51. Prodigious Fibs
The day on which Bertie was due to go to his first meeting of the First Morningside Cub Scout Pack was, for him, a day of extraordinary excitement. He knew that the issue of his membership had divided his parents; he had heard the arguments between them – often intense – and he had picked up from his mother’s manner that she had, on this question at least, been defeated. It was unlike his father to stand up to his mother – he knew that from long experience – but on this point at least he had done so. This new determination, however, had not carried through on the question of the Swiss Army knife, which had somehow been shelved. But Bertie had decided that one victory was enough, especially in a campaign in which one side had, until now, been consistently defeated. So nothing more was said of the knife lest it disturb the apparently settled matter of cub scout membership.
Of course there was another respect in which the membership of the cub scouts seemed an uncertain matter, and not one to be counted upon. This was the issue of age. In the literature on the matter that Bertie had perused, it stated quite clearly that the age at which one might join the cub scout movement was eight. Before that, it appeared that there was another organisation, the Beavers, which one might join at the age of six before progressing, in the fullness of time, to the dizzy heights of the cub scout section itself. Bertie was six, and had been six for some time, and although there were occasions on which he had used the fact of being six as a defence, this was not one. When Irene had insisted, for instance, that he join the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra, Bertie had pleaded that he was seven years too young for that; to no avail. Chronological age had never put Irene off – she had once talked about the possibility of Bertie’s being admitted to university on the grounds that he was sufficiently advanced intellectually to hold his own there, and this had led to an acrimonious exchange with an admissions tutor at the University of Edinburgh who had, for some strange reason, taken a contrary view.
“And at what age did David Hume start at the University of Edinburgh?” Irene had shouted down the telephone. “Would you care to inform me of that?”
“I have no idea,” said the tutor. “But that is not the point, I’m afraid. There are now rules…”
“Eleven,” interjected Irene. “Hume was eleven when he enrolled at your university.”
The tutor sighed. “Things were very different in the eighteenth century. One can hardly…”
“And Mozart?” interrupted Irene again. “Perhaps you could refresh my memory as to Mozart’s age when he composed his first symphony?”
“Mozart was a prodigy. Yes. But these days… Health and Safety…”
“Mozart was eight,” said Irene. “Eight.”
“And what age is your son, again?”
“He’s six, in strict chronological terms. But the whole point that I’m making is that what counts is intellectual maturity. But let us not prolong this argument. I can see that you’re unwilling to budge. There are other universities, you know. There’s St. Andrews.”
“You’re welcome to phone them. Please don’t let me inhibit you,” said the tutor. “But if he went off to St. Andrews, who would supervise bedtime? And make sure he brushed his teeth?”
That had been the last that had been said of university – to Bertie’s relief – but the experience had taught Bertie that chronological age counted for his mother only if it would prevent his doing something that she was unwilling for him to do, whereas it did not count if it prevented his doing something that she wanted him to do. It was simple really. As far as the cub issue was concerned, he thought that she was probably unaware of the potential age bar, and so he decided to say nothing about it.
He had discussed it, though, with Tofu.
“Don’t you have to be at least eight?” Bertie asked. “Look. It says so here in this leaflet I found. It says that if you’re under eight you have to join the Beavers. Then you can go to cub scouts when you’re eight.”
Tofu had grabbed Bertie’s leaflet. “Give it here,” he snapped. “Where does it say that?”
Bertie had shown him, and Tofu had frowned. “So what?” he said. “We just tell them that we’re eight. I look big enough to be eight, and if you stand behind me they won’t even see you when we join up.”
Bertie was shocked. “But that’s fibbing,” he said. “And you mustn’t tell fibs. It says that here too. Look, it says that cub scouts must be truthful. That means no fibs.”
Tofu laughed. “They always say that,” he said. “They say that you shouldn’t tell fibs, but they don’t really mean it.”
“Then why do they say it?” asked Bertie.
Tofu shrugged. “Because it sounds good,” he said.
Bertie was unconvinced. He was worried about lying about his age, and he hoped that he simply would not be asked how old he was. If he was, then his only chance of avoiding a direct lie would be to reply “Eight” in a loud voice and then, in the quietest voice he could manage, he would add, “next birthday, after the one that’s coming up.”
But now was not the time to have doubts. Arrangements had already been made that Tofu would come home with Bertie after school and that Stuart, who would leave the office early, would then take them both up to the church hall. They would drive up in the car, Stuart had promised – if he could remember where it was parked. Bertie thought this unlikely; he thought that he had seen their car in Dundonald Street, but it had proved only to be one that looked like it. So unless it turned up, they would be likely to travel up in the 23 bus. And that would be fun: just the three of them – Tofu, Stuart and Bertie. Two boys and the father of one of them, going off together, leaving Irene and Ulysses back in Scotland Street. Poor Mummy, thought Bertie; she could be so much happier if she just stopped worrying about things. Why couldn’t she just relax and go off to tea or a film with her friend Dr. Fairbairn? They got on so well, talking about Melanie Klein and things like that. Perhaps he would suggest that to his father, and together they could persuade her to do just that.