Health And Safety

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

9th October 2015
'Are you sure you'll be all right, Grandpa?' Her hand rests on the top of her son's head, reluctatnt to let go.

'Brought up six bairns of my own. Course I will. Don't worry, go and have fun.' I try to sound sure. No point in her worrying. No point letting on it things have been hard work since Flora died. I'm happy she's thought of me, actually. And we'll be fine. I've got plans for the day.

'As long as you're sure...'

'Clare, love. Go and do what you have to do.' I wave her out of the house but she's clinging onto Sonny, stroking his hair, telling him to be a good boy, telling him to do as he's told, not to go out of my sight, to eat what I tell him, to wash his hands... Poor kid looks sick trying to take it all in.

'You'll be late,' I tell her.

'Okay.' She takes a deep breath. 'I'll be off, then.' One final squeeze so hard the boy looks crushed and she's gone.

I wave til the car's out of sight then turn to the little boy on my left. he's got tears in his eyes and he's trying not to let them run down his face. 'Right Sonny. What do you want to do first? You know I live on a farm? Well, we've got chickens to feed and hay to collect and horses to water.' He looks at me, big eyes all solemn. He looks terrified, to tell the truth. Clare must be pretty desperate to leave him with me. said she'd not childcare, said she was needed at work. Asked me if I'd mind terribly.... I don;t mind at all. I love bairns. Love that she trusts me.

He's a solemn little boy all over. So serious. I wonder if Clare's ever let him off the leash? At six, I was off exploring all over the village, on my own. I know 'things are different now', according to all these modern mums, but are they really? There are more cars about, maybe, but people are still people. And kids seem sick all the time, with these new fangled diseases and allergies. There was one or two kids had asthma when I was a ween, and we had big diseases, but most kids got them, fought them off, and carrried on living. Flora used to disagree, said we had to respect Clare's wishes. She humoured Clare and didn't let Sonny out of her sight and made him wash his hands every two minutes. Can't promise I'll do the same. But I'm 86, and I'm healthy as a horse, and I didn't always wash my hands. So who's right?

I think I might give Sonny some fun, for a change. He's pale. Doesn't get out enough, I reckon. I take his hand.

'Chickens!' I say. I can't run, but I can walk fast and I head off to the coup. It's not really a farm, but to Sonny it is. It's a small holding that Flora and I bought when I retired. I'll be here til they stick me in the ground.

Sonny's dragging a bit. 'Last time they pecked me,' he said. 'I don't want to.'

'Well, see, they do peck. They got beaks. But they don't peck hard, and they only peck cause they love food and get hungry.'

But he just looks at me, shaking his head. he digs in his heels, and stops outside the coup. No point making it hard.

'Okay. I'll do the chickens, then.' I feed them, open the hatch and take out the eggs. I hand them over the wire to Sonny who looks horrified and backs away.

'They're dirty!' he says. 'All pooey and yukky.' And he hides his hands behind his back.

I carry the eggs back to the house.

'I better wash my hands,' says Sonny. And he does. I wipe mine on my trousers whilst I'm waiting.

'Horses, next,' I say brightly. They were Flora's, rescue ponies really, but I've grown to love them.

We walk to the field. Even though the lad's in wellies he avoids all the mud. I spludge right through it. I fill the ponies' water, and their feed buckets. Sonny watches, all the while. he's just not interested.

'Can I go and watch TV?' he says, when I'm done.

'It's broken,' I tell him.

'I've got Mum's tablet, can I do they instead?'

I'm all confused. 'Why have you got Mum's tablets?' And then I remember, what these pad tablet things are. He's looking at me as if he's terrified, again.

'No. We've got work to do. We've got to muck out the pigs.' Sonny pulls a face but follows me as I go to the pig pen. Old Bell's in there, can't bear to part with her though she's too old to make any more piglets. Shame. Show me a kid who doesn't like piglets. I go in and pick up poo, knowing better than to ask the lad. He watches me, undisguised horror on his face.

When I'm done I'm temporarily out of ideas. 'Can I have a snack?' says Sonny.

'Good idea. Let's grab some apples from the tree and a bit of cheese. We can have a picnic!' He brightens at this idea, and I smile. Phew. Something the kid likes.

'I've got a snakc in my bag.' He runs off ahead of me to the house and comes back with a Superman lunch bag. Inside are some brightly coloured packets. I lead him over to the tree and hoist him up to pick some apples, because he rufuses to climb. They're beauties, red and green and perfect. But Sonn'y already into his bag. he opens something green and pulls out a string. 'I should wash my hands,' he says but I shake my head.

'This is apple, too. Fruit,' he says and he shakes his head when I offer an apple. He chews his way down the string. I read the packet. 'Apple Strings! Real Fruit!' It says. I shake my head. There is no hope for the future. Glad I lived when I did.

'Sonny, THIS is real fruit. This is an apple. From a tree.' I crunch into one and we sit, eating our respective real fruit.

'Can I watch TV now?' says Sonny, scrunching up his packet.

'No!' I say, too forcefully, becasue he scrunches up his face the same way and starts to cry. 'Mum said she was worried about leaving you with me. You're scary,' he sobs.

'Sonny, I'm not scary. But it's a nice day and I think we should do something outside,' I tell him. Suddenly I get a brainwave. The van! I used to love riding in the back of vans when I was younger. 'I've got to check the new baby cows,' I tell him. Would you like to come?'

He looks at me, wary, but smiles. 'Okay,' he says.

'You can sit in the back, in the open bit if you want,' I tell him but he looks scared again so I hold up my hands. 'Doesn't matter. Ride with me up front.'

We get in the van. 'No car seat?' he says. I look blank and he shakes his head. He sits and tries to find the seatbelt. 'It's broken,' I tell him. Can't remember when we last had seatbelts working in here. It's the farm van, so no problem.

He's not happy about this but we set off over the fields and as we bump and rumble about he laughs out loud. It's a delight to hear. I go a little faster, and he squeals even more. 'This is fun!' he yells.

We get to the cow field. I jump out and open the gate. We drive voer to the corner, where the cows and standing in mud with their young. They run off when we approach and I see that they're all fine. 'All good.' I say. 'How many calfs can you count?'

Sonn'y looking charmed by them. 'Six!' he cries. ' Like me!' he's got colour in his cheeks. He's a bonny kid, when his face is open and happy.

I take his hand and we stride over the field to check the water pipes. 'All okay,' I say and he copies me: 'All okay.' We're in mud, and he hasn't noticed. I smile to myself.

I climb back in the van and tap my knee, in front of the wheel. He looks at me, big eyed. 'Can I?' he asks. I nod. 'Yopu're driving,' I smile.

I let him steer the whole way back and he loves it. I tell him when I was his age, I drove the old tractor. Wish we still had it.

When we get back he's glowing and making broom broom noises. he leaps off my lap when I open the door and lands in a puddle. He giggles.

'That was awesome!' he says. 'What are we doing now?'

Two hours later I'm exhausted. We've cleaned the barn; made a wooden boat (I let him use a hammer, which he'd never done); sailed the boat in the pond; collected more eggs; walked around the orchard; he's climbed his first tree; fished with a net for newts; helped me brush Flora's favourite pony.

We have our lunch and I notice with deep satisfaction he doesn't ask if he can wash his hands. He eats his sandwich, with healthy dirt and everything. It gives me a feeling of triumph. Kids can still be kids. Thank the lord for that. I'm needing my snooze but there's no stopping him now. He's pulling me back outside, desperate to feed the chicken again. This time he lets them peck his hands. I'm astonished, and overjoyed at the change in him. I can hear Flora in my head, tutting a little, but she's smiling, too.

We go tramping across the fields again in search of bugs and brambles which he eats off the bushes, staining himself purple in the process.

I suddenly see the time. Clare will be here any minute. I look at the lad. He looks normal enough to me, a little grubby perhaps, but just like a kid should.

'We'll have to head back to the house,' I tell him. Hew frowns but then says, 'Mummy's coming?' I nod, waiting for him to remember how much he didn't want to be here. But he says nothing.

We tramp back to the house and her car's there waiting, when we get back. She looks at us in absolute horror. I smile and wave. 'Had a great day!' I tell her. I try to see Sonny through her eyes. he's muddy as a piglet, purple form the brambles, his nails are black, his hands are filthy. but he's got colour in his cheeks, a smile on his face and I bet he's had more good germs than any amount of vaccines these kids get stabbed with these days.

'Mum! When can I come again?' He's pulling at her hand.

She grins at him, and ruffles his head. Perhaps she's remembering a time she once looked like this. Had this smile. before she moved to the city, and forgot all about real life. 'Anytime,' she says.

'Thanks, Grandpa. He looks... he looks like he's had a ball. I'm sorry I doubted you. I'm just.... maybe I'm a bit neurotic at times.' She laughs at herself. We'll come again soon. Thank you.'

'You're welcome,' I tell her. As she opens the door I hear him talking at ninety miles an hour, telling her all about his day.

I watch them go and wave til they're out of sight. It's been a good day. Feel I've taught the lad something.

As for me, I'm ready for a sit down, my legs aren't as young as they used to be. Maybe I'll watch a bit of TV.