Dot writes: this afternoon I was admiring Hugh’s skill as he coasted along on his pedal-less bike, weaving slightly because the wheel has a wobble but keeping up quite an impressive speed, and I thought: I wish we weren’t so mean. It’s a nice little bike, a brightly-painted wooden one, but if we’d just splashed out a bit more we could have got a ritzy metal bike from Imaginarium that might not have had the wobble. When he had a trike it was a rubbish plastic effort with pedals that kept falling off. His toy diggers are always falling to bits. His footballs constantly deflate. The outer ramp on his toy garage doesn’t fit together properly so we rarely bother to attach it. The car-with-caravan toy I bought him last weekend was broken within a week. A lot of this is to do with the extreme violence he metes out to his possessions, but some of it’s buying things cheaply. It seems pointless to spend much on things that might not be used for long and won’t be treated well, but on the other hand they get more use if they’re in working order, and one doesn’t want little bits hanging about to be speculatively ingested by Frank. We’re not talking kinder-egg toys here, or even bargain-bin toys, but more there’s-a-cheaper-version-of-this-in-Tescos-and-do-you-really-need-the-one-with-the-realistic-sound-effects toys. Without being poor we do have to watch the pennies, and without denying our children toys (goodness knows the house is stuffed with them) we tend to settle for the smaller and cheaper options. And sometimes I think, well, the best play is when you take two sofa cushions and a blanket and build a world from pure imagination. And sometimes I think, wouldn’t it be nice if he had a really good bike? And maybe we could splash out on some better storage options too, and then we might see the floor again.

Another thing I sometimes wish we spent more on is holidays. I feel a bit self-conscious about how little I have travelled. Ken has been around so much (Germany for a year at 17, PhD in the US, family in Canada and South Africa etc etc) that he says he has little wanderlust left. But I would like to see a few more places, struggle with a few more phrase-books, get some more visions into my head. My friends take their families to Italy or France, so how come we never get further than Wales? Children are, probably, a good reason not to try for anything very exotic; while they’re small a beach and a climbing frame is all they really want and anywhere with a ‘don’t touch’ sign is more headache than it’s worth. But there are some jolly nice beaches in, say, Greece, where we could soak up a spot of classical learning with the sunblock. (I have in fact been to Greece and didn’t entirely enjoy myself – it was a school trip.) And it is always the money that finally makes me balk. Where do my friends get it? What are they not eating in order to pay for the two weeks in Tuscany? Do I simply fritter away those pennies on my weakness for chocolate and being regularly cheated by my electronic DART ticket? Or is it that we have the money but the habit of regarding foreign holidays as an unthinkable extravagance is just too deeply engrained?

One thing: I do think it’s worth exploring one’s own country, or one’s adopted country. I’m enormously looking forward to our trip to West Cork in September. Pray to the weather gods on our behalf…


One thought on “Cheap

  1. Helen Conrad-O'Briain

    What could we economize?
    If I stopped buying books I could probably afford a round the world cruise. I don’t know what I would have to give up to afford the clothes for it- probably quilting fabric. But I don’t really like traveling.
    As for toys, the ones I loved the best were my blocks and toy farm animals. I had Lincoln Logs, and alphabet blocks, and quite a few blocks my father made me out of scrounged wood. My maternal grandparents always gave me very expensive Christmas presents, but what I wanted were more animals and more Lincoln Logs. I kept trying to build Hrothgar’s hall and never had quite enough blocks for it …
    All children should have a lot of blocks, drifts of blocks, avalanches of blocks. And adults should not complain about them – even when they kneel on a bit of Lego. Elderly relatives should watch where they are walking and not make difficulties. Bear with children and they will bear with you.
    And blocks are wonderful. They are crayons for three dimensions.

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