Sunday, 20 February 2011

Can a Robber Change his Stripes?

There's a masked man who stands fearsomely in the window of the local locksmith, a stripey-sweater-clad reminder of the wisdom of fitting proper locks. We love him; he features in many of our bedtime stories, always trying to make his way in to steal the Christmas presents/ the 'pooter/ mummy's high heels/ sweeties from the treat box, and is always outsmarted by The Toys.

Lion, The Princess's special toy, her comforter, the one she used to take everywhere until my fear of her losing it forced me to relegate it to the status of Bedtime Toy, is usually the star of the rescue, being, as he is, not only the oldest toy but also the one with the loudest roar. He's led that robber a merry dance, and the poor old robber has not so much as one illicit chocolate button to show for it.

And then came the day, shortly after The Princess's 4th birthday, that Lion Went Missing. Not just missing as in, stuffed into the washing machine and forgotten, or 'What's Lion doing in the dressing up box?'. Proper weeks-on-end missing. The Princess was distraught, hysterical at times. I'd find her gazing mournfully at photos of herself with Lion, tears filling her beautiful big eyes. She'd see other children with their special toys and turn to me, lip trembling, to ask, 'will I ever see my Lally again?' For my part, I felt almost as bereft as if I'd lost one of the family myself.

'It's good for her to learn about loss,' said The Bearded One, irritatingly pragmatic as ever, as I turned the house upside down and uttered darkly suspicious comments about the possible perpetrator, accidental or not, of this heinous crime. Good for her? She's 4 years old! Bollocks, thought I, to that.

A bit of googling quickly bore fruit: no longer available in the UK, the lion could be ordered from France. It arrived, and I began to set the stage for Lally's glorious return. By day, I wondered aloud whether The Robber might have sought his revenge on the wily Lion by taking him away. We shook our fists at him in passing and shouted 'give our Lally back, you bad robber!'. By night, I put New Lion through every washing cycle. I singed the back of his mane to replicate a scorch mark from a caravan heater. I scratched at his eyes with scourers. I picked at his stitching, matted his mane with soap and soaked him in saucepans of tea and coffee, to realistically emulate the discolouration of years of love. He looked pretty good. After all, I had enough photos to work from.

About 6 weeks passed before I deemed him ready. With The Princess and Master C at nursery for the morning, I marched into the locksmiths with The Bub and smiled winningly, if somewhat maniacally.

'In about an hour, I am going to be walking past with my other 2 children,' I say. 'This lion (at which point I brandish it threateningly) is going to have his head poking out of your robber's sack. We are going to come in and take the lion. Is that okay?'

The store is full of tradesman with valid lock fitting queries. They're looking at me as though I'm a middle class woman with far too much time on my hands. In my mind's eye, I see the Bearded One shaking his head. I raise one eyebrow at the locksmith, who merely shrugs and nods.

On the way back from nursery, we stop at the bakery, and I park so that a stroll past the robber is necessitated. As usual, we stop to jeer and shake our fists. And then The Princess stops. Her eyes goggle, she squeaks, she hops, finally shouting, words tumbling uselessly over each other: "My!! Mummy!! Lally!! Mummy! It's it's it's mummy LALLY!!!!!

She runs into the store and we follow; I look sternly at the locksmith. "Excuse me, but I'd like to have a word with that robber." Master C is already enthusiastically bashing him on the bum, shouting 'You bad robber!! You bad naughty robber!' The Princess is shining brighter than a star, Lally clutched adoringly in her arms. That night, as I check on her before going to bed, my own lip suffers a momentary wobble, to see them curled up together, her face in repose so beautiful and peaceful that I almost want to wake her up with hugs.

A few weeks later, on my birthday, we go to Somerset House, where we watch the ice skating and drink hot chocolate. Dressed in burglar stripes of my own - Phase 8's Janice, the poor man's Anglomania and cult wardrobe item in certain maternal circles (it comes in navy too; I have both) I've left a note for the cleaner to please clean/ dust/ generally sort out the top of the children's closet, one of those jobs that I Just Can't Face. We come home to cake (Harry Eastwood's Light chocolate, natch, made by me, double natch, decorated by The Bearded One and the children .. now that's nice) We also come home to a rumpled shape on the dining room table, with a note saying "Wardrobe done! Found this little fella up there. Here's a list of everything else. See you Monday!"

'What a nice robber', says The Princess, when the excitement has abated. 'He knew I was missing my Lally so he brought me Lally's cousin!!'

I stuff more cake in my mouth and avoid The Bearded One's withering look.


  1. That is such a beautiful, beautiful story. So touching what you will do to make your children happy! Even better that you look so good doing it. That is the main thing I took away from the story.