Yesterday I saw Alexander, who demonstrated his ability to stay on his feet longer than I can, if you hold his hand. Fortunately I can still walk further and faster, since young Alex thinks you need to put one foot literally in front of the other, and thus doesn't move very fast. His favourite activity seems to be standing up unsupported, smiling then waving his arms around, at which point he falls back down again. He also loves playing Hide and Seek, especially in our overgrown garden where it is possible for me to conceal most of myself in the grass.
I gave him two books. His favourite was That’s not my Robot, an epic tale of mistaken identity. The book has tactile bits for Alex to touch, so for example on one page it reads "That's not my robot! His ears are too prickly." and it has a picture of a robot with ears made out of velcro. Alex loved this book and wanted to read it all over again three times. The other book he wasn't so keen on because it had more words and less texture.
This was King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, which is a fairytale. The queen wants her son, the prince, to get married. All manner of princesses from all over the place come to visit him, but he isn't all that keen on any of them. Then one of them brings along her brother, they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after.
I had talked to Rosie about it, but then R had mentioned it to Mum & Dad and they did not approve. It might give the baby funny ideas. It might give him the impression that it is normal for a prince to fall in love with and marry another prince. The child might then be baffled as to why Richard the Lionheart was married to Princess Berengaria instead of her brother Sancho, why Edward II didn’t marry Piers Gaveston or why James I didn’t marry any of the various Dukes and Earls he took as lovers. Of course, the fear actually articulated was that Alexander might grow up with the impression that being gay is normal, which would be a disaster. If a child grows up without any idea who the freaks are, how should he know who to fear, who to point and laugh at and whose alienation he can take comfort in?
If only I'd thought about such things before! Yet having bought it, I decided to give it to him anyway, along with a lecture about how, whatever he might read, being gay isn't normal, being a prince isn't normal, and being both is likely to make you unpopular - unless you can get a decent crusade to your name. Alexander listened with a stern expression on his face, before suddenly laughing, lurching forward and inexplicably biting my nose. I only hope he understood.
I resisted telling him about the only real gay prince I know of, the heroic Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla in Gujarat, who took the remarkable step of coming out and declaring himself to be a gay activist in a country where homosexuality remains illegal. His family disowned him as a result, although last I read they were making up, despite tremendous pressure on the Royal Family and the prince was hoping to adopt a child. But not only this, he also helped found and works for the Lakshya Trust, a charity dedicated to tackling the somewhat taboo issue of the spread of HIV/AIDS among men having sex with other men in India, most of whom are married to women. Manvendra could have had a pretty cushy life had he kept quiet; his choices will have a tremendous impact on the social future of his country and undoubtedly save lives. A noble prince indeed.
Rosie will keep the offending text in the car and smuggle it away without our parents noticing. A rather cowardly strategy, but it is Father's Day tomorrow and the Christening next weekend; to get to which, we are relying on my folks for a lift. There's a time for courage and nobility and a time for engineering a covert operation in order to avoid family conflict over a children's book.
Thus at the tender age of nine months, in the year 2007, Alexander receives his first dangerous book. I had envisaged my role in his initiation into the world of dangerous books when he was thirteen or fourteen and I'd slip a copy of The Catcher in the Rye between the folds of his Christmas sweater. This is earlier than expected.