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Donkin's World: A Lace War

...When younger, the boys were manageable. Now, as grown men, they occupy our home like ever-growing cuckoo chicks, beaks agape, squeezing their desperate parents from the nest...

Richard Donkin tells of the questionable delights of bringing up sons.

“The people I babysit for, the ones with the walk-in fridge, their dad is just the coolest person I know, he lets them watch gory films and stuff,” said George this morning in just one of his broadsides designed to disperse my daily attacks on his lassitude.

It’s not just verbal either. There are the training shoes kicked off at the foot of the stairs. Shoes go on the rack in the garage a few feet away, behind the connecting door. But George leaves them by the stairs. He does this because he knows it sets off my otherwise latent Asperger’s, or is it obsessive compulsiveness? Either way, the shoes must be removed.

I took to throwing them across the garage but it did no good. Childish, I know, but I began unfastening the laces every time I found his trainers in the hall. Unfastened shoe laces for a teenager represent the labours of Sisyphus. It might have worked had not his brother, Rob, come home from university and dumped his own trainers in the same place. His shoes received the same disciplinary treatment.

In what became a lace war, Rob escalated hostilities by taking some of my own shoes and removing the laces completely, then leaving before I discovered the reprisal attack. George thought this was brilliant. In such small ways are brotherly bonds established forever.

I suppose I must accept that I do not have what it is to be a cool dad. We cannot afford a walk in fridge, even if we had the space for one. I wouldn’t want one anyway. As it is the existing fridge is under-stocked according to the boys. Gill has never bought in bulk.

Sure there’s lettuce, tomatoes, always plenty of vegetables. But the boys want snacks – sausage rolls, mini-scotch eggs, crisps, things they can stuff between bread that can fuel their perpetual grazing. Their cooking extends to two-minute microwave warm-ups. George has an appetite worthy of a shire horse. A nose bag wouldn’t go far enough to meet his craving for carbohydrate. For cereal, four Weetabix just about do it for him.

When younger, the boys were manageable. Now, as grown men, they occupy our home like ever-growing cuckoo chicks, beaks agape, squeezing their desperate parents from the nest. They ridicule our taste in furnishings, our aspirations on their behalf, our musical antiquity and our guilty affection for the Antiques Roadshow and Lark Rise to Candleford. In fact I’m beginning to wonder whether our whole life is an antiques’ roadshow in the eyes of our children.

It’s odd, though, the way they suspend hostilities when they want to borrow the car or seek a lift from the train station. These intervals in the generation war provide a small measure of negotiating power to demand some help with the washing up, mowing a lawn or walking the dog. Given their reactions on these occasions you would think we were seeking to annexe Poland.

Of course there is a solution to their frustration: they can bugger off. And when they do, one of the greatest of life’s mysteries will reveal itself: we shall miss them.

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