‘I don’t have kids of my own – I don’t have a wife or toys, so it wouldn’t work’


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The Independent Online

I had a Sunday roast with some children last weekend, so this one will be about that.

I was in Manchester on another matter and my friend from University but not the University I went to, though I did go to University, invited me to eat chicken at his house in leafy Chorlton. Never one to knowingly turn down roasted poultry and eager to reacquaint myself with his family, I inserted myself into a tram, glided – salivating – into the suburbs and stood booting his door and whacking his knocker until he came out in his apron, a cloud of cooking-smoke not far behind him.

I took off some stuff and went through. I could already hear the excitable screams of his girls, and, to be fair, his boy. Nina, Eva and Reuben were already on fire. Hiding under chairs, painting potatoes, putting shapes through holes or painting their faces/hands/furniture, it was a carnival atmosphere. Reuben quit his projects to tell me a couple of jokes he’d been working on. He’s a wise cat and he’d mixed in a couple of his own with some established standards. I laughed like a drain, laughed too much. He called me on it and we went out into the garden.

I don’t have kids of my own. I don’t have a wife or toys so it wouldn’t work. It would be unfair to have some weird child rolling about on the carpet gazing up at me as I wrote columns on my laptop. But I do visit a fair amount of families. I observe my friends’ young. And it is often a pleasure. And Phil’s mob are really quite something. Bright, handsome and full of vim, they are free-thinking little oiks and a pleasure to be around. At one point Reuben – a six year-old with a fringe down to his throat, without taking any advice from ANYONE – hauled a box-full of fancy dress, plopped a pirate hat on his bonce and started referring to his climbing frame as a ship! That’s the kind of thing we were dealing with. Just wonderful.

It’s funny to see what some people are capable of creating. I met my friend Phil in Russia 15 years ago and he had very little to offer. Tall and vaguely Turkish-looking, he was theoretically a language student but could barely buy eggs at the market. He then evolved to become a man who constantly gets me lost on walks in the Lake District, or forgets to take Scotch eggs up mountains or buys shoes that are too small so he has to walk like a lady. And yet in spite of it all, he’s now gone halves on bringing some gorgeous, free-thinking little cherubs into the world. And not content with that, he’s whacking a chicken in the middle of the table and saying EAT. He is everything I want to be.

Nina, Eva and Reuben all had different approaches to their dinners. Reuben didn’t want carrots and his fringe dipped in and out of his gravy. Nina ate everything and chatted away, but then she’s a bit older and married to Phil. Eva was classic. She didn’t want her sprouts. Then she added chicken and potatoes to her blacklist before ruling out stuffing and becoming interested in her balloon. This, in spite of the fact that everything Phil had popped down was more or less edible. At one point she carefully put salt on the whole lot, before returning to her gaiety, her now seasoned food still untouched. Is she a character? Erm yes, just a bit. Put it this way, at one point she paraded round the room in her new school shoes and at another point she cried because Phil was trying to juggle oranges and one torpedoed into her eye. Mayhem!

When I left, the children gave me gifts. Eva had made me a bracelet, fashioned from string and many beads. Reuben’s gift is more difficult to describe but involves felt and is framed and very charming, and I’ve hung it on my wall for a bit. I shook Phil and thanked him for cooking the shit out of the hen and I congratulated him and Nina on having such an amazing family. Then I hugged Eva and flicked Reuben’s fringe, kissed the driveway, puffed my chest out, someone drove me to the station, and that was that.