When he was very young, Alan Alexander Milne fell out of a tree. He had been looking, with his brother Ken, for a toad and thought he might strike lucky up in the branches. He had already had great success with a mouse, found by his Gordon setter Brownie in a field off London’s Finchley Road. This was in the 1880s when there were still fields off the Finchley Road.
Two little girls who had been playing in the field ran up. They stood hand in hand and dared each other to check that the fallen boy was all right. ‘You ask him,’ said one. ‘No, you.’ Then the first said to the second: ‘Let’s bofe,’ and together they said, ‘Have you hurt yourself?’ ‘From then on,’ Alan remembers in his autobiography It’s Too Late Now, written when he was 59, famous and rich as a result of Winnie-the-Pooh, ‘whenever Ken and I wanted to do a thing together we said, “Let’s bofe,” and giggled.’
They must have said it often. They shared beds (six holiday weeks of waking cold in the morning because the other had stolen the sheets) and baths and bikes. The bike was a tandem tricycle, which they rode up and down the Surrey hills in the summer holidays – Alan in front, Ken, being sixteen months older and stronger, behind.
At home in term-time, in the house next door to their father’s boys’ prep school, they would wake at five in the morning, steal down to the kitchen where Davis, the cook, kept a large bin of oatmeal, and stick their tongues in to lift a few flakes of porridge to keep them going until breakfast proper. Thus fuelled, they would take their hoop and bowl it through the streets of London, from Mortimer Road in Kilburn all the way to the Bayswater Road and back. They were 6 and 8 at the time.
One morning, at 5.30, they took two bamboo poles, each twelve feet long, a present from their father’s cousin in Jamaica, and carried them out into the playground and were Robin Hood and Will Scarlet
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