Richard Herring: Out of the mouths of children
Wednesday 29 Oct 2014
Some friends were visiting with their four-year-old daughter. Obviously, with my own baby cooking in my wife’s stomach (as is my understanding), I am keen to see how well I get on with other tiny sexcremental idiots.
‘How do you like my house?’ I asked her.
‘Your house is wee!’ she replied, before collapsing with laughter. She is not Scottish so was not implying that my domicile is small. She was comparing it to urine.
I feigned shock. ‘How dare you say that about my lovely home?’
My anger spurred her on. ‘Your house is bum,’ she added, having clearly grasped the concept that comparing things to naughty objects and substances made for an hilarious insult, if not yet quite understanding how to use the small arsenal of profanity that she had at her disposal.
‘My house is very nice.’ I countered. ‘It’s not bum at all. It’s not anything like a bum. Even though I understand that isn’t what you said. You said it was “bum”, not similar to a bum.’
She looked non-plussed. Then, after a pause, she said, ‘Your house is wee!’
The repetition seemed to make the whole thing even more amusing for her. She was clearly a fan of the sophisticated comedy of Stewart Lee.
I can’t really criticise her, though. I spent most of my years between the ages of three and nine saying almost nothing except the phrase ‘wee wee, poo poo, bottom!’ on a loop.
And I have spent most of my years between the ages of 22 and 47 saying pretty much exactly the same thing, but this time getting paid for it.
I decided to give as good as I got and came back with, ‘No, YOUR house is bum. In fact, your house came out of a bum.’
The satirist’s barbed words had been turned against her. And she was stung. She stopped laughing and started to cry, very loudly, and rushed to her parents, ‘Mummy, he said our house came out of a bum.’
‘To be fair, I was provoked,’ I pleaded, aware that this accusation might make me look bad. ‘Anyway, you started it. You said my house was wee.’
But she would not be mollified by logic or facts. I had insulted her, her family and all they stood for (or at least all that they lived in).
‘You didn’t even buy your house. You only live there because your mum and dad do. I chose my house myself and you said it was wee. And bum. Surely that’s more insulting.’ She didn’t agree.
‘I’m not your friend any more, Richard,’ she sobbed.
‘Oh, please be my friend. I’m sorry about the coming out of a bum thing I said. It was the heat of the moment. I was riled by you saying my house was bum. Probably partly because you are right. It is a bit bum. There is something of wee about it. I just said that your house had come out of a bum because I was hurt and wanted to hurt you back. Your house didn’t come out of a bum at all.’
She still refused to be my friend. Though to be honest she’s not that much of a friend anyway. I can’t remember the last time she rang me, let alone bought me a beer.
Surely nothing could heal this rift. Yet moments later she was drawing insulting pictures of me and laughing again. Had she forgotten the whole thing?
I will never forget. Each night, as I cry myself to sleep, I’ll be thinking, my house is wee.
And also bum.