I was down on the site with Alex when Marcia pulled in from town. I knew she was there because the sound of that American V8 is an aural delight.
‘Marcia is back!’ shrieked Alex before running off. Whoopee shit, I thought as I cradled a load of pipework wondering how to plumb the dishwasher in. The plumber was supposed to be here a week ago. How the fuck am I supposed to get Marcia off my back by screwing her kitchen cabinets into their final positions if I haven’t got anything to hook the pipes of the dishwasher to? Not only that, it’s the manic bloody instructions. I put together power stations armed only with a few pdf files so how can Bosch make the installation of a simple dishwasher so bloody confusing?
Alex loves strawberries. They’re his favourite fruit. If you live in UK, you can buy them all year round in supermarkets and during the season, pick your own. Here, they are strictly seasonal.
Alex came hurtling back into the confusion of what, one day I hoped, would be Marcia’s kitchen.
‘Look Daddy, look!’ he squealed with poorly contained delight, ‘Stwabewwies!’
Sure enough, when I looked, he was clutching a big punnet of strawberries. They looked fantastic, the first of the season. If he had been me, he would have sat down on a tool box and proceeded to scoff the lot. With commendable restraint, however, he informed me he was going to put them back into the car and eat them at home.
‘There’s some for you, Daddy, some for Mummy and lots for me,’ he said as he left.
I went back to sorting my kitchen out. Imagine buying five different jigsaw puzzles, each box with an indifferent picture on the front demonstrating what the finished article might look like. Now imagine the supplier, in an effort to save shipping costs, emptying all five puzzles into one box and giving them a good stir. That was the problem I was facing with ill-disguised and very ill humour when I heard Marcia shouting at Alex.
Alex is, by nature, a very generous boy but there is a difference between being generous and having the piss taken out of you. Some of Alex’s ‘friends’ take the piss. They will use him to get into the room, ostensibly to watch cartoons with him, and if I don’t keep a weather eye on them, will raid the fridge and empty it of anything digestible. They will persuade him to go down to the shop and collect a few packets of biscuits which they will then scoff.
This irritates me. It makes Marcia incandescent. It is an awkward situation to deal with. I have half dealt with it by banning the kids from the room but some of them are nice kids, they do not have TV at home so a blanket ban is hard on the innocent. Having decided to let some in, it is hard to look a particular kid in the face and say, ‘not you’. The last thing I want to do is destroy the natural, altruistic character trait that Alex appears to have been born with by convincing him that most of his friends are a thieving bunch of opportunistic bastards.
So I told the boy in the shop not to hand out anything to Alex. A pretty obvious first step to a solution. Alex can make his own Nestum, a porridge like mixture made with milk. He likes to collect all the makings and eat it in the lappa. Pretty soon I realized these bandits were encouraging Alex to come into the room, raid the fridge and bring everything into the lappa whereupon they would devour the lot. I fill the fridge with milk, fruit, yoghurt, juice etc. so that Alex can help himself. Now I was faced with banning him from going into the fridge.
This would be an approach to a problem rather similar to the way the UK Government deals with crime; the steady erosion of the civil liberties of the innocent in order to deal with a criminal minority.
My problem was that we are not talking just about food here. Every football I buy the lad is stolen. Half his golf clubs are missing. His ‘bike was trashed. With the help of an altruistic American who lugged the kit from Florida, I set up softball training for the kids. Someone has stolen the bat putting an end to that.
Marcia hurtled into the kitchen.
‘What’s the problem?’ I asked. Normally I don’t ask as it only invites hellfire and brimstone but I was hoping to distract her from the poor progress on her kitchen.
‘You have to talk to Alex!’ she frothed before tossing me a mostly empty strawberry punnet.
Now if I uttered the obvious, ‘what about?’ I’d be dead meat.
I am surprised there are so few female chess Grandmasters. Women, you see, have minds that work at least ten paces or half a dozen moves in advance of their husband’s. If I timorously pushed forward a pawn, the move itself an admission I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, she might take matters, principally in this case, Alex’s arse, into her own hands.
‘RIGHT!’ I said throwing my so far unemployed screwdriver to the floor, ‘I’ll talk to him RIGHT NOW!’
I couldn’t immediately locate Alex but, on a building site, there’s plenty of places for a kid fond of un-slapped buttocks to hide.
I collared one of the labourers.
‘Why is Marcia so upset?’ I asked.
As usual, it took a while to get a straight answer. Apparently, just as Alex was placing the strawberries into the car, his friends walked by on their way back home from school and Alex offered them a strawberry each. True to form, they tried to wolf the lot until Marcia noticed and rescued the few berries left.
Oh dear Alex, I thought. I could understand Marcia’s frustration. How on earth could I teach my young son to take care of his kit? I suppose he deserved a bit of a spanking for giving away our strawberries but having been thrashed regularly for every minor youthful infraction or as a salve for the marital stresses within my parent’s marriage, I have never laid a hand on either of my boys and I did not intend to start now.
Unsurprisingly, Alex prefers to ride in the Jeep so even though he was in Marcia’s bad books, he elected to ride with her rather than with me in the truck. I had placed the denuded punnet of strawberries in the cab when Alex pulled open the door shouting, ‘My stwabewwies, my stwabewwies!’
‘They’re not your strawberries,’ I said, ‘they’re mine and Marcia’s, you gave yours away’
He looked so crestfallen.
‘Close the door,’ I told him.
That evening, Marcia made an excellent supper and we all enjoyed it watching a very funny Golden Oldie on TCM. Alex laughed delightedly all the way through. You can’t beat slapstick comedy free of overt sex and violence. Then it came to dessert. All three of us love fresh strawberries covered in yoghurt. The mostly empty punnet was sitting on the table. I pulled the punnet towards me and fetched out my multi tool. Alex covets this multi tool of mine. In one ever so teeny pouch size, it has knife blades, screwdrivers, a can opener, bottle opener, corkscrew, even a fork and spoon and, this really amazes him, by manipulating just the right implements, the body separates so you can have a knife in one hand, and a spoon or fork in the other. He loves it and really wants to play with it.
‘Do you want to help me cut up the strawberries?’ I asked him.
‘Pleeeze Daddy!’ he affirmed, his mouth watering.
‘Right, go and get me three bowls from the kitchen and then you can slice the strawberries’
He was off in a flash and was back in no time at all with three bowls and spoons.
I have various wood cutting boards but the one I pulled out was the small one. I use it to cut up the ingredients for my late evening sandwich. I like fresh green peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, red hot local peppers and mayonnaise.
‘Get the yoghurt out of the fridge,’ I instructed him. He did as he was told.
‘OK, son, I know you know how to do this; separate this so you can use the knife to cut up the strawberries’ I said, handing him my multi tool.
He was delighted. He struggled a bit but eventually worked out how to separate the two halves and started slicing strawberries.
‘Righto,’ I said, ‘open the yoghurt and divide it between the three bowls, pull out the spoon from the multi tool and use that’
Like I said, this kid loves strawberries and he also loves doing things together with his Dad so he carefully divided the yoghurt.
‘Right,’ I continued, ‘divide the strawberries into two piles’ which, because he trusts his Dad, he did without question.
‘Now, Son, put that pile of strawberries into that bowl and the other pile into that bowl’
Now I detected in him the first hint of uncertainty. There were three bowls full of yoghurt but only two with berries.
‘Give a bowl with strawberries to your mother,’ I instructed.
He did. Now there were only two bowls left; one with strawberries, one without.
You know how kids tend to anticipate instructions, especially in their favour? Well Alex did not know which way to twitch but twitch he did. All his instincts told him to twitch for the only remaining bowlful of strawberries but what if he grabbed it and I told him to give it to me? He wasn’t looking at me anymore, he had missile lock on the berries.
Marcia spooned a mouthful of yoghurt and berries down while Alex looked on, slavering like a Nile crocodile.
‘Deeelicious!’ Marcia declared.
‘Are they nice, Marcia?’ I asked.
‘Wonderful!’ she exclaimed, hamming it up, ‘they’re so sweet!’
‘Alex? Alex! Can you pass me MY strawberries, please?’
My God, you should have seen his face. He tried to reach for the bowl of just yoghurt.
‘No Alex,’ I said firmly, ‘I would like the bowl with strawberries in, please’
With tears welling up in his eyes, he passed me the bowl of berries.
‘Eat yer yoghurt, Son,’ I said, ‘It’s good for you!’
If there are any film producers out there, by the way, looking for a real B movie actress, look no further than Marcia. While Alex sat there contemplating a life without strawberries, she was pulling off the best fake orgasm I had ever seen (or heard and trust me, at my age that’s all I hear now) as she emptied her bowl.
Awful reality dawned on Alex. He wasn’t going to get any strawberries; he was going to have to watch his parents eat them instead. He picked up his bowl of pure yoghurt, yoghurt unadulterated by his favourite fruit, and ate a spoonful while stoically staring straight ahead at the TV.
I made an elaborate show of spooning a strawberry out of my bowl, turning my eating iron into an aircraft and turning long finals into my mouth. As its arc, the radius of which limited only by the length of my arm, carved its way through the airspace of the room, Alex could not keep his eyes off it so I paused, declaring to air traffic control a ‘go around’.
‘What’s the matter, Alex?’ I asked.
‘Daddy, please can I have some stwabewwies?’
‘But Alex, you gave all your strawberries away, these are mine and Marcia’s!’
I rejoined the circuit on short finals and popped the strawberry in my mouth.
It was sweet, it was firm, delicious. Except I could not swallow it.
Marcia is by no means vicious. But she does believe that by sparing the rod, you can spoil a child. I agree. Selective and carefully used corporal discipline does work but for reasons I can’t bear to consider, I can’t do it. So I have to make my point in other, non-violent ways (except when it comes to adult males) and Marcia respects my decision. After all, unlike African men, I don’t beat my wife either.
There is, however, such a thing as stretching a point. I looked at Alex, sitting there forlornly on the sofa. I think I had made my point, extending it as far as was necessary.
‘Alex,’ I said, ‘can we swap bowls?’
Marcia, having put on such a good performance at my behest, just rolled her eyeballs.
‘Can I watch cartoons as well, Daddy?’ he asked grabbing the bowl.
‘Don’t push yer luck son…’
Maybe, just maybe, he’ll think twice before giving all his stuff away again.