Ant Eater

A child’s mispronunciation causes a great deal of trouble


Ant Eater

"I supposed I should have realised from the start that it was all down to mispronunciation, especially after trying to instil the correct way of speaking into my children." Helen Armstrong told Catherine over the telephone one Tuesday evening. "But I didn’t I was slow and due to that a problem that should have been sorted swiftly caused a great deal of distress, although looking back I have to admit, it was rather funny in a way."
Helen Armstrong was a lady who had known the Chandler family for years. She once lived in one of the cabins in Connecticut where Catherine had spent vacations with her parents as a child. Her mother and Catherine’s mother had been good friends and Helen and Catherine played together. Helen now lived on a farm in the United Kingdom, but she kept in touch with Catherine. Helen’s stories of her children’s antics enthralled Catherine. She loved to relate them to Vincent who knowing children so well enjoyed listening to the tales. In fact, talking about the children of her friends and listening to Vincent relating experiences of the tunnel children provided happy times for the couple who would sit side by side on the ledge overlooking the falls, their laughter would echo, and for Catherine it was so good to hear Vincent laugh.

"It all began the day that our youngest son David went to school not long after the newspapers had reported on people keeping wild animals as pets." Helen continued. "His teacher, Mrs Duncan, began an assignment on keeping warm during the winter.
David’s essay told her that much of our heating was down to a wood burner that his grandfather kept fuelled with logs from old trees he had felled around their farm. That bit was fine, no problem there. It was the next paragraph that had her hand reaching for the nearest telephone, as she read with astonishment, at night my ant eater keeps me warm."

"His ant eater!" Catherine exclaimed laughing out loud. Helen went on dryly, "Yes, his ant eater. My son has a problem with pronunciation as you shall see. The head teacher, Mrs Blackthorne was equally troubled, and quizzed David at lunch-time. “David," she said, "tell Mrs Duncan and I, how you keep warm at night.”

"An older child might have realised that her tone implied that Mrs Blackthorne was alarmed about something but at seven years of age, David was more concerned about telling them what they wanted to know and going outside to play. Therefore, he replied innocently, “My ant eater keeps me warm.” Apparently he didn’t notice the anxious glance that passed between Mrs Duncan and Mrs Blackthorne nor what they said after he went outside to play. They decided to ring me before contacting the authorities. Unfortunately I was out.”

“Oh, no.” Catherine’s eyes were bright with delight as she listened. It was easy to tell by Helen’s tone that something funny was about to be related.

“I guess you’ve heard of Murphy’s Law? It’s a polite way of saying Sod’s law, and it came into full play that day, as it does. I’m seldom out and Joel is never home. When he isn’t at work he’s out with his mates. But the day, that Mrs Blackthorne chose to ring, the opposite happened. I was out and Joel took the call.” Joel was Helen’s eldest son.

“I cringe when I heard the conversation later. Joel left the answer machine on. Good job really. The conversation went something like this. Allo? That was Joel.” Helen took up the narrative between her eldest son and her youngest son’s school teacher in a deep voice on the one hand and a feminine in the other.

“Can I speak to Mrs. Armstrong please?”

“She’s out. Oo is it?”

“It’s Mrs Blackthorne here, head teacher of Oakwood Primary School.” At this point Joel interrupted her “Is David okay?” he asked.

“She said. He’s fine, I just needed to ask Mrs. Robinson a question. And you are?”

“It’s Joel. Her son.”

“Oh, right. Well then Joel, perhaps you can answer my question.”

“I’ll try.”

Here there was a distinctive pause. She was lucky for had she not of spoken when she did, Joel would have put the phone down for his repetitive ‘hello, hello’ was met with nothing until finally she said, “I’m still here. Sorry but this is rather difficult to explain. Joel, David tells us that he keeps warm with the aid of your anteater. Is that correct?”

“Its not my eater. Its his.”

Helenstarted to laugh. “At that Mrs Blackthorne gasped and then she said, ‘then you do have one in the house?”

I could tell Joel was becoming exasperated when he replied, “Yeah so? Actually we have three, what’s wrong with that?”

“You have three?” Mrs Blackthorne’s sounded like she was about to faint, and she reiterated in a strained voice, “You have three?” Then because she wanted to get her facts straight, I guess, she asked, “Do you know what sort they are?”

“Joel said. ‘There’s two big ones and a small one. Hold on I’ll go take a look.” While he was gone the recording picked up Mrs Blackthorne speaking to Mrs Duncan, something about there being three anteaters and that he was going to check on the breed?

When Joel returned, he told the caller, “One’s a creature - I’ve told him since that he needs glasses – it was actually a Creda - and the other two are er…sorry I can’t tell you.”

Mrs Blackthorne jumped on that straight away. “Can’t tell me, why not?”

“Er…Hang on.” Joel obviously left for a moment as there was silence and then he returned to say, “They’re hot points.”

Then Mrs Blackthorne laughed derisively and said, “I think you must mean sore points. Obviously you aren’t supposed to tell anyone about them, Joel, and neither was David. Tell your mother she will be hearing from the authorities about this and to expect a call from the RSPCA later today.”

“Joel exclaimed, ‘The RSPCA, what’ve they got to do with it?”

“And, she said, ‘Just pass on the message please, Joel. Goodbye.” The line went dead after that before he had a chance to reply and I found him holding the telephone and staring at it as I came in the door moments later. “It doesn’t bite,” I told him. The expression on his face was one of anxiety.

“It’s not that.” He replied, “I’ve just had the weirdest telephone call.” And after playing back the tape I was as perplexed as he was. I thought what on earth is going on?

But it was that time of day when everything seems to happen at once and though the matter was at the back of my mind as I prepared dinner, I wasn’t reminded of it until the evening when someone knocked at the door.
Now that might not be as mind blowing to some people as it is to us, but where we live in the back of beyond, someone knocking on our door in the evening is as remote as a green sunset, and we all froze. “Who can that be?” Greg asked me looking up from his newspaper.” Greg was Helen’s husband.

“I don’t know.” I replied nervously, “Why don’t you go and see?”

“Can’t you do it?” He asked refusing to leave the comfort of his armchair, once he’s in that armchair Cathy nothing but a tank will move him. So I replied. “It might be an axe murderer. It would be better if you went.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?” He said, and he actually left the chair to go see! I was stunned. I thought I should try that more often. Anyway, he hastened as the knocking became more persistent. Then, you know what, Cathy? He froze on the spot took one look at me and went back to his chair. “You get it.” He said. “Its probably someone for you anyway.”

“But then Joel brushed past me saying, ‘Oh I’ll get it. I’m going out to see da rain anyway.” For the life of me I couldn’t understand what he’d said but I forgot about that in the heat of the moment.

“It’s the police.” He called seconds before I heard his moped start up. He was naturally making a quick get away for in the past when the police have called it has usually been something to do with him. Still the announcement had the required effect as far as Greg was concerned. I never even saw him go past me, but suddenly there he was at the door inviting the officers in.

You know, Cathy, I’ve always been amazed at how one policeman in a normal living room seems domineering but when you are suddenly faced with two in your domain then let me tell you that it is very disconcerting.” “I know what you mean.” Cathy told her. “Well, I suddenly felt very small beneath their gaze although I have to admit much of it flitted around the room as if they were looking for something. Joel goes out with his mates at night and often finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, therefore Greg jumped to conclusions. “What’s he done now?” He asked the policemen naturally assuming Joel was the reason for their call.

“Who?” One of the officers replied declining my offer to sit down which only served to unnerve me further.

“I suppose you are here about Joel?” I asked speaking Greg’s thoughts out loud.

“Joel? No,” one laughed. “Not this time.” Then the laughter died and he became very serious, “We are here to ask you both some questions.”

Greg and I looked at one another blankly, both wondering what the other had been up to. I was really frightened, Cathy. Then when they started talking about keeping wild animals I was totally confused. For one said to us; ‘you do realise that it is illegal to keep wild animals in a residence such as this? I know that you have a farm with cattle and the usual farmyard animals, but you do know that you should not keep such animals as one would usually find in a zoo on your property much less in your house, don’t you?”

We laughed at least I know I did. I thought they were having us on. Wild animals? Whatever next? I asked them to sit down which they did and I felt less intimidated then and asked, I understand what you are saying about livestock laws but I don’t understand why you are telling us this.”

Greg agreed, ‘Neither do I.” He said. “Has someone lost a wild animal?”

One of the policemen replied; “No. At least there have been no reports of such. No, the reason we are asking you this is because we have reason to believe that you are keeping three wild animals on the premises.”

“Three Wild Animals!” We yelled. “That’s ridiculous, who told you that?”

“Oh do you mean our children?” I added seeing the funny side. Catherine laughed.

One of the officers grinned then and checked his notepad, “Actually,” he told us “it was your son, Joel.”

“I knew he’d be involved in this somewhere,” Greg replied angrily, “Where has he gone?”

That reminded me, “He said he was going out to see the drain either that or out in the rain. I couldn’t decipher what he actually said.” The two officers looked at one another then and regarded me closely. One said, “Obviously he’s gone to move the animals. We shouldn’t have let him leave the premises. What is the registration number of his motorcycle?”

Now believe it or not, Cathy, Joel had only bought that motorcycle three days earlier and I hadn’t a clue what the registration number was, neither could I show them the registration documents as they had been sent away by the previous owner, and Joel had the tear off slip in his wallet, but somehow I didn’t think the police would believe me if I told them that. I tried, but as expected they looked down their noses at me as if mine was about to grow ten feet from the lie I had just told them.” “What happened?” Cathy asked, breathless.

“Excuse us.” The policemen stood as one, moved as one and spoke between themselves out of earshot in the conservatory before one of them returned to tell us, “We have arranged for an officer to spend the night in surveillance on your property. Then when it is daylight we will have a warrant to search your outbuildings. The animals may have been moved but if we find anything that shows that they have been kept here, you will be required to attend a court hearing whereupon you may be fined for illegally keeping wild animals without a permit to do so.” Then before either Greg or I had a chance to say anything, the officer held up a hand to silence us with and continued, “however, that isn’t the end of it. It has been brought to our attention that your youngest son, David has in fact slept with one of these animals and the NSPCC will be contacting you shortly regarding this allegation.”

God, Cathy that terrified me. RSPCA? No problem. NSPCC? Big Problem. Do you have them out there? The RSPCA and the NSPCC are societies that protect animals and children, respectively. I suddenly had horrifying visions of the latter taking my children away from me. Greg obviously had a similar thought when he said, “Well they can take Joel, but no way are they taking David away from us!” In a nutshell, I think the officers were left in no doubt that teenage Joel and his dad did not see eye to eye.

Well, the rest of the evening went by in a haze. One of the two officers remained behind while the other arranged for a surveillance officer and made out his report. I know that I tried to make conversation with the remaining officer but he was reluctant to talk, and when the telephone rang he answered it, and though it was for me, he would not allow me to take the call.
Thus, we felt like criminals in our own home and what was worse we couldn’t understand what it was all about. The only animals we kept were a few cows some chickens two cats and two red and white Border Collies, all of which live in sheds around the farm. There was only one cat that was allowed inside the house, and never was she permitted to go up into the bedrooms, so whatever they meant when they said that David had slept with one of the animals left us completely perplexed. In fact, the whole thing left us stunned. I felt as though I was dreaming, you know that feeling when everything seems way off the planet and everyone else is crazy except you? Well I had that feeling, big time.

When Joel came home, he was quizzed to the point of aggression. Tired, wanting to go to bed, needing to be up early for work he was in no mood for stupid questions about wild animals. He had never taken an interest in the farm and we might have kept Bengal Tigers for all he knew. Unfortunately, he said that and you should have seen the officer’s face when he did!
By laughing, I guess I didn’t help matters either, since Joel’s quip, I know, came from an incident several years before when a travelling circus had called to ask if they could keep lamas on our property and had then told us that they also owned Bengal Tigers. At the time, we had been having trouble with trespassers and had joked that they could forget about the lamas but we’d have the tigers on our land instead - strange how things come back to bite you when you least expect it. “Cathy laughed, “I remember you telling me that story a long time ago, Helen.” She was thinking Vincent loved hearing about it and he was going to love hearing about this one too.

Well, Cathy I can tell you, it was difficult getting any sleep that night. Neither of us wanted to go to bed so we dozed fitfully in armchairs while David, blissfully unaware of what he had started slept soundly upstairs, it’s a wonder the police didn’t insist on going up there to see him, and Joel could sleep through World War Three.
When morning finally arrived and we moved groggily through to the kitchen to make a refreshing cup of tea, we were stunned to hear someone knocking at the door that early in the day. This time, Greg went to answer it without stalling.
He soon returned, his face ashen and telling me, “There are some strange looking men out there in white coats and cages, I think they’ve come for you.” Cathy laughed out loud. She loved the relationship Helenand Greg had, so easy going.

“Very funny,” I told him moving past to take a look for myself, only to find he had spoken the truth, well almost, they hadn’t come to take me away to the funny farm. Thought at that moment I felt very much as though I was already at it.

“Are you Mrs. Armstrong?” One of the men in white coats asked as he saw me propping up the door, honestly I was that tired, I replied in the affirmative and asked if I could help him.

“Can we leave these here?” He asked indicating the three large cages with a nod of his head.

Tempted to ask would he move them if I refused, I refrained from the quip and told him ‘yes’. However, I was no more helpful than that and was about to close the door when a police car drew into the drive and a plain clothed officer got out. Thus I waited until he reached the door, inviting him in when it appeared that’s what he expected.

Inside, Greg had made the tea and was busy munching his cereal, how he could stomach food at a time like that beat me. It would be hours before a hunger pang hit me. He did, however, lay down his spoon when he saw the new officer step into the living room although the fellow rudely ignored the both of us. That annoyed me. This was our home, yet he had walked in as if he owned the place, gracefully waving a piece of paper beneath my nose and mentioning the word ‘warrant’, as if he thought he shouldn’t have needed to produce one in the first place. That done he barked his orders “Is their son awake?”

“Before the overnight officer could reply I asked, “Which one?” Joel would be getting up any time and I knew that David would be asleep for another hour or so.

The new officer turned to face me as if he had only just noticed I was there and answered, “The youngest one. We don’t seem to have received much help from the rest of you, but then that was to be expected.”

I quietly fumed as I replied, “He’ll still be asleep. He doesn’t need to get up for another hour yet.”

The fellow glared at me. “Another hour? We haven’t got another hour. Go and wake him up now.” He snapped abruptly.

“But it’s six o’clock in the morning!” A stern glare met my exclamation, making me feel very foolish and small. Still on no account did I want my young son subjected to this monster’s questioning and I protected him as a mother bear, steadfast and aggressive. “I will wake him at seven, and if you have a problem with that, then it’s too bad.”

Cathy, you should have seen him, his face went bright red with anger. I thought he might blow a gasket, but he simmered down, reluctantly knowing I wouldn’t budge. We glared at one another a moment or two and then he turned and went outside closing the door firmly behind him.

“Phew.” A long low whistle followed his exit, and I looked up into the eyes of the officer who had stayed all night with us. “Do you know who that was?”

I shook my head then told him, “Some pigheaded fellow, he didn’t even give his name.”

Nervously, the officer laughed, “He’s our Chief Detective Inspector.” He told me, “I’ve never seen anyone refuse his orders before. You will need to apologise.”

“Then you’ve never seen him try to come between a mother and her child before.” I told him. “I only did what any caring parent would do, and besides all of this is a big mistake, as he will find out to his humiliation, and then we will be expecting some very big apologies around here.”

The officer looked at me hesitantly, I could see that he was wondering if I spoke the truth or not and maybe he would have made conversation but just at that moment both Joel and David came downstairs.

“You’re up early, little rabbit.” I told David. He was bleary eyed and walked into the living room and flopped himself down onto the sofa.

“Big rabbit woke me up.” He said speaking of Joel and making us laugh. “Why are the police here?”

“That’s what we would like to know.” Greg told him, “Apparently they are here because of something you told your teacher. David, why did you tell her that we had some anteaters?”

In front of the officer, David replied innocently, “We do have some. We have three.”

“Just a moment.” The officer held up one hand toward David, “Don’t say another word, I’ll just call the governor.”

“And I’ll just go collect the eggs and let the chickens and dogs out, if you don’t mind.” He walked with me unable to say if that would be acceptable since he did not know what breed of dogs we had. I guess he thought that Pit Bulls or Dobermans might hinder the operation. Suddenly, Cathy at that moment, I wished we had some.

Out in the yard however, our collies came to meet me, someone had already let them out. I went to investigate. Stepping through into the dim interior of the barn I found to my dismay several men in white coats sifting beneath the floorboards. “The only thing you’ll find down there are woodlice.” I told them then with a hint of sarcasm added, “Oh perhaps you will conclude that they are baby Armadillos?”

“Very funny, not. However, you might have snakes down here.” One of the men told me derisively without looking up. Oh honestly, Cathy, snakes!

“The only snakes on our property are you lot!” I snapped. I would have said more only at that moment I felt my elbow very firmly grasped and turned to find Detective Inspector Pig Head at my side. Curtly he led me away and back to the house and I hadn’t even let the chickens out. Still I had a smug feeling inside. All this was going to go decidedly pear shaped soon leaving them all with egg on their faces.

When we got back to the house, Pig Head finally introduced himself before he sat down to ask David some questions. “By the way, I don’t think I ever told you my name. Its D.I Hogg.”

‘Yeah, that would be right.’ I thought. I don’t think he noticed my smirk of delight and satisfaction and I wouldn’t have cared if he had. Its strange isn’t it how some people live up to their name? Catherine had a fit of the giggles, if only Helen could come and stay at the tunnels, she would have everyone in fits too. She really knew how to relate an experience. Turning a terrible experience into something humorous.

Helenwent on, “With David before him, Pig Head… I mean DI Hogg, (was there a difference?) launched his first question. “Now David is this your work?” He held up a page of child’s handwriting. David looked at me before replying, his bottom lip was quivering and I told him that it was okay to answer the questions and with a whisper that was barely audible he told DI Hogg, ‘yes’.

“DI Hogg asked him, ‘Now David I want you to think very carefully before answering the next question, as this is a very serious matter.”
‘Great, put the fear of God in him why don’t you?’ I thought.

David nodded, his eyes wide. In my arms his little body trembled. I wanted to hit DI Hogg, I was sure he didn’t have any children of his own and pitied them if he did.

“He went on, David, in this report you say that at night, your ant eater keeps you warm. Is that correct?”

David nodded. I began to get the picture.

“For the purpose of the Dictaphone, David has nodded.” DI Hogg announced to the little black recorder in his hand. We hadn’t noticed it earlier.

“Could you show us where the ant eater is, David?” DI Hogg asked, but David’s concentration was diverted by Joel who was signalling in the background and trying to get my attention, I looked up and mouthed, ‘what?’

Exasperated DI Hogg paused, switched off the Dictaphone, turned and glared at Joel. “What is it?” I asked Joel.

“Can I use your mobile phone? I want to send a text to da rain.”

Drawing my brows together I must have shown my confusion for Joel hesitated a moment then walked toward my handbag where I keep my mobile telephone. Suddenly I thought I knew what he’d said. “Sending a text to Bahrain? No you can’t it will be too expensive!”

“Not Bahrain!” Joel exasperated, “I said da rain.”

“Is there a difference?” I asked as Joel made off with my telephone.

“Yes, I’m texting da rain. In this country!” He reiterated crossly.

I sighed, “Is it me or is my son da ranged? Where on earth is da rain?”

David giggled “Its not da rain.” He told me, “Joel said Lorraine. It’s his girlfriend.”

I sighed and told him, “That’s what I mean about the way you two speak.” And then suddenly it hit me! The penny had finally dropped. David’s spelling went with his Lincolnshire accent something that unlike mine, we often had fun with.

I started to laugh. DI Hogg was sat on his haunches in front of David wondering why I had a sudden fit of hysterics. By waving at me Greg tried unsuccessfully to quieten me down, and David, bless him, was grinning from ear to ear. “Oh David, you are priceless.” I told him when I could finally speak. “I know what ant eaters are!” “Tell me?” Catherine asked happily.

“I’m getting there. It’s real funny, Cathy. You’ll love this one. DI Hogg reminded me, “It would be preferable if you could direct me to them.”

“I’ll do better than that.” I told him suppressing another bout of laughter. “You passed one on your way in.”

He jumped up then, “I did? Where? When?” H almost ran out of the room into the conservatory. We followed him.

“Where is it?” He barked looking all around.

“There.” I told him, “Beside you. It should have been switched off by now. You see we only use them on Economy Seven, too expensive otherwise. In fact…” And I deliberately began to speak slowly, “that’s why we don’t have any of our own… in the winter… we only borrow… David’s… aunt’s… heaters.” Catherine laughed till her sides ached.

Helenwas having a hard job not to as she related what happened next. “For Di Hogg the penny dropped. It was great to see it, Cathy and hard not to laugh. A myriad of expressions chased their way across DI Hogg’s face, until the last one left him looking as though he might explode at any moment and sent him scurrying from the conservatory out into the yard to call off his men.

Behind me, I heard laughter and turned to see the all night officer chuckling merrily, “He’s never going to live this one down.” They told me, smirking happily. “If it’s any consolation several of us thought he acted too hastily over this matter. Should have checked his facts before he bothered you good people. His head is going to roll over this for certain. Thanks David, you’d done us all a favour. With a bit of luck he’ll resign.”

David grinned. He wasn’t certain what he had done right, but the praise felt good anyway. “Oh, Helen what a great story. Thank you for telling me. My friends will love hearing it.” “You’re welcome, you work too hard, and its way past time that you had some children of your own, Cathy, you never know you’ve lived till you have some. They can be such fun!” “Oh, Helen don’t worry I’m working on it.” “Oh, really? Do tell?” “Well let’s just say, I don’t need one of those ants 'eaters to keep me warm at night.”

*** *** ***



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