"I've had a change of plans," my brother explains breezily over the phone. "Would you like me to stay over tomorrow night and let the two of you go out?" Can he doubt the reply, I wonder. "Yes, yes, we'd love it," we chorus, like children asked if they want Christmas early. Brother, for such a considerate act we would place your photo on the mantlepiece alongside the grandparents, even name a teddy after you.

And so, like the beneficiaries of a building society windfall, we mentally spend our gift several times over. How about a meal out? Or why not lounge around that boozy jazz club we used to frequent? Eventually we agree on a film, but I need a crash course in contemporary cinema.

Having opened the listings pages for the first time in ages, I find I'm reading them differently than in the past. Pre-baby, I looked immediately for the West End options, offering maximum post-film choice of restaurants, bars and general mayhem. That's out now - you can't park there easily, making late arrival and quick getaway impossible. And we soon whittle away the choices at the locals. The lengthy Titanic is out: it starts before bedtime and finishes so late that my brother might be on to the

Samaritans. The same goes for Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Then there's the quality question. The film must have depth, something to savour after our immediate gratification in case it's a while until we return. And I need escapism. So As Good As It Gets, starring Helen Hunt as single parent of sick child, is out. Likewise The Ice Storm, about the ugliness of family life. The Butcher Boy finally wins out (good parking, late start, plenty of psychological weirdness to discuss afterwards.)

But will we actually get there? There's the frenzy of feeding everyone in time. Then you have to engineer the trick of getting child down to sleep with routine calmness.

Somehow, we slip away and reach the screen with minutes to spare. It all feels very familiar, but changed. Bacardi drinkers face a fresh chapter of that sleazy Caribbean story. Smirnoff adverts have grown even more surreal. I check my pager, sootherto parental paranoia. No message. I remember feeling like this once before. I was lying on a comfortable bed after weeks of teenage camping. Fabulous luxury.