By the time Sidney started school he had acquired a pair of thick, square framed glasses, which magnified his lopsided, questioning eyes, so that his appearance would give people the impression of a nervous frog. Sidney got used to his glasses quickly. However, he still liked the comfortable feeling he had first thing in the morning, before putting his glasses on, of being in his own fuzzy, out-of-focus world.
One day, when Sidney was seven years old, his mother made him a little origami crane by carefully folding a small square of paper this way and that. Sidney thought it was great. He pestered his mother to teach him how to do it, and despite a few early mishaps, he became an expert crane-folder. This grew to be a long term hobby of theirs. They would sit in the small living room, singing along to musicals, and folding hundreds of little birds in every colour under the sun. They used old newspapers, takeaway pizza flyers, or yellow, carbon-printed pages from the phone book. They hung their work on the ceiling of Sidney’s bedroom. Within a year the ceiling was so crammed with birds of all different sizes that it was no longer visible. Sidney would lie on his back at night and imagine that he was a bird, part of this vast flock, and that they were all flying together, swooping and diving with the wind in their feathers.
Sidney spent a lot of his childhood in the garden. He would make mud pies and then feed them to the trees and the lawn; dirty great slops of muck hurled across the overgrown grass like flying cowpats. He had a pet woodlouse named Susan who he kept in a matchbox for a week, before letting her roam wild and free in the weeds that grew alongside the shed.
He trod on a snail by accident once. It had been raining heavily and he was looking up at the dark, yellow-tinged clouds when he heard a devastating crunch and felt something slippery under his foot. He was overcome with guilt at what he had done. He buried the remains of the snail in a tiny grave next to the compost heap, and put a bunch of blue forget-me-knots on top. He said a little prayer, and although he wasn’t quite sure where the prayer was directed, it felt like the right thing to do. After that, whenever it rained he would run outside to rescue all the worms and snails that had put themselves in mortal danger by crawling onto the concrete patio.
When he was not outside, Sidney watched television. On Saturday mornings he would bring his duvet downstairs and curl up on the sofa watching hours of cartoons. His favourites were Inspector Gadget, Bananaman and Count Duckula. He would make wonky plasticine models of all the characters. Over time the plasticine collected fluff and bits of dirt from when it was dropped on the floor, but this did not bother Sidney. He would line up all the figures on the windowsill of the living room and his mother would talk to them while he was at school.