Solo silence to noisy, familial mayhem
A DAD'S LIFE:THE TRAIN PULLS into Capalbio shortly before midnight. I step off into the heavy Tuscan evening and monitor the platform. Only one person has alighted with me, a dark-haired lady with a determined stride. She appears to have an inkling of where she is going so I follow her underneath the subway to the station side of the tracks. Crickets ring out their long-legged song.
As I stride up steps to the far side of the platform my internal, Le Carré-esque rumination on clandestine meetings, femmes fatales and spycraft is disturbed by my wife’s piercing voice.
“Hiya! We’re over here, come on. Fancy meeting you here.”
She emerges from the shadows, blocking my view of an older man in her company, and I wonder are they friend or foe . . .
Nah, I can’t keep the spy novel, night-time-train-to-Italy theme going. I must face reality. I’m being picked up by the missus and her dad to join them and the rest of the clan. They’ve been here four nights already and we have three to go. It’s been raining for the last three days in Ireland and the forecast for this part of the world is solid, uninterrupted sunshine and 30-degree heat for the remainder of our break. I should be chuffed.
It may have been spitting from the skies at home, but I’ve had four days of solo, self-indulgent activity. Read that again, fathers: solo activity. It’s what we crave. Time when they all leave and you have waved them away, tear-stained hanky in hand, moistened by the bottle of water you have secreted in your sleeve for emotional duplicity, possibly in a pouch you have cut there for just such a purpose. (I don’t know how much you crave alone time, but if you’re like me, it’s a lot. The pounch in the sleeve may not be so ridiculous.) You wave them into the distance and slug from that same bottle before performing an impromptu jig and turning towards what the world has to offer without the limitations of age certificates and dubious, pre-teen tastes. So long Saddle Club, hello Robert Rodriguez.
In those four days alone I traversed the country, scoring brownie points by visiting parents and friends and gorging on huge swathes of uncensored football, food and drink, consuming rampantly. Back home, I settled with the TV, a takeaway menu and the alarm clock switched off. Combine family absence with a work break and you have heaven on earth. The pleasure is in the temporary nature of the thing; you can fully appreciate the silence when you know the chaos will return.
The chaos is not returning with only my own crew; instead I am journeying to Italy to immerse myself with the magnified chaos of the in-law posse – 13 of us in a four-bedroomed bolthole. What could possibly go wrong? Hence the carefully constructed wartime, spy fantasy on the way up, as if potential internment would be preferable to what was coming. Which, in my head, it was.
Silly me. Now don’t get me wrong, my in-laws really are bonkers. You think yours are nuts, but yours are a bunch of German accountants at a statistics convention in Stuttgart sponsored by a new solar-powered calculator and a mineral water brand compared to mine. For a start, there are millions of them, they all talk at the same time, they like to break into song whenever possible, they only eat certain, expensive foods, they like to discuss the existence of God, they don’t drink half enough (so all this takes place under the harsh light of sobriety) and they get up and go to bed early. Some of them even take homeopathy seriously. Totally nuts.
And fabulous. The type who, if you hadn’t anything to eat, wouldn’t give you half of what they had, they’d give it all to you and go foraging for more.
By the time we get to the house from the station, everyone else is in bed. I wake to the noise of 11 people talking at once. Aged from three months to 66, they all want their speak. The kids come and hug me, glad that I’ve arrived, but then they’re off with their cousins to do whatever it is they do when we’re out of earshot.
It’s nice here, in bed, with the chatter downstairs. Familial. Warm. It’s good. Better than prison camp.