Magazine article The Spectator

Happy Families

Magazine article The Spectator

Happy Families

Article excerpt

My boy's mother and Adolf Hitler share the same birthday, and, as an astrologer might expect, their personalities are in many ways similar. She can make a long-term plan and stick to it; she's intensely loyal; and if you get on the wrong side of her you do so at your peril. I'd paid her no child maintenance for five weeks when I called round to see her last week, and I felt ashamed. I was expecting a row about it. But she was unaffectedly pleased to see me. 'Hello, stranger, ' she said. 'Sit down for a moment. Tea?' Since she lost about half her body weight on a crash diet and married her live-in boyfriend in a specially licensed ceremony in the back garden, there's been a revolution at number 39. I didn't think it was going to last, but it has. A slimmer figure and a ring on her finger have made her consistently happy for the first time since I've known her. It isn't ephemeral, either: her happiness is deepening daily.

Also deepening daily is her tan. She's taken to sitting outside and allowing some sun on her face and shoulders -- another first for her. She's changed her shape, the temper of her mind, and now her colour.

What next? Well, she hasn't ventured further than the end of the road for the past 15 years, but we're quietly confident that things are going to be different on that front as well. Fingers crossed that soon she'll find the courage to pass the end of the road and go all the way to the shops.

Her husband was slumped at the table with a mug of tea in front of him. He'd just come in from work and he looked half-dead. He was polite and affable as always, but needed time to sip his tea and gather his strength.

My boy was also seated at the table. He looked smart with his recent French crop and his new Ben Sherman. He's 17 now and works at the supermarket. He worked on the checkout tills at first -- now he's upstairs in the office doing paperwork.

He's passed his driving test, and he goes out one evening a week with supermarket colleagues for a few drinks at a local pub. Since he's been working, he's changed, in the space of only a few weeks, from an uncertain adolescent into a calm, self-confident young adult.

For most of my boy's life I've been going round to his mother's place once a week to pick him up for the weekend and divvy up some cash. …

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