When the boys come home

As soon as your son walks through the door and embraces his mum with a big old bear hug you know there's only one thing on his mind... a) what's in the fridge? and b) will mum do his washing?

When the boys come home

The other day I saw my son whatsisname, Mark, briefly.

He is performing Shakespeare in outdoor venues across the nation until the end of August but popped back home for a few hours last week.

He hadn't grown since I last saw him (probably because he's 26) but he was still tall and had become muscular from hauling stage props, and tanned. He looked like a Roman god. I had to quell the urge to take him out and introduce him to people - strangers; anybody.


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“Hello, this gorgeous young man is my son, Mark. Yes, my son…”

Perhaps with a loud-hailer in the town centre: “Attention, everybody! This is my son, Mark… form a queue to see his baby photographs.”

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It is impossible not to be proud of your children's smallest achievements - even when they amount to little more than catching the sun.

When, my daughter, Ruth won her singing trophies it was hard not to abuse my position as a journalist and insist on a front page.

The swimming certificates, the smiley faces on the bottom of schoolwork (what happened to gold stars?), the exam successes… looking back it sort of made up for their teenage years.

Ruth and Mark, of course, just want to curl up and disappear when their mother praises them. When your kids hit their mid-20s, the sword of embarrassment is one of the few weapons left in a parent's armoury.

It first became apparent when we realised that neither of them would dance with their dad at wedding discos for reasons they describe simply as: “dad dancing”. In fact, they refused to acknowledge him as their father when he danced - even though, in my opinion, he is a lovely mover.

Just the hint that dad might specially request the Macarena was enough to ensure their exemplary behaviour throughout the dullest occasion.

They would also be unnerved by any public displays of affection between their parents, sending out “old people kissing” alerts if we should happen to stumble into each other when our Zimmer frames hit the occasional pothole.

That sort of physical contact is, they imagine, the preserve of the young. We would tell them they are wrong about that but whenever we try they put their hands over their ears and sing: “La la la la la la la,” until we give up.

So, my tanned and lovely son returned but couldn't stay long - just long enough to eat supper and make up a food parcel from anything else he could find in the fridge.

He was also pleased with the two T-shirts I bought him in the Debenhams summer sale.

Giving him a big hug and wishing him the best for York, Saffron Walden, Canterbury and all other dates on the tour, we waved him goodbye. His parting shot: “Thanks for the T-shirts, mum. I've taken them and left some stuff here.”

It was a couple of hours later as I did the alleged “quick” crossword that his words came back to me. I dropped the newspaper; I ran upstairs into Mark's bedroom and flung open the laundry basket (empty four hours previously).

It was bulging.

What we can't work out is how he smuggled in that huge great* pile of dirty clothing.

Surely he didn't come back home only to offload his washing?

My husband worked out that to achieve that amount of laundry in the short time he visited Mark would have had to change his outfit every five minutes during his few hours with us.

It was a set up.

Either our son arrived wearing several layers of clothing or, he waiting until we weren't looking and brought in a suitcase.

Of course, I could have just ignored it but now I knew it was there, it was impossible to disregard. So it is now all washed, folded and tidily put away.

Dad has put on his dancing shoes.

*huge great: I recently learned that this elegant piece of tautology is exclusive to our region. Correctly pronounced - using all three syllables - it is, of course “hewage great” and used to emphasis general hugeness.

Pedalling happiness

Following my miserere regarding the Historic Churches Bike Ride Derek Cook, from Gorleston, chides me:

“I can only conclude that no serious attempt was made to collect money for the churches. Why? Well, if you had advised readers in advance…. Thousands (perhaps more!) would have paid to enter and ride behind you (�1 each?).”

You have a point, Mr Cook. It is probably the nearest thing to a solar eclipse we will see this year.

He continues: “The image of you waiting nervously at the start brings back memories of a family friend entering a local half marathon for the first time, sparkling new gear etc, who turned round to see a number of bronzed Adonis copycats (male and female) arriving at the starting line after running about seven miles from their homes.”

In fact, his friend was to go on to complete this year's London Marathon in a creditable five hours, says Mr Cook, who also send me a copy of this little poem called Smiling. I shall try and hold on to its sentiment when I am in the throes of saddle soreness… probably 10 minutes after setting out.

Smiling is infectious,

You catch it like the flu,

When someone smiled at me today,

I started smiling too!

I passed around the corner

And someone saw me grin,

When he smiled, I realised

I'd passed it on to him.

I thought about the smile

And realised its worth,

A single smile like mine

Could travel round the earth.

If you feel a smile begin

Don't leave it undetected.

Let's start an epidemic quick

And get the world infected!

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