Brrng! Brrng! Another call from BBC Radio Wales. As is their occasional custom, they wish me to help the good people of the Valleys who have a phone and time on their hands at lunchtime make their minds up about the burning issues of the day. In the past, I have dispensed Solomon-like wisdom on the propriety of women over 40 baring their midriff on the beach and whether it is socially acceptable to ask for doggy bags from restaurants.
As regular readers of this column might suspect, I tend to take an indulgently libertarian line on nearly all social issues. “As long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses,” is my general stand on everything (apart, of course, from voting Tory, which should be gently but firmly discouraged at all times, on the grounds that not only is it awfully bad for society as a whole, as bitter experience has taught us, but it reflects very poorly on the personality of the person so voting – as readers of this magazine hardly need reminding).
Anyway, Radio Wales. (Incidentally, if you remember my rant against telly people a week or two ago, I forgot to point out that radio people in comparison are absolute angel baa-lambs and models of professional integrity.) Sadly, I cannot go and sit in a studio at the time appointed,
as I have a gig elsewhere. But what, I ask, would you have wanted me to talk about? “Children drinking,” says the producer at the other end. “Should you give your children booze?” “Of course,” I say, before exchanging courtesies and hanging up. And then I think: don’t the Welsh have a strong Puritan tradition? My robust defence of allowing my children a drink from time to time might have provoked a strong and negative reaction. I may have dodged a bullet.
Well, the point is all about growing up, isn’t it? I remember almost five years ago, in the first, agonising and agonised months (Greek: agon,
a struggle) after ejection from the family home, being graciously allowed to take the middle child, also eldest son, on a long weekend trip to Paris to compensate for his having missed out on a school skiing trip. (I believe the appropriate hashtag for this on Twitter is #firstworldproblems but let the record state that this represented the last time I was able to travel abroad financially unaided for . . . well, almost five years.)
He was then ten but had already shown signs that he knew how to comport himself in a public place with decorum and grace. (To my immense pleasure and pride, he still can and does.) I tenderly recall our first evening meal there together, at an outside table at a mid-range bistro – the kind the French do so well – him sitting across me, tucking in to his snails and with impeccable manners accepting and sipping from the diluted glass of wine I had poured him to accompany his meal. The waiter had observed me doing this: his look was avuncular, approving. They do this kind of thing so much better in France, like regicide and other civilised customs.
It is my habit, on first setting foot on French soil, to buy a pack of filterless Gauloises. The boy expressed some dismay about this at first and asked me what Mum would say – which I think he realised, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, was almost exactly the wrong approach – but when I pointed out to him that the only adults not smoking in Paris are tourists, he accepted that autre pays, autres moeurs.
Since then, I have kept a keen eye on the children’s drinking habits. I do not want them to get up to the same kind of horrendous behaviour as I did when I was their age (the vomits, the room-spins at bedtime, the Dutch courage that enabled me to pull the prettiest and richest girl at the party), but then neither do I want to be a hypocrite.
The girl, now 17 – so, in effect, almost legal – likes gin and tonic, which looks to the casual or legally interested observer like lemonade. The boy, though, has always liked proper English bitter (pace the Beloved, who thinks that no one likes beer, they just pretend to) but it is difficult to sit even a half-pint of the stuff in front of a boy without raising the eyebrows of the censorious and others of whose business it is none.
Frankly, I think that to raise a young boy or girl who forswears alcopops and cocktails composed entirely of Red Bull and vodka (itself a highly immoral drink, unless taken neat, straight from the freezer, in a single gulp, with someone of Slavic or Finno-Ugric ancestry) shows I have been doing something right. The cherry on the cake is that they now also express viscerally anti-Tory opinions. At least the Welsh would approve of that.