Toby(two weeks late) is officially five weeks younger than Tricky(three weeks early). His parents are very good friends with C and I, and indeed Toby’s dad P and I go way back to the traveling theatre company years.
Oh how I smile as I think of the jolly times we had in the funny old yellow van with the uncomfortable back seat. The miles we drove. The tiny towns we visited. The small Australian mammals we inadvertently ran over.
And the children. The dear sweet innocent uptilted faces, with wonder in their eyes and phlegm in their throats. How we sang and danced and clowned for them. How we laughed at their funny questions and dodged their disgusting spit balls.
Just recently, I was proudly describing Tricky’s rolling skills (“he goes this way and that”) when Toby’s mother interrupted to casually mention that Toby was chewing his toes.
Don’t you mean ‘playing with them’? I enquired. Because Tricky does that all the time, when he’s not rolling…
No no, chewing, she said, with slightly more emphasis than necessary.
Later, talking to P, I heard more about the toe-chewing phenomenon. P affirmed that Toby was addicted to the taste of his own little piggies. He reaches down, pops them in his mouth and then goes to town. Loves them. Adores them. Chews them hour after hour.
Oh, I said. How… cute.
Toes. Chewing? It sounded a quirky little habit but I knew what it meant.
Toby is agile. Toby is able to find small pink wriggly things. Toby is frugal – toes cost nothing. Toby is selective – his toes, no one else’s. Toby enjoys convenience – toes are always to be had. Toby likes variety – fingers and toes, that made twenty different digital flavours. Unlike say, Tricky, Toby’s toes would always be clean and fresh and faintly moist, his sock fluff constantly hoovered away and helpfully swallowed.
Was Tricky chewing his toes yet?
No, I said. But have I mentioned the rolling?
Later, as I was feeding Tricky I couldn’t help staring at his feet. Before I knew it I was gently bending his ankles towards his face, not to shove them in his mouth, just to let him know they were there if he felt he wanted a little something after lunch.
He was faintly interested but not really. That’s fine, I told him. No pressure. We’ll concentrate on that rolling business. Have you considered cartwheels?
With P being a boy and myself being a girl(oddly enough) one might think we never had to compete for roles in the many plays we performed together. One would be wrong, particularly when one considers the great range of sexless characters that are up for grabs in the theatre for young audiences market. Also, one might think that writing and acting for school kids is a doddle of a job and those employed to do so would enjoy endless jolly laughs and hilarious theatrical japes. Again, so so wrong. But the great thing about being human is that we have the capacity to forgive. Also, the capacity to get drunk together and blame it all on the director.
P and I have stayed great friends all these years later and I’m hopeful that our sons will be great friends too. And along with telling Tricky to be kind to actors, I will also explain that competition between friends is fine. The truth is, a little competition never did P and I any harm at all.
Frankly, it kept us on our toes.