Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

Look, I was in a bad mood. Again. No particular reason, or possibly the weather. The silly thing is I'd been looking forward to it so very much. The builders are about to start work on an £8.5 million extension to the local school, and my grandson, aged three and a quarter, as the youngest pupil, was elected to dig the first turf in front of the town's great and the good, and have his picture taken for the local paper.

Oscar is a bright lad, but too young to comprehend what exactly was being asked of him and why. But we impressed on him the need to have his cheesy camera smile ready for the right moment. It was all he needed to know.

I wasn't officially invited. But I wasn't going to miss that. Surely an extra grandad wouldn't upset anyone's plans, I said. At the appointed hour I put on a clean shirt and met my boy and his partner at the school gates. My boy was carrying his other son, Klynton, aged one and a half, in his arms. We collected Oscar from his nursery class and made our way to the assembly point, a classroom on the far side of the school. The local dignitaries, including the mayor and the head of the Rotary club, were already present. A buffet lunch was being laid out. There was wine. The headmaster made a passionate speech, quoting Picasso about the need for the artist to see through the eyes of a child. My boy's partner was interviewed by a reporter. A teacher came round issuing a highvisibility jacket and a hard hat each.

To our great surprise little Oscar was also given a high-visibility jacket and a hard hat.

Also gloves and wellington boots. Now Oscar, even at three and a quarter, is a bit of a dandy.

The boots were miles too big. The boot tops came up to his groin; the gloves, blue rubber, up to his elbows. He looked absurd. And the poor lad knew it. His unhappiness at being the only small person in a room milling with self-important giants in hard hats was already threatening to overwhelm his reserves of fortitude. Now this. The lower lip started to wobble.

If the babe in arms was coming outside, he too would have to wear a hard hat and jacket, said this woman. I thought she was joking.

'You are joking, ' I said. Actually, it was immaterial whether I thought she was joking or not because I wasn't on her list, and didn't qualify for an official permit in a transparent holder to hang around my neck, or a hat and jacket, and therefore wouldn't be permitted to go 'on site'. …

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