Having recently watched the original three Star Wars films, my five year old has become preoccupied with what is ‘real’ and what it not. It is interesting that incessant viewings of Octonauts, where a polar bear, a cat and a penguin sail the oceans in search of perilous situations from which to narrowly escape has never provoked so much as a murmur of doubt about the verity of what he is watching, but there’s nowt so strange as a five year old, as I am wont to say. In a West Country accent, for some reason.
“Is Luke Skywalker real?” E asks me one morning as we walk to school.
“Well, the man who is pretending to be Luke Skywalker in the film is real, but Luke Skywalker is just a character in the story.” Already I feel on shaky ground and as usual woefully under-equipped in the brain department to do this question both the justice and the clarity that an enquiring mind deserves.
“Is Darth Vader real?” I am sorely tempted to say that yes, he is real, and that at night he creeps into the bedrooms of boys who have been naughty to chop their hand off with his light sabre, but I resist. Just.
“No,” I reply. “He is not real, but there is a real man in a Darth Vader costume.”
“Is C3PO real?”
Sodding hell, if we are going to run through the entire cast of three Star Wars films I may have to kill one of us. Or at the very least, chew on a light sabre to stave off the impending insanity.
“Nope. Man in a costume.”
We walk in silence for a while.
“So is Chewbacca a man in a costume?”
Bingo. “Yep.” If I squint, I think I can just make out the end of this conversation, sparkling attractively in the distance.
“But how does he make the railing sound?”
The railing sound? What railing sound? Do railings actually make a sound? Do they let out an existential scream of despair at the perpendicular futility of railing existence that only five year olds can hear?
“Oh, not railing. Wailing. A wailing sound,” E replies.
“Well… I think the man inside makes the sound. Or, in films, they can put sounds and music on afterwards. Maybe they did that.” I give myself a solid six out of ten for that answer. I’ve provided him with two options, plus a little bit of information he might not have otherwise known, and a possibility of ending this ever-more taxing discussion as a bonus. Sod it. It’s a seven and a half, at least.
“No, mummy. I think what happened was that they recorded the noise before and he had a microphone thing in his pocket and a button, and when he wants to make the sound, he presses the button.”
This is the thing with my son. I don’t think he asks me questions any more to find out the answers. I think he asks me simply to watch me squirm for a little bit, to see how ridiculously implausible my answer is, before telling me what he considers is the right answer. After all, when he poses me a question most days, it is only a matter of seconds after I have delivered my insightful and intelligent answer (by which of course I mean hastily thought out and ill conceived) that he suggests we check on the iPad.
Either that or it is a question of such ludicrous unanswerableness (yes, his questions have forced me into bastardising the English language just to describe them) that he surely knows I will never provide a satisfactory answer. Such as yesterday’s start for ten: “If I fell down a deep chasm with a hundred and eighty two lunch boxes, how long would I survive?” In retrospect, the correct answer as ‘I don’t know’. But I only realised that after I had enquired as to the purpose of the lunch boxes (to break the fall, or provide sustenance) and the contents thereof to ascertain if they contained water to drink or just chocolate buttons.
I find myself wondering if Chewbacca actually had any pockets, before E is at it again.
“Is the space ship real?” Hmmm. Now this is a little more tricky. How would they have made the Millennium Falcon? Would it have been a model, or computer generated? I guess that depends on when it was made. When was Star Wars made? And I suppose Chewbacca could have put the sound button in his pants if he didn’t have any pockets…
I realise that this all an epic waste of brain power, because a) I have no bloody clue, b) I could tell him that it was made of blancmange and it would be no less accurate than any guess he considers to be true and c) the whole pants thing won’t work, because who wants to see Chewbacca rootling around in his hairy undies just to emit a wail?
“I think it was probably drawn on computer,” I finally say.
“Yes, that was what I was going to say,” E replies. “I knew it was pretend.”
Excellent. So whilst it has felt that we were struggling to hack our way through the knotty concept of reality, it seems we have stumbled out the other side, blinking rapidly in the sudden daylight, with a grasp of what is real and what is not. I am pleased.
We walk a little further. I wonder why they made Chewbacca sound like someone had just stepped on his testicles? Actually, does he have testicles? I bet they’re bloody hairy. Maybe his wail is a recording of a heinous swearword slowed down enough to be indecipherable to all but Chewbacca, who is chuckling inside that costume at the thought that his answer to everything is ‘wanker’. Okay, I probably need to stop thinking about Chewbacca, I am starting to scare myself. I go back to thinking about how my son has grasped the idea of what it real and I smile.
“So how do they get a drawing of a space ship to fly through actual space?
Oh bollocks. This could take some time…