Flotsam and jetsam

Gold coins the size of a wasp’s bum. Daggers the length of a match. Boulders the diameter of a pea. A shoe that would fit on a two pence piece. A mobile phone smaller than the nail of my little finger.

Our house is awash with the flotsam and jetsam of E’s toys. Tiny pieces of shit, satellite elements come adrift from the mother ship (or the mother pirate ship, in a lot of cases), inveigling their way out of the playroom by seemingly cunning subterfuge – in pockets, wedged in the tread of a trainer, clasped in small, sweaty palms – to ensure there is nowhere I can turn in the entire house without spotting a tiny component of something in my peripheral vision. Just this week I have found a sleeve cuff from a Play Mobil pirate in the kitchen drawer,  Bob the Builder in a pair of wellies which are patiently waiting on the landing to be transported up to the loft, and the lid of an orange pen under a sofa cushion belonging to a felt tip pen that may or may not have dried out yet.

It drives me bonkers. I walk across the kitchen to put the kettle on and a small cube of Lego skitters under the cooker. I pull back the duvet to get into bed and find a boat propeller lying there. I try to keep toys and all their associated parts in their rightful place, but it is a Herculean task not dissimilar to herding blue bottles with a pencil. E is insistent one evening that he has to take one of his cars upstairs at bath time, and given that any one of a number of quite innocent requests such as ‘Please clean your teeth’ or ‘Please don’t drink the bath water’ can provoke a meltdown of quite epic proportions, I relent to protect the gossamer-thin membrane of peace that is draped over our household. Said toy car then spends three weeks perched on the bookshelf upstairs annoying the shit out of me every time I walk past it as I think ‘I really must take that downstairs’ and then do nothing about it.

Of course, there is a simple solution to this problem. At least, it appears simple on the surface: just fucking tidy up. But tidying up takes two key factors to ensure success: time and effort. I have no time to tidy up properly. True, if I am standing at the kettle waiting for it to boil so I can warm B’s bottle, and I spot an abandoned bit of toy, I might pick it up. Then the kettle boils, I put the item down somewhere to hand and the tidying is abandoned. Hence the reason why I had a small car wheel in my skirt pocket for two days, only discovered as I pulled the garment from the washing machine.

And I seem to be suffering from Tidy Fatigue. It renders me almost incapable of picking up any pieces of toy, discarded outer clothing or pirate swords, mainly due to the fact that I know damn well it is only a matter of days – shit, sometimes even hours, before they, or items very much like them, break free of the play room confines to infect the rest of the house again. And like the most invidious of viruses, you can devise a strategy to beat it (‘Right, this bowl on the sideboard is for all those bits of crap I keep finding everywhere’) but in a heartbeat, it has evolved and thwarted you (‘What do you mean, the bowl was full so you left it on the floor?’). It is a plague that shows no sign of abating, coming in unstoppable waves of brightly coloured plastic. There should be a man on a horse-drawn cart making his rounds in our town every night, ringing a solemn hand bell, crying: ‘Bring out your crap. Bring out your crap.” I would gladly sweep the whole bloody lot into the bin.

And the most annoying thing in this whole, messy, if-I-step-on-one-more-fucking-policeman’s-helmet-I-will-not-be responsible-for-my-actions, nightmare? No matter how small the piece, how obscure it’s shape, I know exactly what it is and where it comes from. This is not something of which I am proud. I am alarmed when I contemplate how much of my brain is being taken up with this ridiculous knowledge. If I rid myself of knowing that the little mustard coloured curvy plastic bit fits onto the side of the pirate ship, or that the tiny red tube with a central collar is a joining piece for the white fire hose, what could I achieve instead? Okay, I know that if freed, the brain space currently involved in nerdishly remembering every single component of every toy would not suffice to accomplish anything spectacular. I am not expecting to be able to solve global warming, or even understand quantum mechanics (I was briefly interested when it involved a dead cat in a box, but it turned out it was alive… perhaps) but it would be nice if I could remember my own age, or not put my own jumper on back to front without noticing.

On a recent and rare tidy up, I see a small, funny shaped blob under the table. Hang on, I think. I recognise that… wait a minute… I am sure I know  what that is… oh yes. I know.  It’s my sanity.


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