets twice a year, but we don’t think about it for ourselves.”
Me: “…Yes. Um, do you know of anyone who’s used this specifically for psoriasis?”
Lady: “Not specifically, but as I say, this lady’s skin cancer was *completely gone*. I recommend this to everyone who comes in. It’s wonderful. Now, *externally*, we have a lovely soothing cream here for itchy skin.”
Me: “It’s not itchy, I just want it to go away.”
Lady: “Absolutely! I’ll put these on the counter for you so you can continue shopping.”

The terrible thing is, I bought both of them. She was waiting for me at the counter and I didn’t have the heart not to. I am a craven excuse for a human being. But at least I’ll soon be parasite-free.

* * * *
Miles, putting a bucket on his head: “I bein’ a MAN!” Uh, sure.

* * * *
So today I was trying to take headshots of Helpdesk Man for a business page of his, or something. His modelling skills are even worse than my photography skills, so the session mostly consisted of me wildly pressing buttons while saying “No, stop looking smug. Don’t hunch your shoulders. Put your head on straight. No, now you look like a raptor. There’s a pole growing out of your head. Maybe you should try a hat”, and similar encouraging remarks.

Then on a whim I asked him to give a sultry pout; whereupon the camera, which had previously identified him as Foliage, suddenly recognised his face… as me.

This is disturbing on many levels.

* * * *
Snortlepig: “Is anyone coming for dinner tonight?”
Me: “No, just us.”
Snortlepig: “Well, that’s good, because now we don’t have to clean the house!”
Me: “Ha! –Actually we do, because Annika’s coming around for her baking lesson this afternoon.”
Snortlepig: “Oh doom! We’re done for.”

* * * *
Me: “Miles, I saw you through the window when you were outside just now. What were you looking up at? Was there a birdie?”
Miles: “I lookin’ up sayin’ “Hi sky!”, like dat.”

* * * *
Miles, muttering to himself after failing yet again to balance a cloth on his head: “I incompetent.”

* * * *

Miles, weeping: “I bonk my head!”
[Demonstrates by getting on his hands and knees and bashing his face into the ground.]
Miles, weeping harder: “I bonk my chin!”


Bread

1. On Sunday, Miles had to be removed from church after he repeatedly pointed to a cartoonish picture of Abraham (on the OHP during the children’s talk) and shouted “Batman!” Question: Does this mean he has watched too much Batman, or not enough?

2. I have learned something new. I am terrible at making bread.

This came as something of a surprise, as I have been making bread for, what? Over ten years, at least, and I haven’t had any complaints about the loaves produced this time. But I discovered an artisan breadmaking site, and it turns out I’ve been doing pretty much everything wrong. Way too much flour in the dough. Slashing incorrectly and at the wrong time. Putting the bread in a cold oven in the hopes it would rise a bit during the preheating stage. Not using a baking stone. Not autolysing. Not knowing what autolysing was. Not using preferments. Not knowing what preferments were. Then thinking preferments were pronounced ‘prefer-ments’, not ‘pre-ferments’. Overhandling the dough after the first rise, leading to degassing and a closer crumb. Cutting into loaves before they cooled. Not folding slack doughs. Rising freeform loaves on a flat surface. Using way too much yeast.

It also turns out that no-knead bread is not, as I snobbishly assumed, a recent and plebeian invention designed only to save time. It’s a more traditional method than kneading, and produces a better crumb colour.

So there you go. I am quite exhilarated. Throwing the vestiges of our already failing no-white-flour diet out the window, I am making vast and floury plans to conquer the world one boule at a time. I have learned about ears and couches and bannetons and hydration percentages. I have baked two loaves in a preheated Dutch oven and marvelled at the oven spring. I have rashly gone out and bought an oval cast iron casserole in case I ever want to cook long loaves. (It was on special.) I have read up on tangzhong and sworn off olive oil in my pizza dough.

And I have tried my hand at a very wet dough base for a raisin-orange loaf. I may have rushed into that one. I hadn’t read up on the folding method yet, and the resulting loaf – which is still in the oven – is looking rather less loaf-like and more splat-like than could be wished. (But at least I know why it failed. No gluten shell. And it might still taste OK – ooh, timer. Hang on.)

Oops. Make that splat-like and burned. Further blogging must wait while I hastily whip up some scones or something for after-choir supper. I don’t feel depressed any more, though. Funny old world, innit?

Ups and Downs

1. Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing the perennially-intriguing question of How Many More Babies? (me: unsure, she: never again), and she said kindly”Well, you have lots of time still, you’re only 30.” I am 27.

2. Today, Miles wore his newish checky flannel shirt with moose, deer and bear printed on it. (Plurals!) At the supermarket a couple started whispering together and he finally said “Go on, ask her, you know you want to.” She approached and said “Where did you get that shirt?” and I said “I made it”, whereupon an electric guitar riffed briefly in the background and a shaft of light glinted off my gold front tooth. And after she’d finished being all “No!” and “D’aww!” and I’d been all “Thanks” and “Nice baby” (it was average, but diplomacy is a necessary part of fame), I took the children and the trolley and proudly trotted to the wrong end of the checkouts, where there was only a fire exit, and we had to slink shamefacedly back again without meeting their eye.

3. I’m on Facebook now. It’s not my fault. Half my blood relations vanished overseas, and despite spending the week before departure wailing how sad it was that I couldn’t come and how much they’d miss me, did I hear a peep from beyond the horizon? I did not. But they were putting photos galore up on Facebook. So you see my hand was forced. Also, Helpdesk Man got sick of me sneaking onto his computer to devour the angry political/theological posts from his million peculiar friends.

My feed is less engrossing, as I don’t have a million friends of any kind, and those I have are more wont to post things about cookery, placentas and indeed cooking placentas. I did consider friending some people I dislike just to spice things up, but the moment passed. Anyway, it is a more convenient place to post the nefarious sayings of the chillun, and as a result I have been neglecting my blog. (Let it all out; I will wait while you weep.)

4. I’m depressed again. Sort of. I’m still on the drugs and not on the ledge of a high-rise, so things aren’t exactly dire; I’m just at a low-grade level of moop which manifests in a lot of bleary web-surfing and generally impaired productivity. It’s annoying more than anything – I have Things to Do. The other night, when I was alone in a state of deep feh, I nearly powered through it with the thought “If you can’t be happy, be useful” and was all geared up to clean the fridge, but a sudden defense mechanism must have kicked in and I remembered I could have a bath instead. So I read a portion of “Last Chance to See” while soaking and felt much happier. The fridge is still dirty, though.

The pathetic part is, I have no earthly right to be depressed, because:

5. We’re going to Disneyland! I mean, we’re actually going. Money has changed hands. Tickets are booked. Passports are… well, we have a way to go on the passports. Still, things are officially Afoot. And the best part is, thanks to a certain friend online, we’re spending the actual Disneyland portion of the trip in the Grand Californian hotel! They have concierge service. Not that we’ll be getting concierge service; don’t really want concierge service, because as far as I can tell they only turn back your bedclothes for you, which I quite look forward to doing myself for the novelty of getting into a bed that’s actually been made; but the point is, we could have it if we wanted. Similar thoughts apply to the gym. And there’s a fancy pool, to which neither my swimming nor my legs will do justice; and a lobby of surpassing greatness. What does one actually do in a hotel lobby? In movies people mostly get shot at. Should be bracing.

My editor, on the virtue of an article I will be writing about the trip, is trying to get us free passes to a few things. This has gone to my head a little. I may have given her the contact details of not only Disneyland and Universal but also the Pantages, Medieval Times, the San Diego Zoo, Legoland and Knott’s Berry Farm. All in the cause of the fourth estate, naturally. What I really covet is entrance to Club 33, but even if they gave out press passes I doubt I could convince anyone that an article for a 0-5 parenting magazine was a worthy reason to sully the inner sanctum with my filthy descendants.

I am of course tremendously excited, in theory; but my current state of mind is focussing more on the flight, which unhelpfully starts at 6AM – which didn’t sound too bad until I realised it meant we’d have to be there at 3. With the children. At 3. In the morning. With the children. Maybe if I left the pigs unsupervised by the duty-free likker the trip would go more smoothly.

6. Have I mentioned our new chickens? We have three – Helvetica, Esther and Alegreya. The first two are mostly Orpington and Alegreya is mostly Rhode Island Red. They show the same lack of respect and penchant for the indoors as their departed sistren, but Alegreya lays lovely big eggs, and the presence of friends has done wonders for Wingdings’ mental health. She’s started laying again and no longer walks around backwards.

After the first few nights they rejected the hen-house, and now sleep perched on a shrub by the back door. They look cold, miserable and frequently wet, but who am I to judge? And it is fun to see dinner-guests start when they leave, as they realise they are being balefully regarded by four feathery fluff-balls at close quarters.

7. Miles, when presented with a friend’s baby to inspect: “Got cheeks.” *kiss* “Yummy baby.”

8. I sliced my thumb open on a staple in a pair of op-shop jeans while attempting to try them on. Blood everywhere.The lady gave me a Band-Aid, but not a discount.

9. Would you rather be granted good luck for the rest of your life with traffic lights or parking spaces?

Excerpts From This Morning Chillin’ In Bed With the Pigs

Miles, climbing onto the bed: “Is a daddy. Can I pat it?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Helpdesk Man: “What time is my hideous sister coming around today?”

Snortlepig, gasping: “Daddy! You must not say this thing! You have a lovely sister. She is in fact my aunt.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Miles, holding a purple sequinned top someone had given me in a bag of hand-me-downs: “Look! Is buttons!”

Me: “They’re sequins.”

Miles: “Sea-queens.”

Snortlepig: “They’re sparkles, Mummy.”

Me: “They’re called sequins, though. That’s what they’re called.”

Miles, cuddling the top dreamily to his chest: “Is wonderful.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Snortlepig: “Mummy, you’re very insensitive to clothes. People give you clothes, and you say “meh” and put some of them in a pile. I think they’re all beautiful.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Me: “Eugh, we should get up.”

Snortlepig, leaping into action: “OK, it’s de-cozing time! I’m gonna de-coze you!” [Begins to pull off the blankets]

Me: “You know, you enjoy this too much. When you grow up you should get a job as a professional de-cozer, at a prison or something.”

Snortlepig, deeply interested: “Do people do that?”

Age

A week ago I turned 27. Of late years my birthday tends to induce short-lived but bleakish angst, as I recall how many years I am past being a precocious novelist and contemplate how my knee-joints are Only Going to Be Downhill From Here. This year, however, I remained serene. For a few months at the start of the year I thought I was already 27, so by the time Helpdesk Man informed me this was not the case I was inured to the concept. Plus, my chin-pores decided to relive their teenage glory the night before my party, and it’s hard to feel old with a spotty chin.

Which is just as well, because the pig, having decided she is the guinea-pigs’ mother, has taken to referring to me as Gran.

Figuring that the Ravages of Time should be given due deference even without the angst, Helpdesk Man and I have decided to slim. Well, I decided. Helpdesk Man said “Mm”, miserably. So for the time being, no sugar or white flour. I have been very virtuous so far, even giving the snortlepig the last of my chocolate orange birthday cheesecake instead of polishing it off myself as a last hurrah. I did unthinkingly buy Tic Tacs today at the supermarket, but I shall only use them in cases of extreme garlic.

(Digression: Oh dear. The pig just wrapped Tiny Miles up in a blanket for a present for me, but Tiny Miles objected halfway through the process; and by the time I came along the pig was firmly pressing the blanket over his face, saying “Hush!” as he struggled. Poor wee Miles.)

Anyway. I just made a batch of double-chocolate-orange brownies – it seemed wise to use up all the chocolate lest temptation befall – for supper after choir practice tonight, and I didn’t even lick the bowl. So there. And I’m going to try for the ever-elusive batch of light wholemeal bread. Five rises, longer-than-you-think kneading, a wet dough and adding porridge to the mix are all helpful, I hear. We shall see.

And now I’m going to curl up by the fire and read a memoir by a chef. Poor timing, perhaps.

Three

1. Smokey: “Tell me a story about guinea pigs and shmallows.”

Pig: “Talking shmallows?”

Smokey: “If you wish.”

Pig: “Okay! Once upon a time there were three guinea pigs. Their names were Toby, Hansel and Gretel. They were very happy together. One day, Hansel got sick. But he didn’t die. He got better and they got married again.”

Smokey: “…Who got married again?”

Pig: “Hansel. Then one day, a shmallow came walking out of the forest, with eight little baby shmallows walking behind her. And Hansel wanted to show them the church, because he wanted to show them the church. So – hang on, I have to change my dress. It’s too poofy.”

[Two minutes, later in pyjamas]

Pig: “And then Hansel showed them the church. The end. Now you tell me a story about a snake and a shmallow.”

2. Pig: “Ooh, Mummy, I know! If you died, before you died you could make Daddy a Prince Charming costume, and then like if you had cancer you’d get very sick, and after you died, he could go to Disneyland and he could find a lady dressed like Cinderella and he could marry her in his charming prince suit, so they’d be Prince Charming and Cinderella!”

3: Miles: “Wazzat?”

Smokey: “It’s a quiche.”

Miles: “Izza very cute quiche.”

Mostly Miles

1. On Sunday at church, Tiny Miles spied a woman who had changed into her running clothes so as to jog home. Her top, while eminently respectable, was sleeveless. Miles took one look, pointed at her upper arm and squealed, “Naked!”

We’re Reformed Baptist, dude, not Closed Brethren.

2. “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” Henry Ford. Sooth.

3. On the internet today someone advised the wives of the world to show appreciation for their husbands by pre-toothpasting their toothbrushes for them, to give them a little frisson of Caring and Thoughtfulness when they stumble into the throom of a weary morning. Now, I realise I am not the veriest paragon of a wife, and therefore my opinion counts for little: but nevertheless: Que?

4. Last night we had the fire going, and I asked the pig if she wanted to roast some shmallows. Always alive to the romance of a situation, she was very keen and insisted we find a blanket to snuggle under for maximum cosiness. “Mummy, this is so beautiful and nice,” she sighed rapturously as I opened the “Reduced to Clear 99 cents” Pascalls retrieved from the dodgy bin at Pak’N’Save.

I put a shmallow on the skewer and handed it to her. She extended it cautiously towards the flame and tossed it in. Puzzled, I retrieved it and toasted the shmallow. I then handed it to the pig.

Whereupon she gasped and said “You can eat them?”

Me: “…Yes? What did you think you did with toasted shmallows?”

The pig, shrugging: “Just burned them up, I guess.”

Homeschooling.

5. Yesterday we went to the zoo. It was fun. It was long. By the end of the trip we were all a bit past it, and dragged ourselves round the supermarket wishing we were elsewhere. Especially Miles. As I was searching the likker section looking for $6.99 plonk for the lamb chops, he started to throw a tantrum and loudly wailed to the world “Whissskeeeeyy! Whissskeeeeeeey!”

6. Just heard Miles crowing “Bad baby!”

Helpdesk Man and myself, in unison: “What did you do?”

Miles, smuglier still: “VERRAH bad baby!”

Still haven’t found out what he did. Ah well. I’m sure it’ll make itself hideously obvious at some point, like the pens he posted into the grille of the fireplace.

7. This morning in bed Miles crawled over, gave me a big sloppy kiss and then shouted fiercely “SO! CUTE!”

8. A question for the single ladies. Or gents. (Hey! You should meet up.)

Would you choose to meet and marry a woman (or man) of stunning beauty, impeccable intelligence, functional but not obtrusive fertility, a clean police record and comely financial prospects, with a wonderful sense of humour, cleanly in habits, domestically gifted, politically sane, etc, etc – in short, the perfect woman (or man); if you knew that after 40 years of blissful wedlock, he or she would suddenly flip out and kill you?

I asked Helpdesk Man this question and he said “Sure”. “What if it was me?” I said, and he went “Ehhh…”

I cry at night, sometimes.

9. Dammit! As I was typing this, Tiny Miles fossicked through my bag and found my lip balm, which he has been strictly forbidden to touch on account of he pokes his fingers in it, and if a girl who wears neither makeup nor heels and has never had a massage, facial, manicure, pedicure or more than a triannual freakin’ haircut can’t have a nice smooth unmolested lip balm surface with which to caress her cragged and strinky lips, what is the point in being a woman?

Anyway, so rather than trucking off with it sneakily like a regular baby, Tiny Miles put the whole thing in his mouth like a cigar, made sweet hooty noises until I looked at him, then beamed and went away. It took my typing-addled brain a full two minutes to catch on; whereupon I tracked him to his sister’s bedroom. He was sitting, pantsless, in a little wooden wagon, beaming with delight and holding the unopened lip balm out to me. He is a bad baby.

10. In a fit of health, I just made Baked Cauliflower Poppers. Tastes just like French fries, she said. She lied.

Regrets

To the library user who had The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2013 on reserve:

I am very, very sorry. Helpdesk Man left his coffee within pig’s-reach, and I left the volume likewise. In retrospect, we ought not to have done these things. I am even sorrier that the copy upon which Miles carefully spooned half a cup of coffee was the sole remaining copy in our city’s public library system.

If it is any consolation, it is a very good book, and worth buying. I happen to know – painfully well – that $32.89 will buy you a copy. You can probably buy it for considerably cheaper, in fact, being in a position to shop around; unlike some.

To Helpdesk Man:

Now we have to go to Disneyland this year.

One Dog Mildly Harassed During the Writing Of This Post

Our sole remaining chicken, Wingdings the Dogproof of the Order of the Stoopid Hairdo, appears to have lost the plot. For reasons known only to herself she spent Saturday night outdoors in a torrential downpour. Come morning she looked like a particularly repellent pipe-cleaner recovered from the interior of a Sarlacc. She whiled away the hours staggering backwards around the house, scraping her beak along the ground with her head on one side, staring cock-eyed at the world and giving every indication of having already become Chicken Zero.

Helpdesk Man offered a little too eagerly to go all Atticus on her white meats; but by the time we got back from church she had fluffed up and regained some low-level sanity, so we decided to wait and see. I realise that this is the kind of thinking that causes people to shout at the screen; and  sure enough, the next rainshower saw her sopping and crazy again. Today, Wingdings is nowhere to be seen. Humanity, we apologise.

This being our track record, it is a wonder that we have been entrusted with the temporary care and feeding of not only a dog, but two guinea-pigs. The dog is Holly, a mere four-day addition to the household. The guinea-pigs, Eartha (Ertha?) and Gretel, are small fluffy reminders that my ungrateful family of origin is heading off to the British Isles for the next, if you don’t mind, ten weeks. Missing, I might add, two birthdays, a whole term of both violin and choir, and numerous prime babysitting opportunities. Some people.

3:30 PM: Snortlepig: “Miles! Don’t sit on the guinea-pig! What were you THINKING?”

7:00 PM: Miles, towering over Holly, who was lying meeky on the floor: “Sit down! Doggie! SIDDOWN DOGGIE! SIDDOWN DOGGIE!”

9:30 AM: Miles, shouting inches from Holly’s (silent) nose: “Hush you dogs! Hush you dogs! HUSH YOU DOGS!”

1:14 PM: Snortlepig: “Ooh, you know what we could do? You could make Miles a dog costume, and me a bigger dog costume, and a fat one for Daddy, ’cause – you know. I’m not saying he’s fat, because that’s rude. And we could all wear the costumes, and then when Alison came to pick Holly up, she’d be all concerned and say “Where did all these dogs come from?” … We probably better not.”

Daddy: “Oi.”

Snortlepig: “I didn’t say you were fat, Daddy.”

4:30 PM: Snortlepig, shouting across the orchard: “Mum! Holly’s met Macy!” [Macy is the orchard dog.] Pause. “They’re BEHAVING!”

4:45 PM: Smokey to visiting small child: “She likes you? …Mm. No no, we won’t pull her hair out. Guinea-pigs look better with hair. No, we won’t poke her eyes. Don’t squeeze the head! That’s important. Squeeze the other end. Oop! Careful with the eyes. Do you think she likes that? Hmm, I think she’s looking a bit sleepy. Maybe we’ll put her back for now.”

5:02 PM: Helpdesk Man: “OK Miles, time to sleep. Night-night! Kiss for Mummy… kiss for your sister…”

Miles: “Kees a doggie?”

6:12 PM: Miles: “Hi doggie! I’m naked!”

6:35 PM: Smokey: “No, Miles, that’s your toothbrush! Don’t brush the doggie’s… give that here.”

6:37 PM: Miles: “I bash a doggie!”

Smokey: “Miles, no! Give me the fork.”

6:58 PM: Smokey: “Miles, don’t feed your baked beans to the doggie. Doggies don’t like baked beans.”

6:59 PM: Smokey: “…Well, maybe doggies do like baked beans, but I said not to feed her. Those are your beans.”

7:00 PM: Smokey: “Miles! Don’t! Feed! The dog!”

It is now 7:43. Smeg. I forgot to feed the dog.

A Moustery, and Other Matters

1. It is the season for mice, apparently. The orchard dog has been joyously snapping them up among the apple trees; the orchard pigs have been spotting them by the dishwasher and squealing “SO CUUUUUTE!” repeatedly.

Helpdesk Man being less impressed, we have been loading a lot of mousetraps. Most commonly, the mouse licks the peanut butter off the trap and prances away smugly; less often, the thing works as advertised and Tiny Miles gets to admire the corpses up close before we fling them over the fence. And then there was last week.

Before bed: a trap, peanut-butter-baited placed enticingly by the open door of the pantry.

Come the dawn: a mouse lying dead with a bloody nose in front of the pantry, and no trap to be seen.

We still haven’t found the mousetrap.

Chilling, no?

2. Here are my two latest cakes. The first was for a two-year-old nephewpig, who wailed at it like an ingrate. The second was for Helpdesk Man’s 30th. He did not wail at it, but he did fail to finish his piece in favour of someone else’s trifle; so it’s been a pretty psychologically taxing run, cakewise. I should write a book on Suffering.

3. This past weekend, we loaded up the pigs, a sword and a bow and arrows and went to Wellington so Helpdesk Man could attend a martial arts conference. I was a little apprehensive about the prospect of two days in a strange city with no car, two pigs and a foreboding weather forecast – to say nothing of the eight-hour trips there and back – but I’ve been lobbying for a return to Wellington since our honeymoon, so it seemed silly to pass up the chance.

It wasn’t too bad, actually. We rented a tiny house, which turned out to have one bedroom fewer than might be desired and was located up a perilously steep hill, accessible only via numerous ramps and flights of stairs. Still, clean and cozy, a proliferation of spare towels, and a kitchen well-stocked enough to make nachos and ravioli, so we didn’t feel we should quibble – especially after Miles throomed on their duvet.

On Day 1 we went to the zoo, where Tiny Miles confounded me somewhat by his attitude to the beasts. His invariable first question – “Izza cat izza dog?” – made sense, but when he followed it up with “Eyebrows?” I was frequently stumped. Does a cheetah have eyebrows? I guess, kind of. But an otter? A porcupine, of which only the hinder end is currently visible in any case? Deep stuff.

Wellington Zoo is a nice little zooby no means spectacular, as there aren’t any elephants and the Little Blue penguins had done a bunk. But there was a Giraffe Talk, at which the pigs were given sprigs of browse and allowed to feed the beasts. The snortlepig kept shying away at the critical moment and dropping her leaves – Miles, however, suffered no such qualms and happily let himself be licked all over while the giraffe attempted to wrest the leaves out of his chortling paws. At the end of the encounter Miles waved goodbye to the giraffe’s retreating head, and then sighed with beatific content: “Cat!”

On Day 2 we went to Te Papa. This is a museum – apparently a good one. We studied it in the only history class I took at Uni, which despite being called Communication In History: From the Printing Press to the Internet and being taught by a rabid Tolkien fan, was mind-numbingly dreary. What museums have to do with the history of communication, I never did find out: but we learned that Te Papa is a respected, highly up-to-date and progressive institution.

Which is all very well, except that

a) I have a phobia of museums

b) I have a phobia of stuffed, skeletonised and otherwise corpsified animals

c) I have a phobia of large aquatic life

and d) Te Papa is an a) filled with b), some of which are c).

Despite this, I have been twice – once on the initial horrifying trip that cemented a) and involved me being literally dragged, sweating with clenched eyes, round a bunch of taxidermied stags by my two heartless sisters who kept saying things like “Ooh, let’s take her into the Marine Mammal Skeleton room!”, while a museum assistant looked on with mild interest and said “Is she all right?”; and once to see a display of LOTR movie props, which just goes to show that Geekdom Conquers All.

As do drugs, apparently. This third trip wasn’t planned, but after waiting for a bus which didn’t come and walking all the way into the city, trying to persuade the pigs that the shops were interesting enough not to whine about visiting them, but not so interesting that one needed to escape from one’s pram and destroy them – well, any remotely child-friendly space was appealing, be it ever so festooned with the scaffolding of plesiosaurs.

So we went in, and I averted my eyes from the giant creepy anchor that looms in the foyer, and asked the information lady which pig-friendly areas could be accessed without passing beneath a fibreglass reconstruction of the Kraken – which she took rather well, even advising me to go down this side of the lifts because there was the skeleton of a famous racehorse on that side (side note: why? WHY?); and there we were.

The areas we visited were on “Pasifika” and “Invention”, and they were moderately well-done; but I spent most of my time gazing in fascination at my son and heir.

Miles is not a shy child. Where the pig saw Things to Do, Miles saw Friends to Make. His modus operandi was to find a baby, walk over to it, kindly but firmly appropriate its toy, and then make its parent play with him. And they did.

If he happened to come across a temporarily babyless adult, he would instead break the ice by thrusting out a foot and saying “Izzabzzagllbta BOOT!”, or perhaps pointing and saying “Lady!” repeatedly, until the parent admitted to being a lady. At one point he brought a hand-puppet goat to a man and said “Wazzat?”, and when told it was a goat decided the man was a zoological authority and brought him a possum, an octopus and a parrot for inspection while the man’s neglected daughter played by herself in a corner.

He was only snubbed once – by a pre-pubescent, shy-looking Asian boy who tried to brush him off with a vague smile. Miles, being immune to the concept of a brush-off, continued to attempt conversation for a good two minutes while the boy shifted from foot to foot and cast occasional nervous glances in my direction, as if to say “Call off your baby, woman, it thinks it’s human”. I probably should have, but it seemed a shame to deprive a forward-thinking museum of such a compelling anthropological performance piece.

On the way off the bus home, Miles cheerfully shouted “Thank’oo! See’oo! See’oo! Bye-bye!” to the bus driver. Giggles from every adult in the vicinity. I don’t know where he gets it from. Some recessive non-recessive gene, I spose.

And I did not have a panic attack, even when the corner of my eye caught the grinning front end of the racehorse (who was looking far smugger than circumstances warranted.) All hail Big Pharma. Srsly.

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