It is eight o'clock on Sunday evening. "Right, children, it's time for bed," I announce authoritatively.
"But I need to spend quality time with you," pleads eight-year-old Lucy. "Yes," agrees six-year-old Alex. "I need to spend quality time as well… whatever that means."
I clap my hands decisively and hurry them off towards the bedroom.
Bed-times have always been a battleground between parents and children. The lines are clearly drawn. Children, even when tired after a long day, feel it is their duty to stay up as long as possible. Adults, after a similarly long day looking after children, look forward to a few child-free hours, blissfully drifting in and out of consciousness in front of the television.
However, in this eternal struggle my own children have a few crucial weapons in their favour. These are: 1. I am not legally able to sedate them. 2. I am not a naturally authoritarian father (my idea of a good telling off goes something like: "If you are going to be naughty, perhaps you'd like to do it in another room"). 3. My children are cleverer than I am and thus are able to tie me in knots. 4. As a divorced dad I don't get to spend every night with my children and therefore quite enjoy their company of an evening. This means they get to stay up for Friday night dinner, and occasional pizza-and-movie nights on a Saturday. But Sunday is a school night, and they need their sleep.
My children are cleverer than I am and can tie me in knots
I kiss them goodnight, turn off the light and go next door where Top Gear is just starting. Within moments Alex shouts: "I'm just going to the toilet." This is his standard opening gambit - he has been known to stay in there for half the night.
Meanwhile, Lucy has decided she cannot sleep - after only three minutes. I tell her to try again. "But Alex always keeps me awake. I can't sleep with him in the room." I tell Lucy that she can go and read quietly in another room until Alex is asleep. Alex, meanwhile, has camped out in the bathroom and has no intention of moving.
After five minutes Lucy appears at the door of the living room. "Ooh, Top Gear. Can I watch a little bit with you while Alex is still awake?"
Well, I reason with myself, Top Gear can be educational. I can use Jeremy Clarkson as an example of how a grown-up should not behave.
Lucy is in hysterics - she thinks Clarkson is extremely funny.
Meanwhile, Alex is singing very loudly to himself in the bedroom. I pop my head in next door to tell him to go to sleep more quietly, I find him surrounded by toys and books. "I'm just amusing myself," he retorts defiantly. "GO TO SLEEP," I say in what on reflection is a less-than-restful voice.
Top Gear has finished and Lucy is still wide awake and sitting next to me. I have a brainwave. On an obscure channel I find a documentary about football in the 1950s featuring grainy black-and-white footage of Brylcreamed players in baggy shorts. "Er, daddy," Lucy says after enduring about 10 minutes, "when are you sending me to bed?
"Oh, I thought we were spending quality time together," I say.
"Well, it is school tomorrow," she replies as she snuggles under the covers.