‘There’s a girl I know has a horn on her head.’
I’m used to the weird statements from my children at this stage. The school and the crèche provide fertile breeding grounds for Chinese whispers, half-truths and just plain nonsense. They believe anything and they’ll repeat the tall stories they hear from their peers. It’s mostly very amusing. I told my eldest boy that I used to go to school with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Unfortunately I think he believed me and proceeded to tell all his classmates. After he came home from school one day, disappointed and confused, I had to explain that I’d actually said ‘Christy O’Donnello’ and he must have mistakenly thought I’d said the name of the Portuguese footballer. (However, he was completely amazed to discover that I’m older than Ronaldo, which I find comforting in a strange way.)
When I heard the youngest boy pipe up in the back of the car earlier this week, claiming that he knew a girl with a horn on her head, I decided to call his bluff. ‘What did you say?’ I asked him. ‘There’s a girl I know has a horn on her head,’ he told me. ‘That’s not true; girls don’t grow horns,’ I informed him. ‘No,’ he shouted, ‘I said: does a girl rhino have a horn on her head?’
My hearing isn’t what it used to be. This is the other side of the coin. As well as daft statements and stories, they also ask odd questions. I know the whole ‘kids-say-the-funniest-things’ theme is a well-trodden path, but I’m under increasing pressure to answer these types of questions. Do female rhinos have horns? I don’t know. The problem is my children, being the inquisitive little creatures that they are, really want to know the answers to the questions. They can strike at any moment: just as they’re supposed to be falling asleep or on the school run, but always when you’re in a hurry or not in a position to Google the answer.
Of course I should simply make up any old nonsense, for the laugh, and peddle those classic parental fibs, such as ‘if the ice cream van plays music it means he’s sold out of ice cream’. But for some reason I always feel under pressure to provide the correct answer. I regard it as a fatherly responsibility: I can’t have my child going through life not knowing if the female of the rhino species has a horn or not. What if they somehow find themselves on University Challenge in ten years time and Paxman is haranguing them for the answer to that very question?
While driving to the supermarket last weekend, with my head full of the usual concerns (will my debit card be declined and will we be escorted from the premises?) the eldest boy asked: ‘Can a horse eat more apples than a pig?’
This is a difficult question to answer, but instead of just saying yes I began to explain that it depends on the size of the animal in question and the environmental conditions. A free range pig, in agricultural food production, would probably have quite a large appetite for apples and may, unlike its intensively-farmed counterpart, enjoy the privilege of being fed fruit. On the other hand, a horse probably has a more robust metabolism and can physically digest more, but if it’s part of the bloodstock industry you’d assume an apple would only be an occasional treat.
Thankfully they got distracted by a loose trolley in the supermarket car park before I could provide a satisfactory explanation.
Other random questions have included: how do we know who the first human was? When God and baby Jesus were born did they kill all the dinosaurs? What are shadows for? Do we have enough money to buy a grandfather clock? When do we get back all the stuff we gave up for Lent? How does snot get into your nose in the first place? If you cover a biscuit in toothpaste and eat it before bedtime do you still have to brush your teeth?
I promise you these are all very real and genuine questions I’ve been asked, and I have no idea how to answer them. The obvious thing to do would be to set up a Twitter account, or blog even, of my kids’ questions, get a publishing deal, make a fortune and retire. But I’m too busy trying to work out an informed response to each query.
So, can a horse eat more apples than a pig? Answers on a postcard please.