Wednesday, 21 December 2016

What price freedom?


There was a time I used to pity people with teenagers and adult children. How awful, I thought, not to have cute little kids anymore. But now I have teenagers and one adult child I think it's great. And I say this even after Eldest just knocked a precious wedding photograph off the stair wall with his enormous rucksack within minutes of arriving home for Christmas, sending it smashing to the floor, requiring me to drive to the framers next morning to have the glass replaced.

Shattered glass.

One reason I like having teenagers and one adult child is that you can leave them, as we did on Saturday night...

"I am sitting in bed in a bed and breakfast in Bedfordshire, drinking a pint, eating crisps, watching the Strictly final, about to go to the party," I text a friend, in reply to one she sends me.

It should have been Danny.

"Boys back home alone?" she texts back.

"Yep," I reply. "Eldest in charge."

"Good luck," she returns.

Mmm. Leaving Youngest and Middle One is one thing, we’ve done that quite a bit recently with no problem at all, but leaving Eldest in charge is quite another. 

The first time we tried it, back when he was about 15, we got a phone call from Middle One at the dinner party we were attending to tell us that instead of putting Youngest to bed in a sensible manner, as instructed, Eldest had secretly hidden in his brother’s wardrobe and leapt out when his lights were out, scaring the bejesus out of the little fella.
Coming out of the closet.

"Did you used to do reckless things when you were twenty?" I ask Husband as we're putting our glad rags on to go to the party.

"Qualify reckless," he says.

"Damage to yourself, others, or property," I say.

"I walked on bridge parapets after a few drinks," he says. "Waterloo bridge springs to mind."

Take it to the bridge.

Later at the party we’re reunited with a group of university friends. I met them all on the very same occasion - back in 1985 - that I met my husband. He was then twenty, and encouraging them to wedge themselves off the ground between two walls in a corridor. Later, all five likely lads lived in the same house in their second year. I used to invite myself round. A lot. In the summer between their second and third years I moved in uninvited, Paula Yates-style, except less glam. I recall a craze they had for tikka-saucing everything before cooking it, particularly sausages.

Just one of the lads.

I find our old friend Johnny, whose party it is, over by the vodka luge. "Do you remember when you used to set fire to your farts?" I say.

"I work in insurance now," he says.

"And you told me I was lucky to be going out with Husband because he's so much better looking than me?" I say.

Johnny closes his eyes and puts his head in his hands.

"I’ve just seen pictures of us in your photo montage in the coat room," I say, "and you were right."

Studying the old photographs in more detail I’m struck by how similar Husband and Eldest look. Some of the faces Husband is pulling are the exact same ones Eldest pulls now, perhaps because Eldest is the exact same age Husband was then.

"I think maybe we should go straight home tomorrow and not go for that walk in the countryside like we said," I say to Husband, when I find him later hunched in a corner of the marquee eating two burgers, his own and the one he got for me.

"Why?" he says.

Next morning when we load up the car we find we have a flat tyre with a screw in it. Perhaps we drove over it on the journey up, or perhaps someone put it there deliberately. Either way we have to go into Bedford to find a Kwikfit, abandoning all hope of going for that walk in any case.

In Kwikfit I ring home. "Everything okay?" I ask Youngest, who actually answers the landline.

"I'm the only one out of bed," he says. "Last night we ate pizza and watched The History of Aardman."

The idea of all three sons being such good boys - eating pizza and watching TV together - warms my heart so much that I don’t even mind that I am sitting in a Kwikfit reception area in Bedford. 

Returning to the house we find everything as it should be. The floor swept, surfaces wiped, bins emptied, all in its rightful place… only for one tiny thing: a wedding photograph, its glass shattered in pieces on the hall floor. The exact same one that had just been repaired.

Love E x


P.S. We had a really good time at the party, though, despite that screw in the tyre costing £150.00 for a new one, plus another £10 at the framers for more glass.

It was a goodyear.

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