It’s a lovely summer’s morning in the garden, bumlebees wearing fur coats molest dainty flowers in the hazy sunshine. I am showing off my fabulous life to next door’s builder who looks down from atop his ladder with what I consider to be a wistful melancholy – perhaps he dreams of one day having a family like mine. I pretend I haven’t noticed him but I make sure he sees how unbelievably happy and content we all are. Don’t get me wrong, there is no outright animosity between us, but there is a lot left unsaid between our kind. Between my people who wear suits and manual labourers – there is a lot of mutual “judging”. It is a silent war, an unspoken conflict. We all know this. It is a war with a paradox, with both sides somehow managing to look down on the other. Damn them with their topless brown bodies, listening to their radios with their flexible working hours and their cut-off jeans. Damn them I say. Or rather I don’t. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes a lovely summer’s morning in the garden.
I am holding my daughter and she is giggling loudly, she has hiccups and each time she hiccups I pretend to be slightly more shocked than I actually am. Classic family entertainment. My son is sulking because he doesn’t have hiccups and frankly his faked ones were unconvincing. “Cheer up son! You can laugh! It’s funny!” I say to him. My wife joins us just as my daughter does another hiccup and this time my son does laugh. A feeling of warmth spreads across my body, principally because this time his sister has vomitted porridge all over my shirt, my tie and suit trousers. She, however, remains spotless and cackles with glee at her clever trick. This time my shocked face is rather more authentic. My wife doesn’t even try not to laugh. I sneak a glance up and luckily next door’s builder is nowhere in sight. Phew. I have to move fast now: the builder might come back at any moment and see that the thin veneer of domestic bliss now has regurgitated Ready Brek all over it. This must not happen, I cannot let “my people” down. My wife tells me to stay outside and watch the kids, she will get me another “outfit”. That’s what she calls it – an “outfit”. The kids run off to play in the garden and I start to strip off, I can feel the heat of the breakfast-sick through my clothes. I notice as I remove my trousers that I am wearing pink jockey shorts and suddenly I feel a bit self conscious. They were a gift and they feel fantastic but I wish to God I had on something a little more masculine. The pink “Friday socks” don’t help the situation either. I hug the outside wall of our house, here, at least, I am out of the line of sight of next door’s builder. Safe from his rooftop smirks. Where is my wife? I call into the house but she shouts back that she is on the phone. On the phone? I am hiding from a labourer wearing only pink underwear and she is taking phone calls? I hold up the trousers and survey the damage: the porridge has covered the crotch area and one of the legs – this might take some explaining at the dry cleaners. Maybe I’ll let my wife take them in – no that might look suspicious. I’ll do it myself but ask the dry cleaner to smell the crotch of my trousers so they’ll know it is only Ready Brek, yeah that’ll work, don’t want the dry cleaner to think I suffer from premature ejaculation or anything. I’ll even take the kids so they know I am capable of procreative sex. It’s a great plan, I have saved a potentially awkward situation just by thinking it through. Well done James. There is still no sign of my wife. Who is she talking to on the phone? I want to run back into the house but my one year old daughter is heading over to the old wooden bird table. “Don’t touch that!” I yell, watching with a growing sense of horror as she starts to rock it back and forth. I dart my head out of cover and as expected the builder is back on his perch. Shit. What’s taking my wife so long? Why do these things happen to me? I feel like I am evading a sniper in my pants. The bird table looks like it may topple over at any minute. I sprint down the garden as fast as I can and, dressed a bit like a gay superhero, I snatch her out of harm’s way just as it topples over. It makes a lot of noise. She hiccups again and laughs. My son starts to laugh. My wife comes back into the garden and she laughs too. From behind me I hear a wolf whistle and I know that I’ve been spotted wearing pink underpants, pink socks and black leather shoes by the builder.
“Cheer up dad, You can laugh! It’s funny” says my son and hugs my leg. My wife comes over and, still laughing, also hugs me. And I realise, in this family hug, that it is quite funny, so I do start to laugh. There is something quite magical about having your wife and children all hugging you and laughing at the same time. It sounds a bit like love.
I look up and the builder nods at me smiling.
Maybe, I think, he’s not such a bad person after all.