Gu*nness is Good For You
I AM teaching my daughter about the nature of irrevocable loss and grief.
At the closing ceremony of Reconvene, Steve called Andrew Adams up to the stage. Andrew is the chairman of 2Kon, next year's Eastercon. Steve presented Andrew with a splendid inflatable toucan balloon. Long beak, legs, everything you'd expect a toucan balloon to be. Except no G*inness. But you can't have everything. Andrew remarked that he expected to be heartily sick of toucans by the end of 2Kon. Based on my Confabulation experiences, I would guess this is just about right.
Andrew wandered around the Adelphi with his toucan for a little while, but after a bit he gave it to Covert Beach to hold. And Covert dropped it. [Note: We are well aware that this is not consistent with the version of events given in Parakeet. This is to make Rob Hansen's careful documentation of fan history more fun.]
The toucan flew up to the ceiling of the Adelphi lounge. And there it stayed, waving slightly in the breeze, its string hanging down a little bit but still an immensely long way out of reach. It wasn't out of place. Conventions with balloons on the ceiling are traditional. Hardly worth remarking on. But if you're two, then this might be the first experience you've had with a balloon on a ceiling. A really high ceiling. And my two-year-old spotted it.
"Balloon on the ceiling Mummy!" Everything Marianne says has an urgent imperative at the end of the sentence. We let them wash over us most of the time (except when it's "Want my potty Mummy!") And you should take them as read in this article. I explained that it was a toucan and that yes, it was on the ceiling because Covert had dropped it.
"Toucan on the ceiling. Get it down Mummy?" I explained that it would be hard to get it down, and besides, it was happy on the ceiling. Marianne seemed to accept this, but spent a lot of time looking at the toucan. It was a lovely toucan. Bootiful plumage. It was still there the following morning, as the last embers of the Eastercon died away. There were only a few fans left now, drinking coffee and trying to summon up the energy to go home. And one leftover helium balloon, thirty foot off the ground. Marianne spotted it. "Mummy, toucan on the ceiling." Yes, dear.
"Mummy get toucan?" Oh, dear.
"I don't think so, Marianne. It's too high for me."
"Daddy get down toucan?" Daddy is taller, and it's great that my daughter is developing reasoning skills. But it's no good this time.
"It's too high for Daddy too. It's really too high for anyone. Eventually, it will run out of helium and fall down. But till then it's stuck." That lower lip began to quiver and her eyes were just a little glassy.
"Toucan... stuck?" Hesitant this time. Yes, Marianne, it's stuck.
"I want the toucan." Yeah, I know. But it's not coming down. Live with it. But Marianne was obsessed now. Nothing but the toucan, thirty foot out of reach, was going to make her happy. She didn't make a scene. She just sat sadly, telling everyone she knew that there was a toucan on the ceiling and asking them to get it down for her.
A little later I was chatting to Steve as the weight of chairing the convention was beginning to lift from his shoulders. The formidable Eileen Downey, general manager of the Adelphi, stopped by. We discussed the con briefly with her, and she pointed out the toucan. Laughing, I explained that it was causing my toddler great hardship, how she couldn't understand that the ornate, unreachable Adelphi ceiling is harder to get balloons down from than all the others.
Something snapped in Eileen's brain.
"We'll get the big pole!" She dashed off with her customary efficiency.
"I was only making conversation..." I started. But it was too late.
"It's like a guided missile, isn't it?" I remarked to Steve. He nodded glumly. This had been the story of the weekend; the way to solve problems with the hotel had been to point the intercontinental ballistic Eileen at them. It was just a shame about the fallout.
Suddenly the sluggish room sprang into life. From every corner, denizens of the Adelphi appeared with a wide range of ceiling snagging equipment. One brought a ladder, another a roll of gaffer tape. A third had the big pole. He climbed the ladder right to the top, and reached up with the pole.
It looked very precarious. But it wasn't very near the ceiling. So they had to try to grab the string. Everyone was watching, and cheering, and taking photos. Marianne stared open-mouthed in wonder, eyes shining. The balloon grabbers tied gaffer tape to the end of the pole to make it sticky and waved it around a lot. Eventually, the highest man caught the string with the pole and pulled down the balloon. He climbed down with the rescued toucan and presented it to Marianne with a flourish. She was dumbstruck "What do you say, Marianne?"
"TOUCAN! Toucan! Man got my toucan down!" I gave her a Paddington Hard Stare.
She was perfectly content. We secured the toucan to a large solid object and Marianne chattered away to it. But by this time it was lunchtime, and we had arranged to head off to a local Japanese caf*. We weren't going to let Marianne carry the balloon outside; far too great a risk. So we tied it to my handbag firmly and set off to the restaurant, with the toucan buffeting in the breeze. We arrived, got our table for six adults, a toddler, and a toucan, and had our lunch. Meanwhile, the wind was getting ever brisker, and it was quite blustery on the way back.
I suppose it was inevitable. A sudden gust caught the toucan, and it came away from its string. Not at the handbag, but at the point where the string joined the balloon. It sailed off, across the road and down the street, over the rooftops and away, far above the Adelphi hotel lounge. After the initial shock, I began to laugh. Until I spotted my little girl.
She was staring at the disappearing toucan, pointing at it and screaming at the top of her voice. This was a full-blown disaster, the destruction of a whole set of two-year-old ideals. And it wasn't even her fault, as we'd taken the balloon away from her. We promised her another balloon and bought her some chocolate. She ate the chocolate in floods of tears. And we snuck away from the Adelphi, desperately hoping that Eileen wouldn't spot us. Arriving home, we thought that would be the end of it.
We were wrong. Marianne didn't want another balloon. She wanted that helium balloon. She wanted her toucan. She kept asking about the toucan, and telling us about the toucan. Whenever she sees a picture of a toucan, or a parrot, or any other large bird, or any balloon, she asks about her toucan. I tell her it's flown away, that it flew over the houses, that it's never coming back.
"Man got my toucan down." Yes, he did, from the ceiling. It was very clever.
"Man get my toucan down?" Well, no, Marianne, it's flown away.
"Toucan flown away in the sky?" Yes.
"Oh..." Sad but perhaps accepting?
Three weeks later her grandmother came to visit.
"Hello, Marianne," said Grandma.
"Toucan never coming back ganma..." said Marianne.
If you love something, set it free. If it flies away it was probably a helium balloon.
Postscript: Peter Wareham, on hearing that Marianne was sad about the loss of her balloon, offered to procure another identical toucan. But when we gave it to her, she was adamant that the first toucan had gone for ever, and that this was a new and quite distinct bird.
So the second toucan is now bobbing gently in the corner of the living room. Because it's a clone, we've called it Dolly.