I can still remember the first of thousands of jokes I didn’t ‘get.’ I was a kid and my Dad read one to me that went, “A woman was shot last evening and rushed to hospital. A spokesman has said that they haven’t removed the bullet from her yet. A reporter asked the spokesman, ‘where’s a woman’s ‘yet?’” I was compelled to ask my Dad the same question. He just shook his head. Some years on in my late teens I found myself at a gathering of pals and acquaintances in a pub. One of the girls told her joke, “Two nuns in a bath. One says, ‘where’s the soap?’ The other replied, ‘yes doesn’t it.’” Whilst I laughed along at the time I had no idea what the joke was about in part or at all. Two decades later whilst driving along the M25 I got the joke. You see I tend to take things literally – always have.
I have previously through posts dealt with the same ‘literal’ tendency of my youngest son. In terms of taking words thrown at him literally he is not unlike me, just more extreme.
My two other sons – those from my first marriage – were a bit like it on the literal front as well, but seem to have, thankfully, grown out of it. My lovely daughter has never been blighted thus, so it must be a male thing – inability to multi-task and all that gubbins. Generally kids, when learning language do, initially, take things literally. That much is understandable. In my case it never really went away.
I am reminded of my eldest son. When he was little, about four or five years old I guess, I can remember a couple of brilliant ‘literal’ observations he made. My then wife had duly charged me with the task of dumping some garden waste at the local council tip. My son came with me. Arriving at this festival of rusty bedsprings, rotting vegetation and ‘stuff’ he noticed a rather tatty mongrel dog sitting, in either contemplation or satisfaction (I could not tell which) aside this enormous pile. He studied the dog quizzically, as only a small child can, whilst I disposed of the contents of my car boot. When I got back into the vehicle ready to drive off he asked me why someone had, ‘thrown their dog away’!
Another time I was driving my young chap toward a destination that took us past a public house. It was a Sunday morning, and outside the pub there was a bloke selling seafood from his crab and lobster liveried trailer. My lad asked what the man was doing. For the sake of brevity, I answered, ‘Oh that’s the winkle man – he’s selling winkles.’ Whilst my reference to ‘winkles’ was somewhat all embracing in terms of what was, no doubt, a variety of fruits of the sea (assuming crab sticks count as such fruits), the only ‘winkle’ my boy knew was a penis. The poor kid was horrified that this bloke was selling ‘knobs’ and that he had a queue of customers ready to pepper and vinegar them before tucking in! Of course, it was all very ‘logical’ to him. Like father, like son. Personally, and as an aside, I’ve always thought that whelks look like gigantic bogies, yet my father would dine out regularly on them!
And now to my middle son. Then and now he is not best known for his tact. As a small boy I once found myself with him in a branch of WH Smiths where he was choosing some comic or other. It was there, whilst waiting in a state of abject boredom I first noticed a male humanoid who had, for all intents and purposes, an added bonus in the region of his head. On closer inspection I was able to see that whilst it looked like he bore two heads that that was not in fact the case at all. Whilst the primary bonce was, containing the usual proliferation of features as it did, as regular as yours or mine, the secondary one, albeit similar in size merely had indentations where eye sockets might have been and a prominent bulge where a nose should be, hardly Roman though. Although lipless as it was, there was the threat of a mouth too. What set the secondary crown apart from its bona fide partner more than anything was that it exhibited the wispy tresses of asylum dwellers circa ‘De Sade’, whereas the other sported a full mop Brylcreamed to the gunnels. The cranium pairing shared just a single neck. My presumption was that the poor chap had been cursed (whether from birth or not I could not say) with a growth of some magnitude. The thought struck me that any children, at least those not entirely overwhelmed at first sight, might have great fun drawing this fellow – perhaps I should be buying Leo crayons and a sketchbook as opposed to his comic?
Matey boy with the noodle ‘times one’ seemed a nice enough chap. Premier face even smiled my way when he must have felt my inadvertent lengthy gaze of intrusion, or, perhaps, it was something he had just got used to? A defence mechanism maybe? I flustered a helpless, useless grin back in his direction. I guessed he must have got used to quizzical trespass such as mine, although gawping at him, stood there, all tall and smart in his pin stripe suit and floral silk tie, scanning, as he was, the pin up on ‘Page Three’ of The Sun newspaper he seemed less bothered about his appearance than I. Perhaps he remained ever hopeful of a triple breasted page three girl or such like appearing therein sooner rather than later. What unusual creature the union of such a pairing would bring forth I could only guess at.
And so to my boy, little chap, pre-pubescent with his golden curls and determined spirit. What choices lay before him. Comics galore. He glanced up at me, seeking fatherly advice as to which of these rags would best stimulate his childish desires. However, at that very moment and from the corner of his eye he inevitably was struck dumb by the vision of ‘he of parallel craniums’. Little ever scared this child, and even this – to him at least – freak show held no fear. No, his stance, his body language spelt ‘wow, what is that?’ And thus it was, with dread that I held my breath, both alarmed and apprehensive that he might speak aloud regarding that which stood before him. The store was crowded after all. The tang of my mortification hung in the air.
In an instant, Leo gave up on lesser things, and, with his mouth wide open and his gape fixedly as that of sex starved hound focused on a bitch on heat just stared. I could sense a pregnancy of words, growing from a foetus of letters to a fully formed pithy question germinating within him. The thought struck me that I could maybe just drag Leo out of the shop, yet, that would upset the poor child who, after all, had done nought wrong. Predictably enough the inevitable happened. Against a white noise of shoppers shopping and all of a sudden he turned once more to look up into my solicitous face. With a rigid digit pointing at he who was the object of his fascination he posed the unpreventable question, “Why’s that man got two heads Daddy?” I wanted to say, ‘he hasn’t got two heads’ yet logic dictated that, in the eyes of my child, he had. Both heads looked round at me, one of them no doubt wondering exactly how I, the lamentable pater would react. The head with the more identifiable face on it gave me a dubious, yet daring, look. Daring me to comment, daring me to say the wrong thing. I bottled somewhat. Looking studiously at my feet, I made as if to clear my throat then grabbed the boy and, as a peace offering a handful of comics also – many more than he could reasonably have expected – and made my rush for the checkout. Later I tried to explain to him that the nice man did not actually have ‘two heads’, that maybe he had a spot that he forgot to squeeze and it just got bigger and bigger. Although initially impressed by the ‘spot’ concept, he was having none of it though. In his eyes he had seen, undeniably, a bloke with ‘two heads’ and that was absolutely that. At least I escaped further embarrassment.
For another slant on the ‘literal’ I would recommend young Ms Samantha’s take on her lovely little boy’s autism at the link below;