Squeezed Dry?

Has a year of Covid restrictions left you in need of a tonic?

Here’s a true story from the Great World Pandemic of 2020/21

Restorative powers guaranteed!

Arlo and the Street Safari

Early April. But you wouldn’t think so. Arctic winds had swept down from the north depositing snow in the streets of the city. It didn’t augur well for a Safari, especially an imagined one across the sun-baked plains of the Serengeti. But, like the good mother she was, Susie was not going to be put off by a little bit of snow. Arlo’s fifth birthday was approaching fast. It would be his second under lock-down and she wanted it to be memorable.

It was Arlo himself who sowed the seed for the adventure, although he didn’t know it. He’d watched a wildlife program on the TV and had been so captivated that he began to think of himself as a lion. He took to stalking his mum and dad around the house and would sometimes ambush his little sister, Becky, from a hidden corner. ‘Grrr, I’m going to eat you,’ he would roar in his best lion voice.

When the great day arrived, Arlo announced that it was his birthday, just in case anyone had forgotten.

‘Is it really?’ his dad asked, keeping his face straight.

‘Will there be presents?’ Arlo asked.

Dad looked at his son, then at Susie. ‘What d’you think, dear?’

‘Maybe…’ she grinned, then paused. ‘So, darling, how would you like to be a lion?’

‘But I am a lion, mummy. Grrr.’

‘Yes, I know, but even more of a lion.’ And with an uncharacteristically melodramatic gesture she whooshed a brightly wrapped present from behind her back.

Arlo was on it like a flash, making short work of the shiny red wrapping with his hooky claws. Inside was a tawny coloured onesie with a dark hairy-fringed hood. He needed no explanation. He dived in, emitting a terrifying roar as he pulled the hood over his head. No words of thanks were needed – the look on his face said it all.

After breakfast his mum said, ‘C’mon Mr Lion, let’s go for a walk in the Serengeti.’

‘Will there be other lions? ‘he asked as they stepped through the door.

Outside the snow had melted. Arlo skipped, whooping, up the path and onto the Serengeti trail. He looked up and down the street. No wildlife to be seen, but what was that in the window of the house opposite?

‘Mummy, look that’s my name. It says happy birthday, doesn’t it? But how do they know?’

‘Search me, darling. How would I know?’

But of course she did know. At the start of the pandemic someone in the street had set up a neighbourhood help email and WhatsApp group. All she’d had to do was post a short suggestion and the replies had come rolling in. She didn’t even know some of the neighbours but her idea had hit a chord. Perhaps it had reminded them of their own childhoods or they had remembered raising their own families. Some sent birthday greetings while others intimated that big game hunters might find

an elephant in their front path

or a soft toy giraffe in a bush by the front gate.

Even Susie didn’t know what else might lie in wait.

‘Let’s go up the street on this side, Mr Very Fierce Lion, and back down the other.’

Near the end of the street they came to a front garden miraculously transformed into a game reserve. A green monkey hung from a birch by the front gate while a deadly red Ferryhill mamba curled around a climbing rose. There were lizards, frogs large and small (including a fiendish-looking flying one), and in the front window, elephants, an African mask, toucans

and a big lion birthday card.

Arlo’s eyes sparkled. ‘But how did you know it was my birthday?’ he demanded of the older couple who stood before him.

‘Well,’ said the man, ‘when you get to be as old as us – we’re 152 years between us, by the way – you just get a feeling for these things.’

He waved his hands in the air then pointed down to some kind of wooden boat.

‘That’s for you, Arlo; my dad made it for me and my brother long ago, in the war, when you couldn’t buy toys. It’s Noah’s Ark. That’s Noah standing in the bows; and If you take off the roof, you’ll find pairs of animals inside.’

Arlo began to haul out the contents one by one. ‘Look Mum, a lioness – grrr, and a lion, and an elephant…!’ He was too busy to notice the little tear in his mum’s eye.

That night, at bedtime, his mum read the story of the model ark that the old man had written for him. Still in his lion suit, Arlo named each animal in turn and placed them tenderly back in the Ark.

‘Best safari ever,’ he declared. ‘Grrr.’