“Tell me an Adventure Girl and Pillowpet Panda story, Daddy.”
“Morgenstern”, age 5, and I are trudging up the road to school. She’s wide awake and chatty. I’m slightly the worse for wear having taken a pounding in the salle the night before, and struggling with the 1-pint-hangover I get if I drink beer when dehydrated.
“OK,” I say. “Um. After the last adventure…”
“When they rescued the pandas from the ninjas,” adds Morgenstern helpfully.
When Morgenstern became verbal, I had a real difficulty plugging my imagination into her story world. I just couldn’t do Disney Princess pastiches. I did try, but my brain doesn’t work that way. Then she “discovered” the Dungeons and Dragons cartoons and Clone Wars, and…
I sort through the fast growing layers of continuity. “Yes. The princesses…”
“The Purple Princess and the Pink Princess,” supplies Morgenstern. “Who have the Sword of Doom and the Sword of Fate.”
“…decided to hold a party for everybody to celebrate.”
“The miniature mammoths came in their flying saucer.” My daughter says this in the sort of singsong voice she uses when reading aloud. This tells me we are in story mode properly now.
I muster my remaining brain cells. “Yes they all come to the Pink Pagoda Palace of the Purple Princess–”
“Which is built up now, Daddy. Not a ruin anymore.”
“Yes and they have a great time. Look, there’s your friend waving at you.” Thank God.
Morgenstern waves then tugs at my arm. “Come on! Read me more.” (Ha! Kurtzhau used to say, “Pause” and “Play”.)
Children like lists. Let’s try that. “They play Find the Pillowpet Panda–”
“Pillowpet Panda wins,” says Morgenstern, meaning Adventure Girl’s boon companion.
Pillowpet Pandas, I should explain, are those soft toys that unfold into pillows. Influenced by Walking with Dinosaurs, Morgenstern decided hers used this as a defense mechanism. A bit like Zaphod Beeblebrox’s glasses, when you can’t see the panda but your bottom suddenly feels warm and comfortable, or if the tunnel complex has suddenly acquired some rather nice cushions, then you are in trouble. (Last time this presaged a Zeppelin-borne ninjas assault. “And then Adventure Girl pulled out two guns,” insisted Morgenstern. “Bang bang…”)
“Yes. But the pandas can always see each other. However…” We’re near the top of the road. I need to work in an adventure hook. I play for time. “There was also a prize for the best non-panda. Snuffly the Miniature Mammoth won that. He didn’t bother to try to see the pandas, he just used his trunk to tickle any cushions he found and pillowpet pandas are ticklish so…”
This earns a giggle from my daughter.
I forge ahead before she can add anything “But in the morning, the Magic Crown had gone!!!”
“The one they used to build up the Pink Pagoda Palace?” exclaims Morgenstern. “The Ninjas took it!”
I shake my head. “Adventure Girl had a good look around, but there were no footprints.” Then I raise my voice dramatically and add a sort of reverb the way she does in imitation of Star Wars: the Clone Wars. “Then Pillowpet Panda saw something and turned into a pillow so hard that it took Adventure Girl a moment to see her.”
“What was it daddy?”
“Circular footprints!” I declare significantly.
“No,” I say. “Alien Demons!”
Some passing mums give me an odd look. We are at the school gate, so I throw in the traditional cliffhanger jingle; “Da da dah!”
And Morgenstern runs off to join all the other sweet little girls with their Hello Kitty hairbands and pink schoolbags.