I don't understand small children. I'd love to, and I've tried to, but there are questions I'll never know the answer to, like why they don't do anything about the massive bogey sliding down their upper lip. I've spent the last couple of weeks on holiday in the company of two delightful kids, but our common ground is minimal and we regard each other with courteous suspicion, like foreign ministers attending trilateral talks on arms reduction.
Yesterday, they constructed an assault course for their toys that consisted of a skipping rope, several shoes, three towels, a tennis ball and a packet of biscuits. They asked me to come and play. I hesitated. My inner voice told me that this game made little sense on a number of levels, that the narrative was poor, the aims distinctly fuzzy and it would be better if we cleared it all away and played baccarat instead. That inability to suspend my cynicism upsets me bit, and I've developed a coping mechanism of making a comically stern face and leaving the room whenever I don't know what to say back to them. I leave the room quite a lot.
I had a similar problem a few years ago when I found myself having to write the children's page for St John's Ambulance magazine under the nom de plume of Bertie the Badger. I agonised over it for ages; I'd start writing and immediately want to say something about badger culls or make a topical observation about rural affairs. I just seem to have a fundamental inability to communicate with anyone under the age of 10. If I talk to them in a normal voice, they pay me very little attention; if l adopt cheery, sing-song speech patterns, they respond more positively, but in my head I just sound sarcastic. After all, if I used the same voice to say, "Ooh, that's a nice drawing!" to an adult, they'd probably ask security to eject me from the gallery.
God knows how I'd cope if I had kids of my own. I predict that my lack of imagination, my inability to construct fantastical yarns or make improbable leaps of faith would result in bedtime stories detailing the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, followed by sleepless nights as I repeatedly reassure my offspring that it's OK, Mr Milosevic is dead now.