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With Thanks to Baden-Powell15 April 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
I stayed in London last week and came across a lot of Berties: boys with ambitious mothers. The Berties in London all have scooters, and are mainly busy trying to escape.
I paid attention to these boys because I was reading The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith. The central character is Bertie, who is six years old and lives with his father Stuart, mother Irene and baby brother Ulysses in Edinburgh.
Irene wants Bertie to play the saxophone, go to Italian classes and, because she thinks something is wrong with him, visit a psychiatrist. Actually there is nothing the matter with Bertie: he’s just an ordinary boy, although very bright. You really feel for him.
Luckily he is also a cub scout and would love to have a pocketknife, but doesn’t think his mother or the government would allow it. Every time his mother does something silly and he doesn’t know how to react, he wonders how ‘Mr’ Baden-Powell would handle the situation.
The advantage of being six (nearly seven) is that you can still say just about anything. I remember a story about my cousin. It was the 1950s and she was travelling by bus with her aunt. The woman taking the seat opposite them had her hair in rollers covered by a scarf; in those days you could still spot women in rollers on public transport. My cousin asked my aunt: ‘Is she a real witch?’
Or take last week when travelling by Eurostar. A little boy asked his father in a loud voice: ‘Is that a bomb, Daddy?’ Before you know it, you and the entire family have been arrested – fortunately they were just playing a computer game.
I can’t wait for Harper Seven, the Beckhams’ baby, to start talking. Bertie is lucky that he’s just called Bertie. Harper Seven sounds like something out of Star Trek: it gives you the feeling that, at any moment, Captain Jean-Luc Picard will appear through the sliding doors in a too-tight pink suit. ‘Harper doesn’t do pink,’ according to Victoria.
She hasn’t had her first birthday and she’s already a fashion model. There is a chance that when Harper Seven is grown up she will only wear pink tracksuits, to overcompensate.
I have some experience with the issue of overcompensating, as I grew up among girls. Apart from the fact that my eldest sister was responsible for my reading at an early age, this also meant that I learned embroidery and knitting. Luckily, as a six-year-old I had the presence of mind to avoid being sent to ballet lessons.
I was afraid of everything, especially water. I was quite intimidated by a garden hose or inflatable paddling pool. Fortunately, as a thirteen-year-old I was rescued by Mr Baden-Powell and joined the sea scouts. I thought: if you’re afraid of water you’d better get to grips with it. At the sea scouts we happily did all sorts of Totally Irresponsible Things.
You can take it too far, because I ended up as an army officer. I had already understood from Mr Baden-Powell that there was little need of embroidery in such an environment: ‘Come boys, we’ll close the borders with embroidery!’ Let alone the writing of poetry, yet that’s what I wanted to become during my time in the army: a poet.
In the end I did become a poet, and with hindsight Mr Baden-Powell turned out to be responsible for a rather long delay. So I hope that this Bertie won’t be overcompensating when he’s a grown-up.
I think you should keep on looking at things like a six-year-old (nearly seven): in amazement at everything around you. The sister who taught me to read at an early age is now my publisher. What would Mr Baden-Powell have to say about that?
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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