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Back to nature and old fashioned play

We're on holidays at my parents' place in Wexford, and the kids have gone back to nature. Mike abandoned clothes early in the week, and where Mike goes, Conor follows. He threw off the nappy and toddled into the wilderness after his big brother. They spent the first week wandering around in the drizzle like lost members of some scrawny tribe of pygmies.

The best thing about it is that the routine is gone. We eat when we're hungry, we go to sleep when we're tired, or at least we would if there wasn't a two-month-old baby around to dictate what happens and when. You know that thing about a change being as good as a rest? This holiday is pure change. But all conventional cooking has stopped. We're living on chips and pizza and barbecues.

Barbecuing, as far as I'm concerned, is a process of treating meat in order to make it all look the same. Black.

"Is this chicken or steak?"

"Don't be cheeky. Eat your barbecue"

They may break a few teeth on my chicken tenders but at least they won't get food poisoning. If their grandparents cram them with junk, we just let it happen.

My folks have what's called "a bit of a farm" round here, though these days the livestock consists of Woody the Pony and Jeff Buckley the Jack Russell terrier. The kids love Jeff, but Jeff no longer loves the kids, owing to the 'Purple Crayon Incident' last year. Of which more later. Woody is surrounded by an electric fence. The children did not believe me when I explained about electric fences. But they do now. This morning I caught Conor heading towards it, naked, except for a saucepan on his head for protection.


When not attempting to lure Jeff out of hiding, they're climbing trees and running around the fields as God intended. They never do this at home. At home, even if the sun is splitting the stones, you have to take the plug off the TV and prise them off the couch with a crowbar. And even then, they sit sullenly on the swing demanding ice cream because it's too hot. Here, they actually behave like kids. When we tell them to go outside and play, they actually do it, just like the kids on Coronation Street. My wife got a four pack of water pistols in Aldi for €3.99 and they've never got as much use out of anything. I showed them how to make water bombs out of balloons and we didn't see them for the day.

They come home filthy in the evenings, especially if we've been to the beach. They've invariably got about half a ton of sand pasted to them with suncream. But because Conor slipped in the bath the first day, he won't go back in it. So we put him in the kitchen sink, which he's more than happy with. Only we tend to forget he's in it. Yesterday, I found him sitting in cold water playing with a chicken fillet and a pizza slicer.

So yeah, the purple crayon. There was this big family Christening down here last year. The adults were in one room, eating barbecue-blackened meat and the kids were in another. Some were playing with Jeff and some were drawing and colouring in. At one point there was a yelp from the kids' room and one of them came running in. "Jeff snapped at me!" The dog shuffled in after her. It took a minute to figure out what was different about him. Then the da spotted it. Jeff had a purple crayon sticking out of his backside. That dog is counting the hours 'til we go home again.