A whimpering from the sofa interrupts the dense silence of those in pain.
“Do something,” I say. “Such as the washing-up.”
“We can’t, Dad. We’re too hungover.”
We had quite the shindig last night, it must be admitted. I wanted to thank my brother for getting me out of the Soup earlier this year, and combine this with a birthday present in kind. My first instinct was to take him to dinner but then I remembered that I do not have the funds for this, and indeed it was a scene at a restaurant that had constituted one of the “croutons” floating around in the Soup, so I had a rethink and decided to cook him a meal instead. After all, it is one of the things I can do that lift me above the common herd. (The other is speak a bit of French, but not in a way that would impress the French.)
I had long entertained a fantasy of cooking a suckling pig but had dismissed the notion on the grounds that the oven isn’t big enough. I mentioned this recently in passing at the Ginger Pig, in tones of wistful regret. “Cut it in half,” said the butcher. “You’re a genius,” I said. So in the end I invited my brother, his wife, their son, my Estranged Wife, our three children and – in for a penny, in for a pound – my mother. And to think I once scorned the idea of family, and strove to live my life as far away from one as possible and never start one. The pig itself weighed in at six and a half kilos and ninety quid, and change. Eye-watering but not so eye-watering as a restaurant bill. It was raised, briefly, at the butcher’s own farm.
“What was it called?” I asked.
“Lucky,” they said. I suspect they have made this joke before, but it is still a good one.
Anyway, it was a delightful dinner. Between the nine of us we got through 12 bottles of wine, which is pretty good going considering that one of us was 90 years old and hadn’t arrived until two hours after everyone else.
But the big problem these days is that the boys have discovered wine. They used to eschew it, particularly red wine, as one might expect from 18-20-year-olds. The occasional beer would do for them and they would also be just as content with Waitrose Still Lemonade (“Is it still lemonade?” “Yes, still lemonade, Dad.”) or a bottle of Fentimans Curiosity Cola. The daughter’s appetite and capacity for red wine is something I have long resigned myself to, and she can match me drink for drink without exhibiting the least sign of inebriation.
Then the eldest went and got a summer job on a farm in Portugal, and discovered that it is possible to drink a flat dark drink no colder than the ambient temperature without losing face or yearning for something fizzier. I don’t know how the youngest picked up the habit but he has, at exactly the same time, as if through morphic resonance, that phenomenon which was once used to account for the ability of blue tits to work out how to peck open bottles of milk on the doorstep at the same time, all across the country.
So now when the children come it is no longer enough to double the order at Majestic, as I do when the Daughter stays. I now have to treble it. (The boys have yet to match their sister’s daunting capacity.) They have learned also to say “splishy splashy” while waggling an empty glass, in the manner of Bernard Black in that sublime sitcom, Black Books, one of the family’s favourites. How can one refuse a “splishy splashy”, winningly timed?
Anyway, the dinner progressed splendidly, and there was much splishy splashy and not a single argument.
“My God, is it really three in the morning?” I said to my daughter, at three in the morning.
“Yes.” This is the usual pattern with my daughter, whose conversation, like that of all my children, is of a high order of wit and intelligence. I may be down and out, but in my children I am blessed beyond the wealth of monarchs. And it’s not just me who thinks that. Their mother thinks it too.
Yet the next day they present a sorry spectacle. The boys had retired an hour or two earlier but that did not save them.
“BIT FRAGILE TODAY?” I yelled into the ear of the youngest when I joined them the following afternoon. It is important to be a cruel and capricious father from time to time. Keeps them on their toes.
Reader, do not censure me for allowing my children to drink. They are old enough to, and I am not a hypocrite. This is why, I think, they trust me.
This article appears in the 06 Sep 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next move