Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Next time, let's talk about it first

I miss adult conversation.

In truth, I miss all adult pleasures: closeness of candle-lit bistros, click of kitten heels, warmth in a two-seater car, and anticipation of bed.

But in my daily hours, I especially miss the way two adults can negotiate an ordinary conversation.

Yes, I know about back channelling, interrupting, tag questioning, and I don't mean one-over-on-you power conversations like that. Those I can have at the library with the lemon sucking, book smacking assistant.

I mean those ordinary conversations where two grown up people can create shared meanings, kindness, forgiveness, and smiles. I am sure they are possible. I heard one once in a Radio 4 play.

I have to look on the bright side of loss. I maintain that conversation with a child is something special. Of course it is. Children have almost no distinction between thinking, saying and doing. I don't need an up-their-own-bottom Hallidayan linguist to abstractedly point out how it's done: I live the practical consequences of child wittering.

Talking with a child can be more fun than with an adult. Adults find every way to prevaricate, distance themselves from what they're saying, or sometimes just say the opposite to what they mean. It can be confusing. But with children, say it and it's as good as done. Which can be inspirational. When they are not slamming a door, yelling that they hate you, or stopping half way through for a furious scream.

No, the best conversations with children are when they are puzzled, and leading you to live a different reality from the one you started five minutes ago. Then the talk becomes a new lived experience. It can lead you in many ways.

When the question is 'Are we baking a cake?', you might be moved from your answer, 'No, we are buying vegetables' with, 'Can we make a vegetable cake?' and soon enough you will be happily chomping carrot cake and searching the world for the finest sugary beetroot recipe.

But on occasions children's conversation can be downright tiresome. For example, I might be yearning to create a single uninterrupted thought about politics under Henry II, or wondering how I might produce a fantastic painting without any talent, or imagining what pleasures might be taken from a naked man, and I wouldn't mind having a decent adult conversation about any of those matters, when along comes the insistent 'Can we make biscuits with turnips?'

At those times, I wish it was acceptable parenting practice to tape their mouths shut. But it's too late. The adult brain is all mashed up, with no prospect of being ordered again, until the children are in bed asleep. But then I look round and there's no adult with whom I can share any conversation.

So I find adult conversation is what I miss today.

Instead, I have the consolation of discovering Squirrel at the kitchen table, her hands covered in flour and sticky dough, as she travels her line between thinking, talking, and doing.

She stares uncertainly between her home-made Bermuda polygon of biscuit cutters in a sealed box, a cluttered kitchen worksurface, a cold oven, a cupboard containing baking tray and rolling pin, and a bowl of beige liquid gloop with lumps of turnip sticking out from its bubbled surface. 'Oh dear' she says, 'I haven't thought this one through at all.'