Eleanor has mastered the art of the story. She will pick up a book, open it to the first page and authoritatively state: “Once upon time. The end.” Then she will close the book. Probably her story-telling skills will develop over time but I feel that she has dealt with two tricky elements of a good story (how to start and how to finish), and only needs to flesh out the middle. In the car on the way to the gardens she was looking at a little book that is ostensibly the story of Cinderella but features a bear as the leading lady. Changing Cinderella into a bear but leaving the Prince a human makes the Prince a man with a very odd fetish.
Once we get to the Botanical Gardens we walk to the duck pond armed with some stale bread. Eleanor hurls it at the ducks who obligingly gobble at it. The Botanical Garden ducks are unreliable. On some days there can be a surfeit of little girls and boys with bread, and the ducks float about languidly with distended bellies and a total lack of interest in all forms of bread. On these days you can pelt the ducks with bread, you can bounce it off their half open bills, and you will not stir the smallest pang of gluttony. Sometimes they seem to stare at you with glassy eyed disdain: “What? More bread? How original.”
After the duck pond we walk on to a pool with a statue in the middle and little bronze frogs around the lip of the pond. The statue in the middle appears to be of Oscar Wilde as a toddler, with birds sitting on him: he looks somewhat regal, and overweight and ridiculous all at the same time. The frogs are cool. They squat on the lip and pour water out of their mouths and into the pond. They have smooth, strokeable backs, and lovely stout legs. Eleanor is fascinated by the coins that people have thrown into the pond and takes some. We tell her to put them back.
“People make a wish and throw the money in. If you take the money their wish won’t come true.”
Eleanor takes the coins back to the pond and drops them in.
Then we go to the Begonia House and look at the fish in the big stagnant lily pond. There are swarms of little fish: orange and black and yellow. Eleanor dips her fingers in and squeals,
“One of them bumped me!”
She puts her hand back in hopefully, and after a minute asks, “do fish bite?”
I say we are leaving but she ignores me.
In the end we have a juice at the cafe, and Eleanor is delighted to drink from her bottle without a straw. The glamour of doing things that adults do. Rosamund snoozes in the pram. The waiters flirt with each other and check their cellphones.