Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

I'm round at Amy and Bill's for Sunday afternoon tea. Amy and Bill are my in-laws, kind of. When I was courting their daughter, I used to spend most of my spare time sitting around Amy and Bill's kitchen table. She was 15 when I started going round there, I was 26, and I suppose if I were an old TV entertainer or disc jockey, I should be tidying up my affairs before officers from Operation Yewtree beat a lively tattoo on my front door. But Amy and Bill welcomed me in to their family from the start. If they had an objection to my courting their daughter, it was to my social class rather than her age. I can remember Bill grumbling that he would have preferred that his daughter went out with someone of her own class, which I suppose is rural working class.

Amy and Bill used to live in a tied cottage that smelt sweetly of the cow manure Bill brought home on his overalls every day. (Mine at that time had that complex but distinctive smell of rotting household garbage.) But now they live in a thin-walled new-build cube in town and Bill has retired. They are class-conscious still, but less fiercely.

We are sitting around the kitchen table with a mug each of strong tea. Amy, Oscar and I are playing dominos. Bill is scanning the local Sunday paper through two pairs of spectacles perched on his nose. He reads slowly and sometimes gets stuck. He's studying the TV schedules. Now he looks up from the paper and, after a short, extemporising gaze at the wall, says, 'What's "Wood Nit"?' 'What?' says Amy, bracing herself for his latest imbecility. 'It says here,' says Bill, 'that there's a programme about Wood Nits on at nine o'clock.' 'Give it here,' she says, snatching the paper from her husband and glancing irritably at the page. 'It says it's a "Whodunnit",' she says, her body sagging as she loses the will to live.

'Double six anybody?' cries Oscar, five, slapping down double six to start us off on a new game. As usual, he has resolutely kept his eye on that particular domino during the shuffle and made sure he's drawn it as one of his seven. 'Cheating Arab,' says Amy, laying down a six and one next to his. As if struck by divine inspiration, she adds, 'Fancy an apple anybody? …

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