My son delights in his new gummy boots – those squishy, rubbery shoes which were invented for kids so they can walk on jagged pebble beaches. I know they sell them for adults, but for some reason we never wear them, even though the majority of British and Irish beaches boast Martian topography. They’re one of those things – like bibs, fish fingers and wet wipes – which we leave behind even though they’re better than every alternative we age into. In this case, the alternative is walking in bare feet across sole-destroying terrain.
We are at the seaside in Worthing to see Auntie Dearbhaile and Uncle David. More specifically, we’re here to meet their new baby, who they’ve named Ailbhe as a direct response to my policy of not explaining Irish name pronunciations.
More than a year of home working has made us wonder what the point of living in the capital is
My son is very sweet with Ailbhe, who he dotes on when we’re watching and firmly ignores the second we’re not. Like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park, methodically checking the electric fences, he strokes and kisses her squirming head, all the while making sure we’re cooing over him for being such a good big cousin.
His own big cousin, Daniel, is another story entirely. Aged four, he is an object of fascination and envy. He has an entire year’s worth more toys, and an entire room in which to play with them. My sister’s new home is large and spacious, and my son enters every room like an Elizabethan explorer. Like them, he ignores the signs of a native population and instead installs himself as regent over its inhabitants – in this case, more Lego than he has ever seen.
We’ve been to Worthing a few times as my sister Mairead has lived there for years with her family. She and her husband, Alex, arrive back to Dearbhaile’s house for the afternoon and we lounge in their garden, which is comfortably twice the size of our rented flat. Not for the first time, we daydream about leaving London and escaping to new and pleasant environs. In practice, this means saying it would be nice and idly scrolling through property listings that show four-bed houses going for the same price as the spice-rack-size places we’ve chanced upon closer to home.
We sit with drinks while the kids frolic in a paddling pool. It’s a scene of near parodic comfort and pleasantness. We love London, but more than a year of home working has made us wonder what the point of living in the capital is, if we don’t really have to live anywhere. Moreover, how much easier would it be to work remotely if it didn’t force us to silo ourselves in two of the three rooms in our flat that can sustain an office chair?
While contemplating all this splendour I misjudge my step and my foot recoils in searing pain as a misplaced shard of lego embeds itself in my foot. Perhaps all this space for new things comes at a cost. Where’s a good-sized pair of gummy boots when you need them?