I was in conversation with Scarlett, the daughter of my friend Al, this afternoon. She was four yesterday.
Her mother had mentioned my new house and had reminded Scarlett that she'd been there and asked her what she thought of it.
"Your house is wee!" she laughed. Scarlett is not Scottish* and she was not casting aspursions on the size of my home. She was merely comparing it to urine.
I feigned shock and anger, "How dare you say that about my lovely home?"
"Your house is bum," she added, having clearly grasped the concept that comparing things to naughty objects and substances made for an amusing insult, if not yet quite understanding how to use the arsenal of profanity that she had at her disposal.
I pretended that her comments had upset me. "My house is very nice. 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', rather than like 'a bum'"
She looked non-plussed.
Then after a pause she said, "Your house is wee!"
And then for emphasis added "Your house is bum!"
The repetition seemed to make the whole thing even more amusing for her. Not that I can knock her for this. I have already gone on record to admit that I spent most of my years between the ages of 3 and 9 saying nothing but "wee wee, poo poo, bottom!"
And I have spent most of my years between the ages of 22 and 36 saying almost exactly the same thing, but then saying "aaaaah!" or "moon on a stick" afterwards.
I was with Scarlett on this one. I thought her childish dismissal of my house was highly amusing and also, in its simplicity, a much more effective satire of me and everything I stood for than Rory Bremner could ever come up with.
He's not a very good example, as that is pretty much what his satire amounts to. But think of a good satirist, and it would be better than that.
Jonathon Swift maybe.
No actually, that's pretty much all he did as well.
Anyway I enjoyed the humour of the impertinent youngster, so I joined in and said, "No, YOUR house is bum. No, in fact, your house came out of a bum."
The satirist's barbed words had been turned on herself. And rather than enjoying my puerile comments, Scarlett was stung. She stopped laughing and stopped comparing my house to excreta or bodily orifices and instead started to cry.
She cried very loudly. It was hard to hear what she was saying as she cried, but I think it was something like, "Mummy, he said our house came out of a bum."
Had Scarlett been an adult satirist, I would have taken the chance to inflict more wounds upon her and maybe said "Your house is fashioned from a mixture of sweat and bogeys."
But Scarlett is only 4 and I had made her cry, just as her parents were about to embark on a long car journey with her. So instead I tried to apologise. But she would have none of it.
"Oh she can dish it out, but she can't take it," commented her father.
"You started it Scarlett. You said Richard's house was wee," said her mother, attempting to mollify her. But Scarlett could not stand the fact that I thought her house had come out a bum. I had insulted her and her family and all they stood for (or at least all that they lived in) and the cold logic that she had said my house was wee (not made out of wee. No. In Scarlett's opinion my house was just wee. A puddle of wee. Or possibly bum. Not a bum. Just bum.) was not going to make any difference.
Though something within her was chastened. She howled "Sorry!", but that didn't make up for what I'd said.
"But you didn't even chose your house Scarlett. You just live there cos your mum and dad do. I chose my house and you said it was wee. And bum. Surely that's worse."
She didn't agree.
"I'm not your friend anymore, Richard," she sobbed.
"Oh please be my friend. I'm sorry about the coming out 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. I wish I'd never said that," I pleaded.
In fact I said, "So if you're not my friend then you won't want the birthday present I've got you."
Scarlett suddenly fell silent. She was deep in thought. Much as she wanted to cancel our friendship (to be honest she's not that much of a friend anyway. She's never even bought me a beer and she doesn't ever ring me), she also didn't want to lose the present(that incidentally didn't exist. It was a clever trick by me.)
She said she didn't want the present. She felt that strongly about the whole "your house came out a bum" incident.
But a second later she had reconsidered. Her dad laughed about her getting upset and she laughed too.
"Give Rich a hug" said her mum.
And she did, laughing all the time. We were friends again and I said I'd buy her a present for next time I saw her (though she still didn't offer me a pint, the tightwad).
To a four year old friendships can be broken and re-made this easily. And by tomorrow she will have completely forgotten about where I said her house originated from.
But I will still remember that she thinks my house is wee. I will never forget. And as I sleep in the wee tonight (not literally, I am 36, not 4), I will shed silent tears.
My house is wee.
My house is bum.
*Actually I've just realised that in a way she is. She was born in Edinburgh during the Fringe.