Sunday, 18 March 2018

Living with a master criminal

I am not, in this case, talking about the Idiot Cat's ability to escape from wherever he's supposed to be, in an attempt to gain access to the bathroom and the sweet, sweet smell of bleach.

Nor am I suggesting that BigBear has developed kleptomaniac proclivities.

No, I am talking about the perils of living with the kind of child who would be drummed out of Vegas. Or, as my parents used to tell me, "people were shot in the Wild West for less..." Because, once again, I am reaping what I sowed, and discovering just how trying it is to live with a child with a prodigious memory. I only wish, in my own case, that I had not filled my adult brain with so much fluff that I am lucky if I can remember my own phone number, let alone recite the names, dimensions, ages and original locations, habitats and habits of dozens of species of dinosaur that most normal people haven't ever heard of.

It is not, on this occasion, LittleBear's ability to remember the personal history of all fossil finds of the last century, that makes me believe a holiday to Nevada is not in the offing. No, it's the combination of alarming memory coupled with playing card games that is causing me to despair at living with a future card-sharp. Fortunately we're still on Top Trumps, and have not introduced him to poker. Yet.

The current favourite, to my surprise, is Volcano Top Trump. It is proving considerably more popular than Dinosaurs, Sea Creatures or Predators.

For those who are blessed enough not to be achingly familiar with the game, it's fairly simple. So simple even a half-wit like me can play and lose with relative ease. There are thirty cards, each one representing a different volcano. On each card are six factors, each with a numerical value. Each player starts with half the cards in a stack, looking at only the top card. The first player picks what they believe to be the best factor of their current volcano and announces it. The second player must then declare the value of that factor on their current volcano. Whoever has the highest value wins both volcanoes, puts the cards to the back of their pack and picks a factor from the next volcano. The aim is to win all the cards.

A spectacularly bad photo of a Top Trumps card

Here, for instance, is Fuji. Some of the factors are a little, shall we say, arbitrary. For example "Wow! Factor" appears to be an assessment of how cool the writers felt the volcano in question to be, with Fuji topping the poll at 100 out of 100. And for reasons I haven't fathomed, "Wow! Factor" and "Unpredictability" have a maximum value of 100, whereas "Deadliness" and "Devastation Potential" both go up to 1000. For those who might feel that these last two factors are quite similar, in fact "Deadliness" is based on how many people have actually been killed in the past by said volcano, and "Devastation Potential" is based on explosivity, potential global damage, and number of people living nearby. Krakatau wins the former category, whereas Campi Flegrei wins the latter (a volcano that, as LittleBear is fond of informing anyone who'll listen, has a town of 30,000 inhabitants built within its caldera.)

LittleBear loves playing this game. LittleBear is particularly attached to the six volcanoes that top the rankings in each category. He is distraught if he loses any of them. Campi Flegrei, however, despite having terrifying potential to devastate the world, is pathetically small and can be defeated by most of the rest of the pack on height. And for those who really care, Cotopaxi is the best all-rounder, not only winning outright in the height category, but having good rankings in another four categories. LittleBear is almost inconsolable if he loses Cotopaxi.

We have now reached the point where when we get to the end of the pack, LittleBear gazes at me with a look of low cunning and muses, "Hmmm, you have a deadliness of 401, but your height is only 1500m, so I'm going to choose height." Because, not only has he kept track of all the cards that have passed, and therefore knows which one is left, but he also knows all its statistics off by heart. And thus I lose Unzen, which is indeed only 1500m high.

Perhaps more alarmingly, he also recalls which cards have beaten which other cards during the course of a game, so if he wins Mayon from me, again a look of low cunning passes across his visage, as he recalls that Mayon last beat Mount St Helens and that all he needs is a respectable deadliness and Mount St Helens will be within his grasp once more. Rather endearingly, he assumes that I am also capable of these feats of recall. Sometimes he simply tells me "Wow! Factor - Merapi" as though this will magically translate to the number 85 in my head. It doesn't. He has been reduced almost to tears as I win a card off him and he announces, "And now you know what I have next and you'll win that too!" And I have to assure him that no, no I don't know what card comes next, because I have not memorised the sequence of every card that has passed, whilst also forgetting the order that they appeared in during the last seventeen games that we've just played back-to-back. And even if I could remember that it's Teide that comes next, the chances that I can remember much beyond the fact that it's a bit rubbish at several things are slim-to-vanishing.

And it is thus that I have ended up repeating my own parents, and telling my son that if he counts cards he won't be allowed in a casino. Because, obviously, being a six-year old boy isn't reason enough for him to be excluded from dens of iniquity.

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