10 MARCH 1990, Page 48

New life

Stop that tickling

Zenga Longmore

Any confidence I ever had in my mothering abilities has taken a severe bruising since Wilbert returned from the most beautiful part of the world Jamaica. After an afternoon of drinking sorrel with him last Saturday, I realised I have got it all wrong. On walking through the door, the first thing he asked was, `Who's been pinching the pickney's cheeks?'

`Only me, why?'

`How you does be so wicked? It gives the pickney a big ugly jaw. And I expect you tickle her ribs too. You want the child to have a fit?' `Um . . er . . .

`And now look at you! You're tickling her feet. That'll give her a stutter and may even stop her from talking altogether. Jesum piece! Is what you feeding her on?'

I was just about to say breast milk, but was stopped by the feeling that Wilbert would announce that breast-fed babies grow an extra leg or something. Besides, by now my head was in too much of a whirl for anything but a stuttered grunt to be voiced, proving to Wilbert the dire effects of previously tickled feet.

This was the same Wilbert who told me that if I crossed my legs when pregnant, the baby would be born with twisted legs. He was even known to wrest a dish of straw- berries and cream from my nerveless fin- gers, declaring, 'Eat strawberries when you expecting, and pickney'll be born with a strawberry mark all over its poor face — mmm, lovely, more cream?'

I asked if he believed the tales of children developing the characteristics of the creature which frightened the mother during pregnancy.

`True a true, y'know. I once heard of a woman back home who came unexpectedly upon a flapping cockerel. She lie in a coma for three days, and instead of crying when it born, the pickney crowed like a cock but don't write that down', he said, seeing me reach for a pen, 'until you've checked the facts.'

Don't run away with the idea that Jamaicans are more superstitious than anyone else. At least money hasn't been wasted on the research of such beliefs, while millions have been spent on equally daft superstitions such as the greenhouse effect.

Instead of tinkering about with ozone layers and genetic engineering, couldn't scientists do something useful for a change, and invent a pushchair in which the baby does not lie at the level of car exhaust pipes? Every time I cross a traffic-jammed road, I wince on Omalara's behalf, as car fumes pour directly on to her face. If Inventing a higher pushchair is too much to expect from today's crazed men of the microscope, then how about the Govern- ment enforcing non-pollutant petrol laws?

As for this 'smash-down-England-for- the-sake-of-new-roads' scheme that Cecil Parkinson has hatched up, what can I say but pish! Obviously the more roads you build, the more cars there'll be to fill them, and so it will go on, until England is one mighty road, throbbing with traffic and carbon monoxide. No idea has been less popular, save the abolition of the pound note. Like a swelling Greek chorus, the entire nation (or at least Brixton's intel- ligentsia) is repeating the phrase, 'Why don't they improve public transport in- stead?' My ultimate dream is to see cars abolished altogether, but perhaps that's too much to ask. Besides, Wilbert would probably say that unless children can travel in cars, they'll start to neigh like horses.