My teenage master of the remote controls
HALF-term seemed like a lifetime, but as the last lanky school uniform skulks out the door muttering something about a missing locker key, the silence in the house is delicious.
No arguments, no computer-generated machine-gun fire rattling the windows, just a warm, moist odour of freshly washed hair and slightly burned toast still hanging in the air. I survey the detritus of nine days' cabin fever, finally gathering up cemented stacks of mugs and chocolate wrappers from a playroom that smells like a pet shop.
"We should take up the rug," I suggest as my wife collapses from dropping off our girl, and I motion with one free elbow at the roomful of gaming controllers. "Just spread wood shavings."
"You have the best ideas," she says, scrunching up her face in a way that, just for a second, makes me think, as only a deluded 45-year-old failed rock star can, that my wife might be coming on to me.
But by the time we've finished clearing a path through the other debris, morning is sliding irrecoverably towards noon, meaning we've just an hour or so before the two teens lope in for lunch.
"Seems like ages," I grin, heaving an exaggerated sigh as I corner my wife in the kitchen, "since we've had the house to ourselves," and I wiggle my eyebrows in a way I think might be suggestive but, guessing by her worried expression, is probably just creepy.
"Um," she says dubiously just as the floor creaks upstairs and I realise I have forgotten about our 18-year-old son, 'the Lodger'. "They get half-term in college too?" I mutter dejectedly. "And the week AFTER the others?"
Honeymoon over before it began, we get on with life in a house with three full-time, live-in grown-ups, which, we find, is not without its challenges.
It soon emerges, for instance, how lacking my wife and I are in housekeeping skills. "We're out of milk," sighs the Lodger, shaking the dregs of a plastic bottle in the air. "And there's no food in the house," he adds darkly.
Our speech and grammar also fall pitifully short. We're quite accustomed to each other's verbal tics, but for the Lodger, they are a source of considerable irritation. "What EXACTLY are you trying to say?" he asks us, invariably annoyed.
Then in the evening when the others are dutifully dispatched, wife and I find ourselves on the sofa at last, wrestling with a cryptic combination of remote controls.
Here, the Lodger comes into his own. We relinquish responsibility for all things technological and simply wait obediently for him to come and make the shiny box with the moving pictures work, then while away the late hours together, three sets of legs joined at the hip, jostling for space.
In no time, college life resumes, which catches me out again as I wait in the kitchen in vain for the sound of the Lodger creaking around at noon.
In the evening the two of us sit staring at the stack of remote controls once more in utter bewilderment. "When's Dad coming home?" I say and we both giggle like children and begin stabbing random buttons until something comes on.