Why this lack of interest? Why, when our kitchen faucet suffered a fatal haemorrhage, did I send a plumber to pick the replacement?
To tell the truth, I have never been much of a fixtures and fittings man. Fifteen years ago, when we were between homes, my wife contacted the bivouac and said she'd found a house in St Albans. "Great," I said, "make an offer." She subsequently redecorated it; I merely picked the pictures. In effect, Fran was earthed, whereas I was a rootless cosmopolitan, ready to flee at the first hint of Cossacks without. I am, I suspect, the descendant of nomads.
I look at my son and wonder what he would rescue should the knock come at midnight. A photo of his mum? His Discman? Not forgetting the Leaning Tower of Pisa that accommodates his CD collection. It grows as quickly as Jack's beanstalk. "Dad," he said the other day, "if you happen to be passing Our Price in the near future, could you buy me Breathe by Prodigy?" This is what passes for culture in Bedroom No 2. Seth respects the written word, but tends to eschew the pleasures of bibliosexuality (that is, reading in bed), having heard that it can make you go blind. I worship the word, and read promiscuously.
The single, I discover, has a label affixed. It states: "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics". I browse through the stacks, curious to see whether the opposite advice has been attached to the recordings of Leonard Cohen. I am joshing. I know perfectly well what "explicit" is supposed to mean: rude words.
"I don't know if you ought to listen to this," I say, handing the offensive disc to the sheltered lad. "You have been taught to practise safe sex, perhaps you should start safe listening, too. "You're joking," says Seth. "Others aren't," I reply. "Why is it their business?" he complains. "Why do they want to control what I hear and see?"
"They're frightened," I say. "They fear things are falling apart, but refuse to accept responsibility for the approaching chaos. So they point an accusatory finger at a portfolio of godless beliefs, spawned in the permissive Sixties. `No wonder there is universal cynicism,' they cry, when everybody else knows the true cause is that we are governed by a bunch of lying scumbags. Wittgenstein said that language limited his world. Our leaders have gone one better; they have created an alternative Britain, a logoland in which phrases like `care in the community', `flexible workforce', `falling unemployment', and `enterprise economy' have a correspondence in reality. Anyone who refers to the real world is denounced as a heretic. Unable to burn such types at the stake, they are using more underhand methods to defend the faith. Mark my words, the attack on `explicitness' is just the beginning."
"So I can listen to Breathe?" says Seth. "When you've finished your revision," I reply. He is about to take his mock GCSE exams, and I have developed a split personality; I resent being an agent of the school, in loco academia, but I have also begun to exhibit symptoms of Einstein's syndrome by proxy.
It being quiet upstairs, I settle down to watch Manchester United play Rapid Vienna. Approaching half-time, the telephone rings. "Answer it!" I shout. "It's a man," Seth informs me. "He wants to speak to you. He says his name is Dick." "I don't know any Dicks," I reply. I pick up the receiver. "Hello," I say. "Hello, Clive," he says. He clearly knows me, but not that well it seems. "Do you have a big cock?" he asks, very polite, solicitous even. Just my luck; my first obscene phone call and it's a fella! He repeats the question. I am thinking: is this a chum having me on (a prick-teaser, as it were), or is it for real? Either way, the offer, when it comes, is admirably explicit. Either way, I terminate the conversation.
"Dad," says Seth, "what did he want? Why have you gone so white?" Have I? Is this how the easily shocked feel when pornography invades the living room? But they can always switch off the television or radio. Just as I put down the receiver. But there are differences. For one thing, I cannot stop the caller renewing contact. For another, the obscenity is personal, has my name on it. This is the real cause of my discomfort: the personalisation, not the actual suggestion. Dick knows my name. That is the scary thing. And what do I tell Seth? The truth or an evasion (aka parental discretion)? "It was the Boston Dangler," I say. "He made me an offer I was happy to refuse." "What do you mean?" demands Seth. So I explain.
Much later that night, when we are both abed, there is a loud knock at the door. "Who is it?" whispers Seth. I fear I know the answer without looking. At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to get laid in 1996. Admittedly, time is running out, but I am not that desperate to meet the deadline, nor did I have a man in mind. "I don't know," I reply, "but I suggest we don't stay to find out. Let's grab our treasures and skedaddle"