In the playcentre, a little boy attaches himself to Barney and I as we romp on the adventure frame.
For non-parents, an adventure frame is a huge indoor climbing frame like the ones you will probably remember from your own childhoods. But instead of being made of cold steel and being situated in a rain-sodden public park, modern adventure frames are coated in padded plastic, and housed in former manufacturing units on industrial estates. There's one in every large town.
We're in there, romping. Barney's a bit sleepy actually, but still enjoying himself, and this other little bou just appears from nowhere and says hello. I say hello back, then return my attention to Barney.
But the newcomer won't leave us. He follows us around, climbing where we climb, sliding where we slide, looking up at me expectantly whenever Barney does.
This presents a dilemma. Do I pick up this lost little soul and give him the same (physical) help that I'm giving Barney as we clamber our way through this kid-friendly 3D maze? Or do I ignore him, terrified that touching him in any way could be interpreted very wrongly by any nearby adult, and fearing the consequences?
I fence-straddle. I talk to the boy. "Where's your mummy or daddy then?" I ask. He stares at me, blank. Then, during a two-second moment while I'm concentrating on my own child, the boy vanishes and I no longer have to worry. We don't see him again. It depresses me that I find myself worrying about things like this.
Barney's nonplussed. He's looking forward to his mushroom omelette, which he will wipe liberally into his hair while he drinks milk through a straw, giggling; because straws are funny.
(16th January 2004)