I thought I’d been a good dad so far. I’ve got involved in the mess and mayhem from the start – the sleepless nights and early mornings, the horror nappies, the food throwing – and the good stuff; I love being around Little B, playing and chatting with him, teaching him about the world.
Plus I’ve always been careful about language, not that I’m much of a potty mouth as it is but we’ve both been careful not to use words we don’t want him to repeat.
So I was a bit shocked this week when after only coming out with a couple of words up to now he said the C word. And now he won’t stop saying it.
It’s not like we say it much, hardly ever. Maybe if we’re on holiday or having to go to IKEA. The kind of thing you fall back on at a BBQ when you’re chatting to men and the conversation runs short. Well, it’s either that or the F word. Yeah, football.
But for the past week it’s been none stop C this and C that with Little B. He seizes every opportunity to wrap his angelic vocal chords around his favourite new word. It’s become a constant background noise in our house and the aural rhythm that accompanies us on our travels.
There’s no point in denying it anymore. We have a toddler who’s obsessed with cars.
“Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar,” he wails every ten seconds.
“No, that’s the cat. Close but no cigar.” [Note to social services: I don’t give cigars to my toddler.]
“Car car car car car car car car!”
“Err. No. I’m not a car. I’m daddy.” [Sad face.]
“Go car go car!” [Banging on the front door.]
“Err. You want to go out?”
“Cahahahah-hu-c-hu-c-huuuuaaac-c-c-c-c…” [Collapses in heap of tear-stained, red-faced, asphyxiation.]
“Calm down calm down I’m trying to get the bleeping car for you, it’s just by my head where I fell over. In fact, you get it.”
And when we do go out he sees them everywhere.
“Twaaaaaaain.” [Pointing into the road.]
“No. That is actually a car. That’s a sodding car. Are you having a laugh?”
And on it goes…
Every day now he sits in the front room or out on the decking playing with his vehicles. None of them are to scale with each other but he doesn’t seem to mind. The massive tractor drives on the same imaginary road as the now battered red bus I bought him for Christmas and his little V-tech digger that sings about going to work.
We use trains every day, and buses, and that might be where it started, he’s always on public transport, he loves watching the cars out of the window. So I guess it was inevitable that he’d transfer his interest. Probably sat there thinking, “Why am I stuck on this bus when that baby is in his own, frankly very comfortable-looking, chauffeur driven transport?”
Cars are everywhere you look in a city, but where does it come from? This boyhood obsession with motor vehicles? I haven’t yet met a boy who hasn’t gone through this phase. Of course for some boys it persists into adulthood with the worst cases ending up permanently dressed in bad denim. And while I am not suggesting girls don’t like cars our friends who have little girls don’t seem to be afflicted.
Was I guilty of this fad when I was little? As charged, officer. Caught speeding through Fenwicks toy department clutching assorted vehicles pursued by an irate mother.
Aged around seven or eight I recall being told by my mum not to leave the street on my bike, so I used to cycle to the end of it and sit watching the cars go by on the main road, waiting to see the first new Golf GTi or Escort XR3 that had made it to my far corner of North East England.
I knew my cars on sight because I’d go along with my dad to the newsagent to get the latest Daily Express World Car Guide every August Bank Holiday, run home and pour religiously over the latest models, checking the changes to the grille details, the headlamps and wheel arches.
And at school we’d talk breathlessly about the fastest, most expensive cars, and which one we were going to own as soon as we could drive. Then we’d play Top Trumps Supercars at break time, learning by heart the RPM, maximum speed, and the mysterious ‘torque’ of cars like the Ferrari GTO , Lamborghini Countach, and Porsche 911.
My dad’s cars were a Hillman Hunter and a Chrysler Alpine (one for the car anoraks there) – not very cool, so I (to my shame now) used to try to avoid being seen in them by my mates. There was always one kid at school whose dad was loaded and got driven around in a brand new Vauxhall Cavalier or Ford Granada (almost everyone bought British in those days). But I did have a trump card of my own.
My granddad had been something of a classic car collector in his younger days and the remaining pride and joy sat in his garage, no longer driven but available for me to play in – a 1960s Rover P5. I remember the red leather bench seat as big as my single bed where I’d sit pretending to turn the silver spoked steering wheel.
I always loved old cars more than new ones. I even collected vintage model cars and KEPT THEM IN THE BOXES! If only it had been Star Wars figures.
I had a used-car dealership worth of Matchbox cars and a racetrack set with a loop-the-loop that I’d play with for hours, and there was a section of the garden where I was allowed to dig and make tracks and hills to play rally cars.
Gradually my toy cars became chipped and battered and bashed (apart from the ones in boxes – which my dad was convinced would be worth lots of money one day) until they ended up consigned to the wardrobe as I grew up and became more interested in hanging out on the streets, getting up to mischief, trying to talk to groups of girls, listening to tapes on a ghetto blaster, and being a typical 80s teenager.
After that cars were about passing my driving test so I could gain some freedom, my childhood fascination diminished and I even stopped watching Top Gear with my dad long before the Three Stooges started presenting it.
Now it seems that Little B has inherited my childhood fascination with internal combustion. Is it all boys who are like this? Does anyone have a girl who’s obsessed with cars and ‘twains’? I always intended to try to be gender neutral in regard to Little B’s toys. We’ve bought him farm animals and I still intend to buy him a toy cooker and look – sometimes he wears dresses.
But being automobile crazy is entirely his own affliction, it’s not been encouraged. And this week we gave in to his demands and bought him not one but two toy vehicles. Here they are – we’ve gone for something vaguely educational.
We had to buy him some because he started TWOCing them from other people’s houses. He recently stole this Ferrari Testarossa.
So not only is he into cars, he apparently wants to live in Chelsea. (The car’s owner has been informed by the way.)
Will his love of cars persist into adulthood? Will he be the piston head sat at the dinner party table discussing how to pimp his ride? Or by the time he grows up will cars be a quaint historical anomaly?
We don’t even own a car, which makes his obsession even funnier. Haven’t for more than ten years.
The last one – a Renault Clio of the ‘Nicole/Papa’ era – sat outside in the rain and birds used it as target practice in between its rear window being smashed in by a man who’d regularly walk down our street in Camberwell with a hammer breaking every other car window after he got out of the nearby psychiatric hospital. People would be out in the road in the morning commiserating with each other every few months.
So after two years of being car owners we sold it and never looked back.
I do wonder if the motor car, as we know it, is on borrowed time. It may still be a few years off but I think the self-driving car will eventually be how we get around, in our cities to start with perhaps. The technical aspects seem to be almost ironed out and although there remain the legal snags, mainly about who is responsible if a self-drive car hurts someone, I think our roads would be a lot safer if humans weren’t behind the wheel, foot edging closer to the speed limit as they fly down our street or past a school.
Perhaps the demise of Top Gear is the dawn of a new era when cars simply aren’t interesting anymore. Apologies to any adult car fans out there but that sounds like a better world to me. We can still go to fields on Bank Holiday weekends and stare at rows of cars from the past, oddly beautiful relics from a fleeting era of tarmac, rubber, chrome and exhaust fumes.
In seventeen years, as Little B approaches that age when my generation got their L plates, perhaps in London we’ll all be cycling everywhere and we won’t hear people saying the C word that often anymore.
Well, obviously in London you’ll still hear people calling each other c*nts all the time, but that’s another matter entirely…