Richard Hearn and his animal farm

Animals feature highly in Youngest™’s life. We’ve only been in Hove and Shoreham today but the day’s been teeming with creatures. Let me count the ways. Early morning, and he’s doing the sign to watch Peppa Pig (basically a kind of fist against the nose and a twisting motion). This is to take over from Deadly 60, which The Boy had put on. I haven’t even made my first coffee and he’s already got a decent set of animals under his belt.

“Youngest likes to mix and match geological ages”

To encourage him out of the house quicker for the school run, we promise a possible sighting of animals. A flock of birds flurry around a roundabout and at The Boy’s school, someone is standing at the school gates with a small dog. He points out the dog eagerly, not stopping until we acknowledge that we’ve seen it too.

Later in a shop, he is richly amused by looking at the various animals on the display of bedding. There’s an owl, a sheep and the ubiquitous cat.

At the café, he’s finished and wants to go. Luckily my wife has brought one of his little books. You’ve guessed it, it‘s animal themed. (Let’s pause and consider this particular book – there’s one word and one illustration per page. I’m changing the wording for copyright reasons but it’s something like ‘Dog. Cat. Frog. Rabbit. Duck. Camel. Goat.’ There, that is the length as well. Now, consider this: two people are credited, a writer and illustrator. That means a writer came up with the wording, perhaps emailed it through to a publisher, sat back and thought ’nice to get that piece of work finished’.)

Moving on. After school, I take The Boy and Youngest™ to the supermarket. They are both ‘roaming free’ – two words that can strike fear into a parent – but The Boy is doing a good job of keeping Youngest™ amused. “Let’s see if we can see a picture of a chicken!” he says excitedly in the fresh meat aisle. It seems kind of distasteful somehow, but I’m proud of him for making the effort.

Youngest™ loyally carries two plastic dinosaurs upstairs to accompany him at bath time. (Normally it’s owls but he likes to mix and match geological ages. Tonight he‘s in a retro mood.) Afterwards, Youngest™’s pyjamas feature a sleeping lion on the top half and what looks like a llama on his knee. Plus, randomly, a kite and a mushroom. Am I missing something?

The next day, when I’m trying to work out what to write about for this column, I hit on, well, what you’ve just read. Animals. Where did I have this flash of inspiration? While waiting at a zebra crossing.

Illustration: Paul Lewis

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