Why? What? How? and Who?


I was a two-year old once. It was a long time ago, and I can’t remember anything about it, but I suppose I was an average two-year old.

I suppose I tottered all over the place, blundering and falling my way through the day, my parents on high alert and rescue mode from when I woke until when I fell asleep, whenever and wherever that was.

In short, I suppose I was a Terrible Two. I was going through that phase that will cause even the most placid of parents to set their lips in a hard line and draw straws for whose turn it was to extract me from the mud, the dog’s kennel, the tool shed, the shoe cupboard, or any other interesting but unsuitable environment for a toddler.

But I was learning. All these adventures taught me about the world around me in a direct physical way, but they did not necessarily teach my brain. That was down to my new talent of speech, as yet limited, but featuring heavily the word Why.

For instance: ‘Jos, come out of there!’


‘Because that’s the chickens’ house.’


‘Because that’s where the chickens live.’


At this point I was probably scooped up and firmly returned to somewhere more suitable.

I feel I was probably owed far more explanation than I was given at the time – it’s a valid point – why do chickens not live in the same house as the rest of the family? The dogs and cats do.

But let’s not go there! Instead let’s return to Why?

Since those days my vocabulary has increased considerably, yet Why is still a prominent part of it, though these days Why has been joined by What, How and Who.

These four small but indispensable words are my brain’s escape route from mundanity.

Such as: Why is it that medicine always tastes horrible? If it does you good, why can’t it be made to taste nice? You’re feeling terrible, surely nice medicine would be in order?

What was Queen Gertrude thinking when she called her son Hamlet? Poor child!

How do you open a Tetrapak of milk or juice without resorting to violence and a good pair of scissors?

Who decided on the alphabet? I know that one – Rudyard Kipling explains that clearly in his Just So stories.

Just So Stories cover

Perhaps, if one day your writing is stuck, you should summon up one or all of these little boxes of delights, and the world will be your oyster?

But Why? Who said that? What did they mean? And anyway, How’s that going to work?


  1. Vesna

    I believe the quick answers are:
    *Calpol is delicious
    *More like, what was Shakespeare thinking when he named his son Hamnet (aside from honouring his godparents – in which case it’s really why was Hamnet’s godfather named Hamnet.)
    *Egyptian/Semitic/Phonecians I believe got the ball rolling.
    It reminds me of a question I saw the other day – What did we do before Google? The answer being, Nothing. Uncle Jim told you some wrong information one day and you carried it around for the next 30 years. On the other hand, I googled ‘how many paintings did Van Gogh paint’ and it came back with ’52’. I know he painted about 2,000 a year for quite a while there, so how it could be so adamant I have no idea.

    • How right you are, Vesna, indeed, what did we do before Google? We persisted in our ignorance. And as to van Gogh’s output, I just googled it and came up with about 2,100 total in the 10 yrs he was painting.

  2. Jos

    In order:
    Maybe it is to you, but not to me!
    Tch! If he weren’t dead we could ask him
    Your teeth are obviously better than mine
    Personally I think it was sheep – have you seen Runic? I have, on many occasions when I’ve been moving the flock!

  3. “why do chickens not live in the same house as the rest of the family? The dogs and cats do.”
    Dogs and cats can (largely) be trained to wait until they are outside before they do their toiletting. Training a chicken? There lies lots of bacterial infections. Mind you, I was looking, but can’t find, a photo of Corrigal farm museum in Orkney where less than a century ago the hen nests were in the main living room (beds in wall boxes in the same room) and the hens wandered in and out at will. I thought we’d take a trip up to photograph it, but I find, “For the protection of the public the Farm Museum will be closed until further notice.” I fear it will not reopen, but just become another unused and unloved Orkney ruin.
    But I was surprised to read: “Surprisingly, indoor chicken owners are growing in popularity and are more common than you think.”
    I’m not ready to purchase chicken diapers yet!

  4. Jos

    I don’t think I was a child prodigy, so housetraining chickens I most probably did not see as a problem.
    I’d have loved to have gone to Orkney with you! Pity.
    House rabbits are quite big at the moment, so chickens may yet have their day

  5. Thanks for the memories Jos! I was a solid Kipling fan for a good block of my reading childhood. Discovered him again as a poet in my teens. Some great verse to remember and chant aloud while walking, and Sussex, his ode to our mutual home county can still bring a tear to my eye. He’s not regarded as appropriate nowadays for many reasons, some of which I can go along with, but he lived and wrote in a different age.

    • Jos

      Thanks John. I totally believe the Just so stories to be true – it is so much more fun that way!

      • How the Elephant got his Trunk always made perfect sense to me, so I’m with you there!

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