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Chapter 5: culture: Leisure

Holding Hands with a Small Child

You’re helping walk a friend’s family to kindergarten or to the local park for a picnic and your special charge is a little person – aged three or four perhaps – clutching a knitted rabbit or a favourite toy fire engine in one hand and, with the other, you. It might be something that very rarely happens in your life.

We remember from the other side as well; we’re joining up with our own childhood selves – we’re being big, encouraging and sweet to the little person we once were – and in part still are.

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There’s an unfamiliar surge of protectiveness and a revolution in one’s resources of patience. And a new alertness to danger and opportunity: will those three steps be a problem? One becomes supremely careful at the kerb. A poodle being walked nearby might be charming, but for someone the same height as the dog, it contains the potential for terror. You are acutely watchful, ready at any moment to swoop in and scoop up your charge into the perfect safety of your arms.

One had forgotten how charming a child can be: the intense seriousness with which they investigate an acorn. In their company you are reconnected with how extremely interesting a puddle can be and what fascination there can be in a neighbour’s rubbish bins or the wheels of parked cars.

Holding Hands

The pleasure of the child’s company is an antidote to the real (but now so familiar as to be taken for granted) errors and natural flaws of adulthood; it is the pleasure of meeting again some crucial truths – about the splendour and fascination of the world, the truth about love (and one’s dormant capacity for unconditional kindness). You think, perhaps, that one day this child you are so carefully leading will themselves be your age and will do the same and have the same kind of thoughts which, at the moment, are so remote from their consciousness. And for a brief pointed time one is astonished by the utter strangeness of the course of human experience which gradually takes everyone from childhood to death.

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