04 December 2008
When I was just two years and nine days old, my little sister came into the world. I don't know why my dad thought I needed a present to mark the occasion but I doubt very much that he was aware of the impact the three little books he gave me would have on my life.
They were by the creator of Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne: When We Were Very Young, Now We Are Six, and The House at Pooh Corner. I adored these books - especially the first two - and even now I love to pull them off the bookcase and read them loud and animated like a primary school librarian.
I don't know why I love these poems so much and I don't want to think about it too deeply in case it tarnishes the beautiful innocence of it all. But I do know there's something uplifting and inspiring and beautiful about the way stories like these can shape a child's imagination; and I'd like to think they had a similar influence on mine.
My favourites have changed over the years. When I was really little I loved one called 'Happiness' which was about John and his great big waterproof boots. As I got older I laughed out loud to 'Bad Sir Brian Botany' (an eccentric old soldier whose long-suffering neighbours took their revenge in a duck pond), and wondered at how that precocious little upstart, James James Morrison Morison Weatherby George Dupree, persuaded the King to help him look for his mother in 'Disobedience'.
But this is my all time favourite AA Milne poem. It's called 'The Four Friends' and it's from When We Were Very Young.
Ernest was an elephant, a great big fellow,
Leonard was a lion with a six foot tail,
George was a goat, and his beard was yellow,
And James was a very small snail.
Leonard had a stall, and a great big strong one,
Earnest had a manger, and its walls were thick,
George found a pen, but I think it was the wrong one,
And James sat down on a brick.
Earnest started trumpeting, and cracked his manger,
Leonard started roaring, and shivered his stall,
James gave a huffle of a snail in danger
And nobody heard him at all.
Earnest started trumpeting and raised such a rumpus,
Leonard started roaring and trying to kick,
James went on a journey with the goats new compass
And he reached the end of his brick.
Ernest was an elephant and very well intentioned,
Leonard was a lion with a brave new tail,
George was a goat, as I think I have mentioned,
but James was only a snail.