Three is the perfect number
A holiday story
I don’t think any parent is really a fan. Once spotted, my three started to ask when they could go and explore? This particular one was at the River Dart camp site in Devon 12 years ago. It could easily have been at the seaside, where there are always lines of them. Or after a day out at the zoo, when you’re ambushed at the end, suddenly finding yourself in a shop when you were looking for the exit which is still a good 20 yards away. Standing between you and the door is a well merchandised range of clothing, books and toy animals big and small.
It’s a vital part of any holiday if you’re a child. What precious goodies can I possibly buy to take home with me? What amazing bargains will be on offer now I’ve got Nanna’s and Grampy’s pounds stashed away in my pink plastic see-through purse or my Action Man wallet? How much more will I be able to get from Mum and Dad to make up the difference so I can buy the bigger and better one? I try to make excuses as to why we can’t visit this particular Venus fly trap.
We must visit the local bakers before they run out of fresh bread and pasties for lunch.
No time now, we’re off to the Aquarium in Plymouth.
Who was I trying to fool?
The chance of avoiding the ritual duping was effectively zero. And now they’re a year older and more savvy when it comes to negotiating with me. As predicted and unbeknown to me, they were already way ahead of my feeble stalling tactics. Several recces had already been undertaken. They went in unarmed, careful to leave their savings behind while they got the lie of the land, seeing whether this shop was even worth bothering with before narrowing down their choices. It also meant avoiding any snap-decisions which they’d live to regret. These kids were no rookies.
By the end of the week, the penny finally dropped. I clearly hadn’t kept them out of the shop because they were openly discussing what they were planning to buy in the car, at meal times and no doubt with their new found friends.
The lady who runs the shop, standing hawk-like behind her counter next to the till, must watch with delighted amusement every year, as scores of children, during their brief stays, pass through under her watchful eye. She is a master of her craft. Outside, there are large bins containing plenty of inflatables already full of hot air. They can’t hold that many so others hang from hooks suspended high outside the shop window. There are plenty more inside, neatly flat packed and stacked high. Buckets and spades for big and small, fishing nets, crabbing tackle, all has its place outside and in, as does the token, solitary spinning rack of postcards which are only bought these days by the over-60s.
Inside, the emporium is stuffed with just the right amount of clutter, creating a wonderful Aladdin’s Cave. It’s full and the shelves heave with all the shrink-wrapped plastic competing with the home-made cakes and pots of jam and honey next to floor stands of keyrings and name badges for bedroom doors or magnetised scenes for fridges. It’s all carefully designed to extract the maximum amount of pocket money possible and pick plenty of parent’s pockets while they’re at it.
A long-lasting present
I honestly can’t remember what Martha and Iona decided to buy in the end? Definitely something more sensible than Finlay. He was only five at the time and had decided on half a dozen magnetic hematite stones. The plastic bag with the stones was stapled at the top to a much bigger printed card. There was a picture of Stonehenge with several druids standing inside an ancient circle. The blurb said the magnetised stones were old and had healing powers.
“Are you sure Finlay, is this what you really want?”
It was a half-hearted attempt to dissuade and I knew it. He vigorously nodded his head, his mouth remained tightly shut, as if speaking would be a sign that he was open to negotiation. He thrust his hand out in my direction, his fingers clutching the cardboard tightly, expecting me to take the stones. The girls were no use either, they just took his side.
“Dad, if that’s what he wants.”
“Come on Dad, it’s our money, we get to choose.”
I looked into his determined grey blue eyes below the shock of blonde hair and took the stones from his tight little grasp. He visibly relaxed. He knew we had to buy them now.
Three of those dark grey magnetic stones are rigidly pointing to attention on the side of my desk lamp today. I pick them up most days when I’m writing. I fiddle when I’m stuck or I’m reading. I move their rounded shapes around in my hand, relying on the magnetism to snap them back together with a dull clang. I’m trying to work a combination, the one which allows the end stone to spin more quickly. Every now and then I do a spin test which means I need both hands.
Fin has three on his desk to. Maybe the magnetism ensured their survival through childhood? Keeping them together, secured to a lamp or a radiator meant they weren’t thrown out when irregular clear outs happened over the years.
He doesn’t remember camping or the negotiation that took place on that summer’s day. He eventually gave me three of his dusty, neglected collection years later, perhaps sensing that my delight was more than a simple distraction when I was trying to find the right words.
Three, it seems, is the perfect number.