Satin briefs for my boy Charlie

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EVER SINCE Father's Day a week or two ago, I've been brooding on some wise words spoken on that occasion, as on so many others, by Auberon Waugh.

'The ideal relationship be-

tween a father and his children,' said Mr Waugh, 'should consist of long silences broken occasionally by the sudden remittance of large sums of money, preferably by post.'

In which case, where did I go wrong with my boy Charlie? True, I haven't heard from him in years, but I haven't received any money either.

Seeking to discover what this can mean, I have been rehearsing conversations with two other fathers, recently encountered: Jolyon Crisp, the infuriated young man who, disgusted by his own respectability, is teaching his children, aged five and seven, to wage war against the state; and Bob, my once father-in-law-to-be, who is grappling with the heavy, dreadful knowledge that his daughter, Penny, has legged it to Cornwall with a fat regatta man.

It's Crisp's hope, obviously, that his two will become serious terrorists, squatting on firecracker arsenals, setting off thunder-flashes under mounted policewomen and, having robbed banks and betting shops, sending a decent share of the proceeds back to him. If Bob had similar ambitions once, they're clearly up the spout.

I rang him up on Monday and asked him whether Penny, my beloved, had, since moving to Cornwall with her fat marina type,

sent him his end of what we must all hope is a very considerable wedge.

'Not so much as a pounds 5 postal order,' said Bob unhappily.

So. Where did we fail as fathers, Bob and I? I'm sure I started well enough, leaving home when Charlie was two and not getting in touch again until his mother pitched up unexpectedly 13 years later with the news that the boy was at Eton.

At which point, I did what you'd have done: I drove down to the place and took the boy away; thereafter, and unable to think of another job for which Etonians are qualified, putting him on the game. More accurately, perhaps, I persuaded him to seek employment as a bunny in a nightclub.

'But, daddy,' he said, 'I want to be respectable like you. A broad-backed naval man, pacing an imaginary quarter-deck with shoulders squared and toes turned out. Up at seven, into your study sharp at eight, toiling till lunchtime at your desk.'

'Never mind respectable like me,' I said. 'I went to Winchester and thus enjoyed advantages denied to you.

'I want you to present yourself at the artistes' entrance of the Embassy Club in Regent Street, where the choreographer happens to be a friend of mine. He'll kit you out in satin briefs and a pair of roller- skates, thereafter coaching you in how to separate disappointed women from their unearned incomes.'

For a time, things went well enough; indeed, the boy showed some aptitude in this profession, rolling home at all hours with cash stuffed in his tights and personal jewellery in his handbag.

Then one day, while nosing through his private papers, I came across a building society paying-in book; discovered that, instead of frittering away his earnings on drugs and toyboys, he was banking them with the Abbey National, had plans, perhaps, to open a boutique on the south coast or a garden centre in St Albans.

For the second time in my boy Charlie's life I did what you'd have done: I bought myself a guitar and, while he was trying to sleep, played pop classics loudly outside his bedroom door, forcing him to leave home and become a burden on the state. And that's the last I saw of him.

Consider this, however: suppose for all these years he's been deceiving me? Suppose he was never on the game at all, instead attended night school, subsequently got on his bike and opened a horticultural business in the suburbs? And here's another thought: suppose Penny, my beloved, has been deceiving Bob, my once father-in-law-

to-be? I rang him up to check the matter out.

'Is it posssible,' I said, 'that for all these years Penny's been deceiving you?'

'I'm afraid it is,' said Bob.

'You assumed - how can I put this? - that she was no better than she should be? An imitation woman, as it were, satirising reality for fat moneymen who flew her round the world?'

'That's right,' said Bob. 'She was very clever - leaving plane tickets lying around and, each

year, trading up her Mitsubishi jeep for a more expensive model. All this was just a cover, though, behind which she carried out her real profession.'

'And what was that?' I didn't wish to know, but felt I ought to ask.

'She was a respected garden designer,' said Bob.

I reached for the furniture, but I didn't go down. Suddenly I saw it all. My brave, exceptional girl, who once had made a whole room dance, discussing pots and planting plans with ignorant men on a Cornish lawn; later, and drunk enough to forget everything she could have been, letting herself down in the course of a suburban party game; being squeezed by a wheezing yachtsman, perhaps, during sardines.

'Holy mackerel,' I said.

'The laugh could be on you,' said Bob. 'Your boy Charlie might be manufacturing barbecue aprons and selling them in Cornwall.'

You'll allow me in the circumstances to use this column as a hotline to the boy. If you read this in Cornwall, Charlie, all will be forgiven if you come home at once. Money in the post would be better still, of course.