This Side of the Pond – May 17

By Sarah Pridgeon

Once a big sister, always a big sister, no matter how old one gets. When my baby brother balked at my suggestion for a Wyoming-themed gift for my niece, I did exactly what a big sister is supposed to do.

It all began when I stopped for lunch at the Coffee Cup and my friend spotted the cutest hobby horse I’d ever seen. It makes noises when you press its ear and has big, innocent eyes and floppy ears. Ideal for a four-year-old, right?

Obviously my real wish was to buy it for myself, but it was too short in the pole and I’d have ended up with a crick in my neck from riding it around. The next best thing would be to buy it for Amelia Rose, I decided, the little blonde scrap of a thing with all the personality in the world and huge blue eyes even more innocent than the horse’s.

I sent a photo of the horse to my brother, accompanied by the appropriate squeals of excitement. Several hours later, he sent back an unenthusiastic reply.

Yes, he said, my niece would probably like a hobby horse, but he couldn’t be sure. She has been known to use the kitchen mop to ride around on, but he didn’t think I should get her one regardless.

My heart broke at the idea of my niece resorting to a cleaning implement to fuel her imagination. Why on earth wasn’t I allowed to get it for her?

Well, she’d probably knock over everything in the apartment with it, he said. I explained that the actual hobby horse is less unwieldy than a mop and built with four-year-old leg length in mind, rather than ease of reaching behind the fridge.

And what does that matter? I added. You could always just take it out with you on walks in the countryside where there’s nothing to knock over that can’t be picked back up.

No, he said. She’ll just ask him to carry it for her. It was at this point that my big sister switch flipped and I entered the mode of, “I know better because I’m older, so I’m just going to discount his opinion entirely, he’ll thank me for it later.”

And so I chose the nuclear option. I told on him.

My mother’s reaction to the sorry tale was that my brother is a miserable swine, which I thoroughly approved of. She suggested I could purchase the hobby horse to be used at nanny and granddad’s house only, which would bypass the objections of broken crockery and hauling.

I gleefully took this back to my brother, who laughed and said it was up to me – she might use it, she might not. The risk was all in my hands.

He also asked how exactly I was planning to get a hobby horse all the way back to England. I’m coming back to Dorset for a visit soon, I said, so that’s simple: I shall ride it.

Alternatively, I added, there’s a reason I’m asking you about this now. I need to buy it fairly soon, because it’s going to need a head start if it’s going to swim all the way across the ocean.

My brother rolled his eyes and said he still didn’t think it was a good idea. She’ll just get bored of it, he argued, but I could only think that four-year-olds are determined to get bored of almost everything, but they still come back later once they’ve cycled through the rest of their entertainments.

A few days after that, my brother tried to call me from a cottage they were staying in for the weekend. He couldn’t get through because the internet wasn’t great, but later said he’d wanted to show me there was a hobby horse in the cottage and my niece had grown bored of it in minutes.

How would that have proven anything? I asked. Showing me footage of her not riding a hobby horse is not exactly what I would call irrefutable proof.

Aiming to promote reconciliation, my dear husband offered up an alternative: he found a picture book all about Wyoming down at Decker’s that would allow me to share my home with my little niece, which he thought I could maybe take with me instead.

I can’t claim to have been completely mollified – my big sister instinct runs too deep for that – but I did concede it was the better option for my suitcase. I was also forced to admit that it would give me the chance to tell her all about this great state as she read through it and asked questions.

My big sister instinct has often got me into trouble, and unfortunately my brother has somehow become an adult himself, not to mention a father, and I can no longer deny that he sometimes does have useful opinions.

I still think a hobby horse would have been a brilliant present for my beloved niece, but at least I can bring her a tiny piece of home without starting world war three in my brother’s kitchen.