The chances are that, if you’re a parent, you are reading this in the first bit of relative peace you’ve had for weeks.
The children have gone back to school. Let’s repeat that. The children have gone back to school and our homes are our own once more. To quote Churchill, as I am prone to do on such momentous occasions, we may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing.
This is because children are an altogether bad business, what with their lack of volume control, their wanting of things, their consumption of biscuits and also with what can only be described as their “constant moving about”. There is a brief golden period between the ages of four and six when they are sweet and look upon you as a hero. I recall many happy hours spent bonding with them over episodes of Crimewatch, or sitting them down to listen to my Crass and Discharge albums, during these years but it’s all downhill from there. In summation, they are a deep source of unpleasantness, not unlike a living and breathing skin infection. The sooner they are big enough to go collect your copy of the Racing Post, and competent enough to make cups of tea, the better. Of course this is only my opinion. However it is the right one.
It may shock you, but I was once a regular frequenter of public houses. “I thought you just rode around on buses making wry and occasionally amusing observations,” I hear you say but no. I am a man of depths and layers. Peel away the man on the bus and you discover another man. A man in a pub.
And why was I in the pub? Have a word with yourself, the person who just used the phrase “chemically addicted to alcohol”. No. I was in the pub because up until recently most pubs discouraged the entry of children. In fact, if Simon Schama ever does another series of The History of Britain I fully expect him to mark the period when pubs started letting children into them as the final sign that Britain had gone to hell in a handcart.
I saw this change coming gradually, what with having a ringside seat every day of the week. Pubs changed from being places where adults could drink themselves insensible and have extremely violent fights about who was the best left-back Leeds United ever had, into places where people started having to “mind their language” and “stop spitting, you’re setting a bad example”. I watched all this, like I watch everything, with an unfailing eye and a sneer of cynicism never far from my normally rugged yet handsome face. More than once I was heard to utter to anyone who was listening “God help us if there’s a war,” whenever I saw children sharing crisps or being nice to each other. This certainly wasn’t how I was brought up, when crisps were a thing to be eaten in car parks, in a car if you were lucky, and sharing was something that cult-members or Methodists did.
All the above is just a long preamble to why I sort of changed my mind about spending time with family. I was in the pub one afternoon, which was not unusual, and this wasn’t giving me a minute’s thought – in fact, I was relaxed about the whole thing and getting to the point where you could say I was becoming laid-back.
Even so, nagging away at the back of my mind was the knowledge that at some point I’d have to go home and face the daily telling-off that irresponsible parents get, possibly with a further set of instructions concerning finding better-paid and respectable employment. But as is the way with thoughts, this responsibility-thought kept trying to fight its way to the front of my mind where there was practically no room for it, as I had by then drunk more than somewhat. To be exact, three more than somewhat.
Despite this, I kept visualising the chastisement that was coming my way. It wouldn’t just be about gainful employment. It would be about the company I kept. I would be told that I needed a wholescale recruitment drive to replace them man-for-man. I could imagine the phrases being bandied about – “shiftless bums”, “irresponsible”, “badly-dressed”, “always drunk”. In my head I could hear the “always drunk” line over and over just to leave me in no doubt that this would be the part of the message that was being emphasised.
You won’t be amazed to hear that I was outraged at this imaginary attack on my friends. It’s true that one or two had unconventional lifestyles and several didn’t even have what would qualify as lifestyles, but as a bunch of raconteurs and commentators on the modern malaise there was no finer bunch. I’d go so far as to say that if they were running the country it would be a veritable paradise on earth although, of course, no one would ever vote for them as they looked unsightly and in two cases were complete strangers to cleaning products. At least for their proposed use.
Just as all this thinking was exhausting me, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie came on the jukebox and One-Legged-Ben declared to all who cared to listen, “When this came out I was driving on Highway 61 and thinking that life was sweet,” and by way of a response to this Very-Large-Pete stated, “When this came out I was in Full Sutton doing seven years for stabbing Greasy Titch.”
I decided forthwith that there was perhaps some wisdom in the lecture I was about to receive concerning changing my friends.
Immediately I resolved to only associate with doctors, lawyers, teachers, radio disc-jockeys, and other pillars of the community such as MPs or, heaven forbid, my own children.