Sunday 2 September 2007

Patches, bricks and lemurs

A childhood memory: When I was a boy, some 30 years ago, I used to have a patch blanket. Not a patchwork blanket, made up of brightly coloured squares of different material - but a blanket with embroidered souvenir patches on it, each collected from a day out or holiday, that I would insist that my Mother sew on for me. I think at the time I actually called it my 'camp blanket' and it is only now, in the fullness of time, that I understand why people sniggered when I did so - though I just meant that it was blanket suitable for camping, not that it itself was camp...
I am not sure what became of it - as I grew older I obviously lost interest in it. It languished unloved for years in cupboards at Mums house (because a dusty grey woollen blanket was never going to be pressed into service on the guest bed - even one that announced that its owner had successfully swum 25 meters, and had not only visited the Isle of Wight but also had seen the lions at Longleat) but Mum thinks she finally forced me to take it with me when I bought a house of my own and moved out for good. Sadly I have no recollection of that, and I certainly don't have it now.
But what I do have now is two small daughters, and as they grow up they remind me of the things that fascinated me when I was a child...and in a wave of (probably tragically misplaced) nostalgia I recalled my patch blanket and decided that this would make for a fine family tradition. Yes, I thought, I should buy the girls a patch blanket! I should then buy them patches to sew onto it! As we visit places we can collect them together! We will end up with many, many patches! In the years to come we can all jointly remember the good times, as we sit round the fire with our patch blankets over our knees, pointing at the circles of embroidered cloth sewn to them and laughing happily at the good times that they represent! What a marvellous family bonding experience our patch blanket collection will be!
Now, reading that back, it is clear that I am crazed and in need of some kind of medication. What the hell was I thinking? But sadly, the course of events had already been set in motion: on a recent Ikea trip I bought suitable blankets for both Amelie and Neve, and explained what they were for. Neve, obviously, was unimpressed (as her interests at the moment are more along the lines of crying, sleeping, filling her nappy and mostly being under a year old) but Amelie embraced the idea with the kind of obsessive fervour that I recognised, somewhat uneasily, as a direct echo of her father when he was 6 years old and thought a patch blanket was the best thing ever...
For days, I fielded patch-related questions: Yes, we would get some patches soon. No, I didn't know what kind. Yes, I would try to find a 'rabbit' patch for Tatty Ratty. No, they do not sell patches in the cafe, or in Tesco, or anywhere in town. Yes, soon - when Daddy is on holiday - we will go to places where patches are sold and we will buy some for your blankets.
Last week my long-awaited holiday finally came around, and we had a week doing 'family things' - picnics, museums, theme parks - and the need to commemorate each of these occasions with the purchase of a suitable embroidered patch swiftly became a terrible, joy-crushing millstone around my neck.
First up: Legoland. Great place for families, fun rides, I liked it a lot - though the Lego models they have there curiously seem to get less impressive the more of them you see. There's a dinosaur near the entrance that makes you think "Wow, isn't it incredible what you can do with Lego!" - but then with each successive model you think "Well, if they can make a dinosaur, then of course they can make a giraffe/ostrich/spaceship/whatever" and by the end you are kind of thinking "Meh, isn't the whole point of Lego that you make models with it, anyway?" But to return to my point: do they sell souvenir patches in the gift shop at Legoland? Do they bugger. It turns out that what they actually sell in the Legoland giftshop, pretty much to the exclusion of anything else, is more Lego.
Next: The Walter Rothschild museum at Tring. Great place, just down the road from us, this a wing of the British Natural History museum and is where they keep the bulk of their stuffed animal exhibits on display. It's a truly remarkable museum, and as such it deserves a truly remarkable embroidered patch to remember it by, right? Wrong. No patches. The woman in the gift shop suggested a postcard instead. The woman in the gift shop clearly had no idea of the insatiable appetite for woven souvenirs that I have inadvertently instilled in my eldest daughter. I had to quell the resulting upset with the purchase of a carton of apple juice and a gingerbread biscuit in the shape of a camel.
Finally, Whipsnade zoo. We visit here a lot, as it's a 10 minute drive away, and a years membership is very cheap, so it's perfect for somewhere to take the girls when they are bored and you need to keep them amused for a couple of hours. Whipsnade is a branch of London zoo, and is fairly large - they have an extensive, impressive range of animals, and a gift shop to match, so surely there will be souvenir patches aplenty for sale, yes? No. You can buy a stuffed toy tapir, or a bouncy ball with a plastic frog in it, or even (and this is what tipped me me over the edge) - souvenir Whipsnade thimbles! - but no patches of any kind.
I was bemoaning this fact to Nini as we wandered the zoo.
Paul: "Thimbles! Who buys souvenir thimbles, anyway?"
Nini: "I don't know....old ladies? Old ladies like thimbles."
P: "With pictures of zoo animals on?"
N: "Sure, why not?"
P: "I hardly think there can be a massive demand for zoo thimbles..."
N: "Well, more than patches, clearly..."
P: (angrily) "Well, there shouldn't be! Thimbles are crap. Everything in that shop was so...tacky."
N: (slightly incredulous) "Whereas a souvenir patch brings a touch of class to any gift shop, is that what you are saying?"
P: (mumbling) "No, its just that they really should sell them..."
Nini sighed, in a heartfelt world-weary way that is quite hard to achieve. I suspect you can only sigh with quite as much despair if you have had to listen to your husband rant for a full week about the sad decline in availability of souvenir embroidered patches at tourist locations, and his completely unsubstantiated theories about what that says about the parlous state of the UK manufacturing industry.
We came to the next animal enclosure. Sitting on a single log in the middle of a moat-encircled island was a red-ruffed lemur, looking disinterestedly at the floor.
N: "Aaaaaah, look at him, all on his own. He looks lonely. No Mrs. Lemur or baby lemurs around to care for him...
P: (bitterly)"He looks peaceful. He's probably enjoying the peace and quiet while they're out."
N: (angrily)"Oh, you are so predictable. I just knew you were going to say that."
P: "I'm just saying, he's enjoying a little 'me-time', is all..."
I looked back at the lemur. It had buried its muzzle deep into its crotch and was chewing slowly, almost thoughtfully, and whatever it had found there. I instantly regretted the 'me time' comment and refused to meet Nini's eye, in case she wondered aloud if I do anything similar when she goes out.
P: "Heh, let's move on, shall we? We can buy some chips"
Amelie: "Yaaay! And then we can go back to the gift shop and buy some patches!"
P: "Ummmmmm.....