Dear Dave

Wednesday 14 November 2007

The smell of things to come

Dear Dave,

For a language that has so many redundant words, English has a few peculiar omissions.

I mean, why isn't there a simple, polite word for having sex? Consider how many words there are for something like, say, 'walk'. There's amble, stroll, saunter, plod, stride, tramp, trudge and traipse just for starters and that's for something that no one spends any time consciously thinking about after the age of three. Sure, you could argue that each of those words has slightly different connotations and that they're all useful but then, why isn't there a similar set, based on pace and enthusiasm, for having sex? It's a bit weird.

Another omission is the word I constantly find myself searching for in order to refer to Sarah's brother-in-law. By which, I hasten to add, I don't mean anything derogatory, I just mean it's quite difficult talking about someone I have to constantly describe as my wife's brother-in-law. This is not a handy phrase. It's even ambiguous. Listeners who aren't entirely awake sometimes wonder why I'm going on about my own brother in such a round-about way.

Of course, I'm really talking about Chris, the guy married to Sarah's sister, Catriona, and the reality is that he's not a very close relation to me. Our respective parents have never met, for instance - that's pretty distant. On the other hand, however, I regularly end up spending Christmas day with him and he's the uncle of my children. You'd think I'd have a simple, polite word for him, wouldn't you?

But, no. As far as the language is concerned, he's not really a relative, and to describe him as a friend seems odd and, let's face it, something of a lie. Somehow, though, I spent quite a large part of Saturday round his house as one of a select group of guests at his birthday party. I got to drink his beer, eat his vol-au-vents, help with the washing up and be 'hilariously' asked if I'd brought my own pinny. (Grrr).

'The 2 Cs' have a lot of money, a big house and three cars. Most of their furniture and ornaments seem to be made of fragile, yet expensive, materials. Chris works long hours doing something impressive in the financial sector and Catriona is head of fund-raising for a major charity. They're nice enough (especially Catriona) but visiting them always feels like entering another world. It's partly because they're older and partly because their kids (Lisa and Ned) are teenagers but mainly because we just don't see entirely eye-to-eye.

Chris is the person in the family most likely to say to me things along the lines of:
'When are you going back to work?'
'Whatever are you going to do with yourself once Marie's at nursery?'
'I don't know how you do it. I'd go mad sitting around the house all day.'
'Have you learnt to knit yet?'
'It must be nice having such a short commute.'
'We all know who wears the trousers in your house.'

You know the type.

It wouldn't be so bad but he has a tendency to say at least three of these things every time I see him and then laugh in a fashion that suggests he thinks he's been particularly witty. I've given up arguing with him. I just shake my head and turn a blind-eye to Marie hiding strawberries in his shoes.

I won't go into the details of the day. I've had a cold since the end of last week and most of the weekend is actually a hazy blur. I had my work cut out just keeping it together enough to make sure the kids didn't start playing Frisbee with Catriona's glass coasters. I do recall, though, that we weren't allowed to just sit around chatting - we had to listen to Lisa play the violin, there was a nasty spate of Charades and then... Oh goodness, it's all coming back... there was a karaoke machine present and Chris' Great Aunt Edith has a fondness for The Locomotion...

I escaped upstairs to visit the bathroom. I stayed there as long as I thought I could get away with. Then, as I was heading back across the landing, I heard familiar sound effects from one of the bedrooms. The door was ajar and I poked my head round to look.

It took me a moment to adjust to the darkness.

And the smell.

I was aware that I had entered Ned's room. He's fourteen. There was a pungent mix of BO, cigarettes and dead gerbil in the air. There were hints of other things, too, but I really didn't want to think about those.

Ned was hunched over his mouse and keyboard, his white face palely illuminated beneath his hoodie by the light from his computer monitor. He was swearing profusely as he shot things.

Ned goes to a private school but you wouldn't know it. He looks like he's fallen off the back of a Eminem album.

I hesitated, unsure what to do. I'm not good at handling teenagers. Five-year-olds I can deal with but I struggled to interact with adolescents even when I was one. Still, I thought I'd better make my presence known. I tapped on the doorframe.

Ned glanced in my direction. "Hiding from dad," he grunted. I wasn't sure whether he meant it as a question for me or as a statement about himself.

"Yeah," I replied, non-committally. At least he hadn't sounded particularly grouchy. I risked entering the room further. The floor was uneven and squishy beneath my feet. "Is that Portal?" I asked.


"Mind if I watch for a bit?"

He shrugged. "If you want."

I shuffled through the darkness and gingerly sat down on the edge of his bed. The blackout curtains made it difficult to see anything but the screen. Somewhere, the squeak of a rusty wheel suggested that the gerbil was not entirely dead.

I watched the game in silence for a while. It looked good but then Ned became stuck with a puzzle. He started swearing some more.

"Would you like help?" I asked, spotting the solution.



There was silence again. After a couple of minutes of trial-and-error, he worked out what to do. "You played it?" he said.

"Not yet," I replied, surprised he'd made an attempt at conversation. "I'll rent it sometime. I played Half-Life 2 on the original Xbox. That was pretty good."


His concentration returned to the game. I watched a little longer but I had the distinct impression we were done. "I'll leave you to it. I need to go check on the kids."

"Bye," he muttered.

"Yeah, bye," I said and went back down, just in time to be roped into a rendition of YMCA.

It was the longest chat we'd had in several years, which is a bit pathetic, now I think about it. Chris may be such a distant relative that there's no word for it, but Ned is my nephew. Time was, he used to spend Christmas afternoon getting me to guess the names of all the pokemon on his new cards. After several years of spending Christmas afternoon running round feeding, changing and entertaining my own offspring, I'd emerged from my preoccupation to find he'd changed from a know-it-all seven-year-old into a shambling mound of matted hair and hormones. Now I actually knew the names of the pokemon, he'd moved on to shooting games, explicit music and horror films.

He'll probably come out the other side of that in a few years as a balanced, well-rounded individual (just like I did) but I was troubled by the whole encounter. My boys are five and seven now. I don't fancy the thought that, in not so very long, I'll need to pack a flashlight, a shovel and a bottle of Febreze in order to enter their rooms.

On Saturday, as I flailed my arms about above my cowboy hat, I wondered what could be done to avoid such a future. Maybe nothing. Nonetheless, I resolved to continue spending time with Fraser and Lewis, even though they've grown good at entertaining themselves now. My mind was befuddled by cold symptoms and disco, however - I also resolved to grow a bushier moustache than Edith's so that I get to be the one in the leathers next year.

Luckily, I stopped short of telling her that.

I just wasn't entirely in a fit state. We left soon afterwards, before Chris found a reason to put his shoes on.

Now I'm a bit better but I'm still troubled. I'm hoping Ned's OK and just suffering from age-related sullenness but the prospect of adolescents living in my own house seems closer than it has ever done before. It's a few years away yet but maybe that's just lazy thinking. I need to start planning now. I need to make sure to talk to the kids regularly and occasionally make sure they talk to me. I need to teach them about life, educate them and warn them. I need to hide the beer and my wallet. I need to...

I need to calm down.


That's better.

Maybe I just need to keep on doing my best to pay attention to them. That's good for a start. Beyond that, I don't know, although I should probably never leave them in sole charge of any small creatures, including gerbils, goldfish and their sister - I suspect it wouldn't go well.

Yours in a woman's world,


* * *

Dear other Daves and non-Daves,

If you haven't already, go leave some feedback at the DadsDinner review!


Anonymous said...

(I did write a comment here, but I seem to have somehow lost it... Problem was it was very complicated and very clever and now I'm just too tired to repeat it!)

(Or it was such rubbish that you deleted it)

(I did laugh about your similar experiences with brother-in-laws, how to refer to them, and teenagers though)

DadsDinner said...

Wasn't me!