Lore and magic have a primitive, powerful presence in the daily lives of children. Magic of ideas, and ‘word-magic’, changing, evolving, adapting, but always there, retiring only with the looming of adolescence (and sometimes not even then). Though as adults we too easily forget it, words, names, and nouns are all infused with magic and power. Semiology is a perpetual presence just below the surface.
I’d recently heard Alasdair and his friends talking of putting a ‘jinx’ on each other, and didn’t understand the significance, or what jinxing involved. Was this a general use of the word? Or did it have some more precise, more targetted meaning?
I discovered the mechanism one Friday evening, in the kitchen. I had been cracking open a bottle of Sam Smith’s and Ali was at the fridge getting himself a fix of orange juice, when I asked him to let me in on what jinxing was.
He’s a mixture of many things, this little boy: naughtiness, fun, recalcitrance, humour, and a charming earnestness when he is conversing on some important matter. He explained:
“It’s easy. If you’re saying something, and somebody else says the same thing at the same time, the first person to say ‘jinxed!’ after that jinxes the the other one; that means he can’t speak until somebody says his name first.”
“Ah,” said I, “and is it the person who put the jinx on who has to say his name, and not just anybody?”
“Exactamento,” he chirped matter-of-factly, turning the orange juice into a glass.
I poured the beer slowly. My children have this belief that I’m a devious sort of parent. I heard him correctly the first time, but I asked:
“Sorry, what was that last thing you said?”
Ali didn’t see it coming.
“Exactamento” we said, in unison.
It took him a second to realise, and by the time his eyebrows had raised and the grin broke out in realisation, I had shouted “JINXED! GOTCHA!”
“Oh!” he parried, “but Harry and me’s found a secret way out!”
“It’s a secret way that nobody else knows about, just me and Harry.”
I should’ve known. But Ali plays the game, and when I repeated that he had been jinxed, he stopped speaking. Of course, I kept talking to him, now that I’d got the hang of jinxing, trying to get him to respond accidentally, but Ali just kept grinning and beaming. I released the jinx and tried to get him again, but of course he was wise to me asking questions with predict able answers.
There is a fascinating internal logic and internal consistency about this world of childhood mythology and magic, echoes of a far more primitive picture of society and beliefs.