Please don’t call him Nicolas…
What’s in a name? Well apparently quite a lot. Have you seen those cutsie plaques that you can buy in souvenir shops with names and their meanings? “People with this name are friendly, outgoing and leaders of men” “People with this name are shy, lack self-confidence and seek harmony”. I always thought it was rubbish, and put such a load of responsibility on parents when naming their child. Can you imagine giving your child a name that will instantly turn him/her into a social outcast?
We had difficulty naming our children because we wanted names that would translate easily into three languages. As they were born in France of a Spanish father and an English mother we wanted names that would sound pretty much the same in all three languages. This ruled out Steven which in Spanish is written Estéban. How could we expect our child to learn how to spell his name if his passport said Estéban and yet we called him Steven at home and in school they called him Stéphane? Or Philip, which in French is Philippe but in Spanish is written Felipe. So we chose Nicolas, which is a slight variation on the English spelling of Nicholas, but almost the same. Nicolas sounded inoffensive and comes from the Greek, meaning ‘Victory of the people’, so a good choice. Little did we know.
Nicolas was a delightful child – open, inquisitive, friendly, extremely bright and independent. Did I say independent? Perhaps I meant determined. Or even strong-willed, or perhaps stubborn? Once he set his mind on something Nicolas was difficult to move. Persuasion sometimes worked, direct attack hardly ever. His first word was “No” and was pretty much his only word until he was two. We thought it was just Nicolas being Nicolas. Until the day when a friend of mine, expecting her second child, told me she had gone to sign up her unborn child at the nursery school her first child attended. They told her, only half-jokingly, “We are delighted to accept the enrollment on the understanding that if it is a boy you do not name him Nicolas…!” Apparently they had THREE little boys named Nicolas in the school and all of them were charming, but absolute terrors. If paint was spilled – “Nicolas!” If a window was broken by a badly aimed ball – “Nicolas!” If a child cried because his toy was taken away – “Nicolas!” If glue was dropped on the teacher’s seat – “Nicolas!”
We suddenly understood… IT WAS ALL OUR OWN FAULT! We had chosen the name for our child and condemned him to be a finder of trouble. And this child with the face of an angel usually managed to find trouble. If things were too quiet I would get an ominous feeling and would immediately start looking for Nicolas, and he was usually up to some mischief. Nothing really bad, as he always had good intentions. It’s just that things didn’t seem to turn out the way he intended. Like the time he climbed the bookcase as though it was a ladder, because he wanted to get a closer look at a Lladró figurine that was on the top shelf. His closer look resulted in the porcelain piece falling to the floor with the resulting breakage. Fortunately he managed to return to floor level with no breakage to himself, but he was not so lucky the time he decided to try abseiling.
The dictionary definition of abseiling is: ‘in mountaineering: to descend a steep slope or vertical drop by a rope secured from above and coiled around one’s body or through karabiners attached to one’s body in order to control the speed of descent.” Nicolas did not have any karabiners, nor did he have any rope. However, nothing daunted he decided that some string, used double, would do just as well. He climbed the tallest tree he could find in the garden, attached the string to a branch, wound it round his body and launched himself into space. The trip down was a lot quicker than he expected and the landing was a lot harder. He broke two bones in his foot.
This was minor compared to the time he asked me for an electric blanket because he was cold. I only had a heating pad designed to cover the whole mattress, and gave him strict instructions that he had to strip off all the coverings on his bed, place the heating pad directly on the mattress and then make the bed up with the sheets and blankets on top. “Would you like me to come and do it for you?” “No, no, I can manage, don’t worry.” Well I should have known better. At three o’clock in the morning Nicolas came into to wake me up. “Mummy, my bedroom is full of smoke.” “YOU WHAT?” I leapt out of bed, ran down the corridor to his room, and sure enough, the room was full of choking smoke, centred around his bed. I saw at once that the dear boy had omitted to follow instructions and had simply laid the heating pad directly on top of the upper sheet and then had piled his blankets on top. When he got too hot he had kicked off the covers and made a ball of the heating pad, all tangled up in the blankets. This had caused the pad to overheat and it had started to smolder. I threw open the window, grabbed the bundle of bed clothing and dragged it across the room. As I did so it burst into flames and I threw the whole lot out. The wall beneath was covered with creeper which in the winter was full of dry leaves and that caught fire too. By this time by husband had woken and come stumbling into the room “What the heck is going on?” “You deal with the bed,” I shouted, as I ran out the room and down the stairs, “I’ll deal with the creeper and the pine tree!” “YOU WHAT?”
I managed to find the key to open the door, ran round the house, grabbed the end of the hosepipe, turned on the tap and dragged the pipe to beneath the window and the burning creeper. In my haste I had not noticed that the hosepipe was coiled around itself and as I pulled, it became a huge knot which prevented any water coming out. It felt like a Marx Brothers movie with me desperately waving a hosepipe at the fire with no water to douse the flames. The next thing I knew, my husband was throwing the flaming mattress out of the window, followed by the sheets and blankets and the carpet for good measure. Almost hysterical by this time I finally managed to untangle the mess of pipe and doused the flames and prevented the pine tree from catching on fire as well. Fortunately the only damage was to the mattress and bed coverings, Nicolas himself only had some slight scorching around his feet – it could have been a lot worse.
After that his habit of ALWAYS knocking over his glass of milk at every meal seemed quite tame in comparison.
You will be pleased to know that Nicolas has grown up to be a thoroughly responsible adult and is now the father of two small boys. However I believe his eldest son is set to follow in his father’s footsteps – a charming and mischievous child. But wait, he is called Zac, not Nicolas…