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Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so . . baffling

Name game on

highway to hell

Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so . . . baffling

THE trouble with opening your big mouth before engaging brain is that the damage is done and there's no going back. The cackle from the back seat - in stereo - proves it. We're on our way to Thursday night football practice, me, James and his mate Marc. We're a bit light, since we normally have Andrew and his brother in tow, but they have other plans tonight. Frankly, it's blessed relief, since a 4:1 ratio x 15 minutes x two (it's a return trip) at the end of a long day is more than any adult should be obliged to bear without a dry white wine to immunise him against the banality. Last week's symposium-on-wheels focused on the merits of various football teams and players. The car being populated largely by 10-year-olds, opinions were devoutly held and firmly expressed, my passengers failing to recognise that it's futile arguing about things that cannot be objectively measured. Still, I suppose that's the essence of debate and it hasn't prevented members of Parliament wittering away, so why should our cohort in an Escort be any different?

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I've long since stopped trying to correct the numerous factual inaccuracies that tumble from the mouths of babes - or, in this case, are propelled from year five children. It never works. My strategy now, assuming I've won the battle of the radio and have supplanted Kiss FM with Radio 4 (I can't easily hear it, but it's comforting to know it's there with me in the darkness) is to focus on the road and try to catch every fifth word of Front Row or, today, Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. It helps the time pass.

But tonight I forget my rule. The boys, having exhausted a discussion about the pros and cons of the X Factor hopefuls, and moaned about the vagaries of the judging - James, bless him, doesn't really watch the show, but has obviously heard enough background noise in the playground to hold his own - have moved on to the absent Andrew. They're laughing about his new nickname. Andy's vertically challenged, so apparently he's been christened Shorty by his erstwhile pals.

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It all starts sounding a bit Lord of the Flies. Never one to let an injustice go unchallenged, I give the familiar lecture about not doing anything to someone that you yourself wouldn't like to experience. It comes over a bit stern, so I lighten the mood by explaining how in ye olden days (ie, pre-1995) people like soldiers used to concoct nicknames that were the complete opposite to the recipient's most obvious characteristic. As with Don Estelle in It Ain't Half Hot Mum, a short guy would forever be known within the ranks as Lofty, for example.

I know it's a mistake as soon as I utter the word. “Lofty!” They seize upon it instantly. “Can't wait until we get to school tomorrow and tell everyone they've got to call him Lofty!”

What can I do - apart from turn up the radio to drown out the sounds of gleeful triumph and to cloak my feelings of guilt.

Postscript: On the way home, they ask who was that Dickens guy. “Oh, he used to be a striker for Chelsea; then when he retired he wrote radio soaps.”

They nod sagely.

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