It’s a sure sign that your bedroom needs re-decorating.
You’re 17 and the frieze running round your wall is covered in smiling seals and sailing boats. Yep, time for Mum and Dad to do something.
But before we’re condemned – and Ben sues for the psychological trauma of children’s wallpaper throughout his teenage years – let me enter a plea for the defence.
Tom. Jessica. University accommodation bills. And re-plastering the ceiling – instead of Mum and Dad having a weekend away, obviously…
Anyway, we’re on to it now. Tom’s not back until Easter, Ben’s been moved upstairs and Jane and I are like a well-oiled machine…
“Right, Ben’s entire bookcase needs sorting out. We’ll save some books for our future grandchildren. Everything else can go to the charity shop … What’s that you’ve got?”
“A certificate. Inter House Swimming Gala. Juniors. 25m Breaststroke. First place. We’re keeping that. It might make all the difference when he applies to Goldman Sachs in five years’ time.”
“Alright. But we don’t need every picture he ever painted.”
I set to work. And stopped almost immediately.
“I’ve found The Wide Mouthed Frog. Shooting out his long, sticky tongue.”
My wife sighed. That, ‘I’m too old for another child’ sigh.
“I’m a wide-mouthed frog and I eat flies,” half of the well-oiled machine said.
“Alright, darling. But in the short term could you put your tongue away and carry on working?”
I was dimly aware that Jane was filling three boxes for every one of mine. Then again, she wasn’t working on the bookcase…
“Look! Five go to Finniston Farm. I used to love reading Famous Five to Jessica.”
“Just put it one side, darling. And keep quiet. It’s probably illegal to own a Famous Five book these days.”
Quite so. Some stories didn’t quite match today’s stringent standards of political correctness. I had vague memories of some serious explaining and a whispered, “don’t say that at school.”
What was next? Moving furniture. My wife appeared to have cleared half a bedroom while I’d managed a shelf. Well, half a shelf.
Desk, chair and extra computer desk were duly shifted into Jessica’s room. Let’s hope she doesn’t fancy a weekend at home any time soon.
Back to work. Time to play one of my trump cards. “Why don’t I make you a cup of tea, darling?”
“No. We’ll have one when we’ve finished.”
Damn it. She puts those paint-spattered trackie bottom on and there’s no stopping her.
I reluctantly went back to work. And then stopped. Again. “Sam’s Pizza,” I said.
“Sam’s Pizza. My all-time favourite.”
We’re all agreed on one thing, aren’t we? There’s no greater pleasure than reading to a small child. And in the read-aloud pantheon, Bear Hunt is good, Gruffalo is fine but nothing – absolutely nothing – is as much fun as Sam’s Pizza and the brother/sister storyline. And with that unabashed commercial, I’m sure David Pelham won’t mind me quoting my favourite verse. How Ben and I loved this one…
I want my olives cut in half/Like in the cook book photograph/ ‘Okay,’ Sam gave a weary shrug/One olive was a big black…
“BUG!” we’d yell in perfect harmony as my little boy lifted the flap. Happy, happy days…
I stared at the pile of books on the floor. And realised how much we used to read to our children – and how much reading they did on their own. I don’t wish to get old but what I wouldn’t give to snuggle up with a small child and Sam’s Pizza again.
“Hi, Tom. No, nothing special. Just phoning to see if you’re OK. And if you’re in a serious relationship…”
Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and “very, very funny” to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here.