Class Monitor No. 10: Divorced dads
Weekend in the park, and the dads are out. They seem confused and a little unsure of themselves, as if they do not know what they are doing, and yet they do the same thing every Saturday morning. They get up, take two painkillers and go to a café where they are served fried battery eggs, pink catering bacon and sausages, boiled beans or tinned tomatoes, pappy white toast and stewed tea. Then they drive to their ex-partner's house and collect a child.
As they pull up at the doors that were once their own, the dads register anxiety rather than joy at the prospect of a day with Junior. It's much the same for Junior, who looks back at Mummy as he walks to the car. It is barely six months since Daddy left, but already he has grown apart from the man with whom he must now get into the car.
What are they going to do now? "The park!" shouts Daddy. "Let's go to the park!" The park offers limited recreational possibilities, being little more than a patch of ground that slopes down to 12 plane trees standing by the river. Its central area has been turned into a quagmire by Sunday morning footballers and its margins are littered with dog excrement. The trick for the dads is entertaining the children within the narrow band between mud and shit (a task that is, perhaps, a metaphor for the business of successful living).
The entertaining proceeds: footballs are kicked and shit is trodden in. When the dads walked out, when they chose freedom over responsibility, the wild life over the domestic, did they realise that it would in fact render their weekends dull and dreary? That, rather than stay at life's unending party, they would do their drinking on nights when nobody else does?
Soon the children tire of running between the shit and the mud. Their footballs are smeared and their dads - hungover, smoking and distant - pay no attention. The children pull at the dads' hands, the dads look down and the cawing of crows is joined by those familiar words: "I'm bored."
So lunch comes early, as it did last week, and although it's only midday, and the dads are still bilious with bacon and stewed tea, they wander towards the fish-and-chip restaurant that faces the park. The dads shout "Fish and chips!" with false enthusiasm, and the children - still resentful at being dragged around even though they know that Saturday is "Daddy Day" - come shuffling behind them.
Across the road, the man who owns the fish-and-chip restaurant looks through the shop window and smiles. Another good Saturday.