Yesterday a small boy in the vegetable section of the health food shop was having a tantrum. His mother was young, sweet-faced and doing her best, struggling to get him into the back part of the double buggy, the front being occupied by baby sibling. I held the door open for her, made sympathetic noises. The boy was holding half a peeled banana, waving it in the air. He is upset, said the mother, because the banana is in two pieces. Broken, screamed the boy, you broke it! I said something like oh dear and then he kicked me - not hard, but the mother was mortified. You shouldn't kick the lady, she said. He rushed at me and kicked again. It's ok, I said, I know what it's like. Meaning not just the situation of trying to manage with two little children, a double buggy in a shop, tantrums and such, but also the broken banana and how hard it might be to explain why that mattered. His vision, I am guessing, was to have eaten it all of a piece with one half peeled, holding the other half in his fist as he ate. I used to give them to my children as snacks and sing (an old TV advert) "when you feel like having a snack - unzip a banana!" A small flourish as I handed the half unzipped fruit over for eating. Or I would cut it up into pieces with orange, apple and grapes, set the plate on the living room floor and call it a fruit pic-nic. I think I was lucky in that my kids were really quite easy to please, not particularly faddy or fussy about food. But sometimes one didn't get it right. My daughter coveted the packed lunches she saw her friends bring to school and my worthy wholemeal sandwiches with lettuce and tomato falling out were not the thing. She wrote me a note saying, plese can i hav a packlunsh wit wite bred a bisgit and a jingk in a bottel. You have to try and get what you want in life.
There isn't any way, said the mother of the small boy, that I can put the banana together again. If she could have she undoubtedly would.
I've been looking at the story of Goldilocks for the purposes of a poem I have been trying to develop. An earlier version of the story had an ugly, dirty, foul-mouthed old vagrant woman as the intruder, rather than a golden-haired little girl. Who knew? Not Bruno Bettelheim, who didn't like the Goldilocks story, believing it to be an escapist one that thwarts the child reading it from gaining emotional maturity. The story of the girl trying one bowl of porridge/chair/bed after another until she gets the one that is "just right" has a certain something satisfying about it. There is a small thrill to be had from the idea of the ugly crone doing the same thing, but on the other hand one has to face the fact that what is sauce for the chick is not necessarily sauce for the older bird.
So you won't find me going around wild-eyed and shrieking, brandishing the naked half of a broken banana - though sometimes, quite honestly, I might feel tempted to do just that.