Sir Paul may be singing, but Daddy is drooping

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The Independent Culture
All my reference books, since I moved house, are trapped in boxes, or piled up in tottering stacks in dusty corners, resting on a foundation of dusty, creaky, unreliable floorboards. I don't know where most of the stuff is, and if I do succeed in locating something, the effort of retrieving it is likely to bring the whole rickety edifice tumbling down. It's like living in a model of my own brain.

I don't miss most of it. I know it's there, you see, locked in print. Paediatrics, cosmology, the metaphysical poets, structural analyses of Mozart, manuals of photographic techniques, learned volumes on the law of tort: it's all there. I can empty my mind, like those men who can empty their minds; a religious sect; I can't remember what they are called, but it's in a book, somewhere.

For the time being, though, until I get the man in to put up the bookshelves, I'm cast up, gasping, on the bleak and rocky beach of my own resources: just me and my brain.

I wanted to tell you all sorts of things which happened in 1966. "1966," I would have written, "was the year when Fleming invented the spinning-jenny, the Beatles released 'Brown Sugar', and Twiggy wore the first miniskirt in Carnaby Street. Later that year a woman in Chelsea had the first recorded orgasm, hashish was first smoked in the House of Commons, and man walked on the moon." You would have been impressed. You would have thought: "Good heavens, this man has a mind like a dustbin." It wouldn't have occurred to you that I had simply cogged it all up out of The Timetables of History, which I haven't, because The Timetables of History is somewhere in the room which I haven't decided what it's going to be for yet, crushed under a pile of microbiology journals, harp- sichord music, old copies of Skin Two magazine and pre-Second Vatican Council res- ponsories. Which is why the only thing I can remember about 1966 is that I was 13 years old.

And, of course, that it was in 1966 that Paul McCartney bought the 150,000- acre High Park Farm on the Mull of Kintyre for pounds 50,000. I say "of course" because it was mentioned in the Guardian the other morning, since when the awful limp song has lodged itself in my brain, a persistent earworm with its thin, whining drone. I suppose in some way it's appropriate that my 13th year should be commemorated, however tenuously, with a song celebrating the formal British test of obscenity: when Inspector Plod is attempting to decide whether a picture incorporating a male doings - you know, a chap's thing - is pornographic, he holds the picture up against a map of the Mull of Kintyre, and (doubtless with the song drivelling flaccidly away in his mind's ear) compares the angle of droop to the angle of Mull. Less droop than the Mull displays, and, oh dearie me, it's up before some burping joke magistrate and into poky, on the sensible grounds that if the British people were allowed to see non-drooping things it might give us ideas.

The other thing I remember about being 13 is that I wanted a black corduroy jacket but I didn't get one. Apart from that, it's all a blank, and now the whirligig of time has brought in its revenges and it's my daughter's 13th birthday and I find the prospect so de- stabilising that it's almost a comfort to take refuge in Sir Paul McCartney's drooping-tool tune and pretend that none of it is happening. The idea that I have a teenage daughter is so absurd that my brain won't quite grasp it. I'm not ready to be the father of a teenage daughter. I'm not ready to be the father of a babe-in-arms. I'm not even ready to hold a driving licence, not really, or to smoke, or go out to the pub, or refer to myself as "mister" or handcuff women to the bedrails or be on the radio or think of myself as a man. I do all these things, it's true, but with a vague tickling at the back of my brain which, if I look at it closely, I can identify as the faint, ropy creak of disbelief being suspended.

But, where my daughter is concerned, I can't be caught doing that. It's real. She's growing up; in the Jewish chronology, she's bat mitzvah now, a daughter of the law; 13 is the boundary line between the child and the woman, and I suspect the reason that that arbitrary demarcation feels so right, so absolutely spot- on, is little to do with children and everything to do with the parents. When she was little she needed care and protection and nurturing but it felt like a sort of sweet fiction, or Just One Of Those Things, like the weather or the Conservative party. But now it feels real.

I look at her now, standing in the doorway, tall and confident and self- possessed, moving out into a world wider than I can either imagine or remember, ready to determine her own future, with her own mind and imagination, her own interior monologue telling her her own story, and I feel more moved by the sheer fact of her existence than ever I did when she was little and trusting and needed me and still thought I could make everything all right. Pride, awe, unassailable love ... and a curious sense of my own burgeoning impotence. It's a tough world she's facing, tougher than it was when I was 13. A world of girlie snog-mags, of drugs and abuse, a world without apparent trust or morality, a world where psychotic businessmen can rape their companies, sodomise their employees, wander about with their chops dripping from the trough and nobody has the balls to punch them in the face. And there's little I can do about it, any of it. We have given her the best kit of tools we can; now - not at 18 or 21, but now - it begins to be up to her to refine and use them for herself. I hope her life will be triumphant, but, for me, it's a difficult day. I have been brought to my own Mull of Kintyre, and been held up against it, and now, as a father, I am just beginning to droop enough to pass the test.

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