Christmas party season is upon us and I headed back to Balham this evening to attend the traditional annual shindig at my friend Simon's house. What was very noticeable this year was just how many of my friends have kids now. There were about as many kids as adults there at the beginning, the eldest was five, but a few of them hadn't even been out in the open air this time last year. Where do they all come from? I have no idea.
And there's no better way of noticing the passage of time than by meeting children you only see every now and again. I had thought it was maybe a year or so since I had last seen Nora. She had been around about two and a bit frightened, yet fascinated with me then, but I had pulled a face and made her cry. Now suddenly she is five years old and chatting away. It's a jolt to know that three years have disappeared into the ether so quickly.
She wasn't frightened of me this time, but I was a bit frightened of her. At least of how clever she is at such a young age. But we had some fun chatting and joking. She proudly proclaimed that she was able to play the piano with two hands now. I told her that I wouldn't be impressed until she could play it with five hands. She chuckled merrily at this silly joke. It's always cool to make kids laugh. Better than it is to make them cry anyway.
I asked her if she knew any jokes. I love the way that kids understand the rhythm of jokes long before they properly understand what makes them funny. "What do you call a rabbit that is being burned with fire?" she asked.
"Oh dear," I replied, "What a horrible image. I don't know."
"A hot, cross rabbit!" she told me triumphantly. We all laughed. Because this was better than the proper punchline (try substituting bunny for rabbit).
I wondered if she had any more where that came from. And she did -
"Why did the dinosaur cross the road?" she asked.
I began to question whether this was an anachronism. Were there any roads as we'd understand them in the time of the dinosaurs?
I didn't know the answer though, but soon enough was slightly hesitantly told, "Because there were cars there."
Again, that's way better than whatever the proper answer might be (because some scientists believe that dinosaurs are the ancestors of chickens????). It's quite interesting to be reminded how difficult understanding jokes and humour can be. A girl who can play the piano and read Matilda at just five has still not mastered what it is that makes a joke work (and in hindsight, as I think I've discussed before, I can remember loads of jokes that I laughed at as a child without understanding what was funny about them). Nora is bright and understands why it's funny that I wanted her to play a piano with five hands and I am sure that before too long she'll work out how to make those jokes work properly (which is a shame, because she accidentally made them both funnier), but it takes time to develop a sense of humour and tragically many people get into adulthood without managing it. They can still recognise the shape of a joke and laugh along, or can laugh when everyone else does. Understanding what makes the world funny is very difficult. But a hot cross rabbit is a lot funnier than a hot cross bunny. So maybe Nora knows more than me about all this.
But more worryingly, next year's Christmas party there may be a human being who hasn't even been created yet. What a difference a year makes! It was strange being one of the minority of childless people amongst my fecund, fucking friends.
But it only takes five seconds to make another one. Fortunately I have a very full diary and can't make that kind of time commitment.