A child is following me wherever I go. Yes, it must be the summer holidays
Varuca Salt: not someone you’d really want to spend the summer with
One of the great things about being single is, you don't have to put up with anyone moaning at you. And yet somehow I still managed to get told off this week by a virtual stranger, a young lady in a pub who approached me to complain that lately I've been coming across as "too bitter" in this column. Well, I can assure you that this month's one is going to have an extraordinarily low BQ (Bitter Quotient). How could it not? It is, after all, the school holidays, a period single dads all over the world welcome as an opportunity for fun, frivolity and extreme pleasure.
OK, so if I can't be bitter, can I at least be ironic?
One of the great things about the summer holidays is that you get to spend more time with your kids. Right? And now for people who aren't millionaires and have to actually earn money for food and shelter and other essentials like the Sky Atlantic channel, that sentence should read: the annoying thing about the summer holidays is that everything you normally have to do in your daily routine has to be accompanied by your children.
Or rather, in my case, child. I'm not saying I've sold the other two to help fund my cable TV addiction. No, I've still got three. It's just that my 13-year-old son is now old enough to be left at home where he can entertain himself, and by "entertain himself" I mean sit in a darkened room, in a sullen slump, fiddling with one of the many electronic gadgets he got for his barmitzvah. As for my 11-year-old, he can normally be relied upon to find the house of a friend from school to trash, sorry, where he can hang, at which point he becomes the mother of another boy's problem.
That leaves my eight-year-old daughter. She can't be left for long periods with anyone. That would be brutal, not so much for her as the people who'd be looking after her. You know Veruca Salt, the attention-hungry one in the Willy Wonka movie? Well, imagine that character after being dipped in E numbers, then force-fed whatever it is that teenagers take these days to make them bounce off walls. Talkative? Yup. Hyperactive? You've got it. Unable to resist pushing any sane adult to the edge of reason? That's my girl.
She'll be coming with me everywhere I go over the next few weeks. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if I worked in an office - I could find her a spare room in the building in which to play. But I don't. I interview musicians, in pubs and bars across London. And they don't always serve Robinson's squash in those.
Last week she joined me for a heart-to-heart encounter in an East End cafe with a rising but troubled female singer-songwriter. And she amazed me by sitting there beautifully throughout - I'm talking about my daughter here of course, although I have to say the musician also sat quite nicely - and doing a lovely drawing, with some crayons given to her by the pop artist's press officer, of her dad in which I resembled a particularly rotund Heston Blumenthal.
Still, what price vanity when you've got peace of mind, or to be precise, peace? Even when we discussed the star's difficult upbringing and the empathy that she had for poor Amy Winehouse, my daughter carried on quietly crayoning, oblivious to all the heavy chatter. It was only when talk turned to the musician's favourite authors, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, that she became a bit restless.
My eight-year-old can't be left with anyone. That would be brutal - not for her, for them
"Daddy, what's a bell jar?" she wondered, interrupting the flow. And then, having overheard our conversation about Ms Woolf and her mooted antisemitic tendencies, my daughter, bless her, posed the question that all children eventually ask: "Daddy, what's a self-loathing Jew?"
Ah, out of the mouths of babes...