“George Carman here,” says my voicemail. “There’s a fire and we need to put it out”

I nervously leave a message, before reflecting on the fact that Carman died in 2001. 

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And so life keeps moving on. I wrote about the ancient Mercedes that died; and now Jaffa, the cat I mentioned a few months back, has died too. That pitiful miaow she employed to extract food from the soft-hearted was probably saturated with pain; her liver was collapsing, and her life was becoming unsupportable. The Eldest Son, the family member she was closest to, held her while she was put down. His mother couldn’t face it, and stayed in the vet’s waiting room. I can’t blame her. I don’t know if I’d have had the character to do what the son did.

So I invited him up here; he’d have been alone in the house otherwise, and I know how unsettling that can be after a beloved pet has died; you keep seeing it out of the corner of your eye.

Lord, it was fun. If someone had told me, around the time my wife was nagging me to get her pregnant, that I would end up actually pining for the company of my children, my reply would have been terse and sceptical. And if they had dared to suggest that they, in their turn, would enjoy my company, it would have been even more so. But so it has proved.

The important thing for a father in the autumn of his life is to show his children how grown-up he is; to offer a model of maturity, and wisdom. So I ask the Welsh Enchantress, who has been here a couple of days, if I can borrow her Audi TT to pick the boy up from Dundee station. What I want to do, I explain, is try to shock the Eldest Son. He knows I’m driving a pick-up truck, and while he would think it cool, it would not be a surprise. A black sports car, though, would. He is normally a master of the poker face, as deadpan as Jeeves; I want to see that eyebrow of his raised a quarter-inch.

The WE and I go back and forth on whether I ought to borrow the car. She let me drive it back through the Highlands, after a trip to Braemar, on the kind of roads that are used to advertise precisely this kind of car; but this time I’d be driving it on my own. It is also a little rainy. In the end we agree that it would probably not be a good idea, especially as I would be driving into Dundee, a city I do not know well, without a map or a sat-nav. But fate forces our hand: the pick-up is being used. So I take the car. For added effect I am dressed all in black. I suspect I look like a complete wanker. But the important thing, I remind myself, is to wind up my son.

I park behind the permanently installed police van outside the station and call my son, to ask when he’s getting in. “What car are you driving?” he asks, for practical reasons. “You’ll see the Discovery on the other side of the street when you get out of the station; just turn right, I’ll be a few yards down the road,” I say. I think I have dodged the question successfully.

As he approaches the car, we both try to keep our faces straight but it is impossible. Broad grins are exchanged.

“Where did you steal this?” he asks. The last time he saw me, I was sleeping on the sofa of the family home, at something of a low point in my life. “Long story,” I say. “It all begins with the novichok poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury.”

To where the WE returns the next day; but I am glad her and the ES’s visits overlapped. That the boy is with me stops me from feeling too bereft.

We settle into a routine. I get up before him, and make him sausage, bacon and eggs for a late breakfast. Then I show him how grown-up writers behave, by filling him in on all the latest details of an ongoing feud with Rod Liddle. This involves some background explanation.

“Rod Liddle is someone who used to be quite an interesting figure in journalism, but he made a face when the wind changed and is now mainly known for writing columns which goad liberal lefties like me, and for having cheated on his wife during his honeymoon. Oh, and for an unpleasant incident which you can find in the second paragraph under the heading ‘Personal Life’ in his Wikipedia entry. Apart from that, he’s lovely. I read an article in which he said that 52 per cent of the population – yes, he said ‘population’ – voted for Brexit and I corrected his error. The next thing I knew he sent me a private message impugning my talent and calling me, to paraphrase, a morsel of ordure, and it all sort of escalated. The last thing I heard from him, he’s going to sue me, but on what grounds I’m not sure.”

Later on, in the queue at the Co-op in Alyth, I listen to my voicemail. “George Carman here,” says one message. “There’s a fire here, and we need to put it out.” I nervously leave a message, before reflecting that George Carman’s voice sounds awfully like my friend John’s, and also that Carman died in 2001. I wonder how all this goes down with my son, but he’s playing it cool. Unlike his father.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The inside story of Mossad