I am at the age when hair production has moved from the top of my head to other regions. As I kid I used to laugh at ‘old’ people who had toothbrush heads growing out of their nose and ears. Now that I have reinterpreted what ‘old’ is, I am no longer in the mood for laughing.
I was in a large chemist a few days ago when I found myself spending far too long looking at all the ‘products’ available for men.
“Why don’t you get some moisturising cream” suggested the wife of my youth as she past the isle, smelling of newly sprayed perfume.
“Moisturising cream, Pa!” I said, as I headed for the safety of the batteries and other electrical items. “Most men, use it these days” offered the heavily made up sales assistant joining in with our debate.
Most men! It annoys me when someone tries to get you to do something because ‘a lot of other people do it’. I am an individual and I don’t need to follow everyone else. I have never used moisturising cream. I am male. I am northern.
“You have chosen a good brand!” said the girl at the till as I gave her £6.99 for a bottle that claims to deal with climatic aggression. Soft skin and good weather – can’t be bad.
I may be male and I may be northern but I happened to have looked a mirror above the sunglasses and noticed the age around my eyes. After that my protestations where useless signalling a complete change in my approach to life.
It was always said of the footballer Rodney Marsh that, while other players went to away matches with several cases of clothing, he would go with just a toothbrush in his top pocket. I like that. I want to be that kind of guy. I didn't even carry a wallet until a few years ago needing only a few screwed up- fivers in the small pocket of my jeans and a credit card for emergencies. In a similar way I have always prided my self on travelling light. I can get up and go within a few minutes of walking out of the shower.
But now at both ends of the day this new-born metrosexual applies his product and hopes to stop the reduction in my skins elasticity. I also have to pluck and snip my way through a newly grown forest and take a variety of potions forced on me by a kind but misguided doctor.
Oh for youth! Whilst my daughters skip their way through every exciting adventure that their season brings them, my wife and I try to have conversations to the accompaniment of our clicking joints. They race to be first on the computer and play games on the trampoline, whilst we celebrate the miracle that is 'horizontal'.
Not too long ago we had a get-together for some of our ‘old’ friends. We tried to encourage our daughters to stay in for the evening and meet our visitors. All of the girls looked horrified at the suggestion and, amidst the youthful groans and sighs, our third daughter spoke up for the group when she said 'please don't make me stay in and speak to old people'.
They formed an escape committee and left for the evening whilst we settled down with our guests to compare notes on hairlines, operations and food allergies. (Three of us could not eat pastry past eight o’clock and four people could no longer digest cucumber in just case you were wondering).
After they left we were faced with a choice between watching a late film or going to bed with a cup of tea and a book. I woke up half way through the film having dreamt that I had already gone to bed. So, after clicking my way up the stairs and applying my time reversing potions I lay down to dream that Rodney Marsh had written to say he was disappointed in my choice of moisturiser.
I woke the next morning to the good news that the age around my eyes, although still there, is much softer than it once was.
My wife is one of those precious people who can talk to anyone. It is a gift that helps her in her role as a Practice Nurse at a busy surgery. I am aware that I also have a propensity to be talkative but there is a notable difference in our styles of conversation.
The difference to which I speak can be characterised by describing what happens when one of us returns from an evening out. It goes something like this:
The Scene: I am horizontal on the sofa surrounded by empty crisp and chocolate packets engrossed in a crucial game on 'Match of the Day'. My wife returns from her jaunt with a spring in her step and the need to 'share'.
I dutifully put to her the key question that I have been trained to ask, over years of married bliss. 'How did it go?' This four-word question unleashes a several thousand-word response during which I am treated to a minute by minute replay of all that has happened. Missing the goals and the post match discussion, with the sound now muted, I try to take it all in and avoid glazing over. Who said what to whom. Who was there. What they wore. No detail is spared. To be honest I might as well recorded the football and gone out with her.
My wife is an extremely interesting person but listening to a replay of an event that I was neither invited to, nor wanted to be present at, is the marriage equivalent of watching a friend’s home movies.
Now compare this to what happens when I return home from an evening out.
My bride is sat watching a programme about dysfunctional teenagers from the Northeast visiting a boot camp in the USA. The whole room is tidy except for a half-full cup of copy and an apple core neatly placed on the lounge table.
'How did it go?' answer 'Great!'
'Who was there?' answer 'Most people'
'What did you do?' answer 'The usual'
As far as I am concerned that just about sums up the evening but my wife is not satisfied with such a minimalist exchange. She wants it all and she wants it now, so I try to fill in the gaps by describing who wore what. (Why is that important?)
My daughters have grown to share their mother's appreciation of conversation, so much so that they can several conversations on the go at the same time.
Mealtime in the Molineaux house is an event in itself and represents the family’s love of conversation. In fact it is more than an event; it is a whole soap opera. On normal days it tends to be the four girls, my wife and me all congregated around the pine table in the kitchen. If this were a scene from the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie then the food would be passed around with good grace and manners. Conversation would follow in which every child spoke about the highlights of their day. And the parents would look on with justifiable, yet sugary, pride.
Not so with us! No sooner has the food landed than six pairs of arms matrix across the table in search of consumables. This is followed by fourteen conversations at once. I have to confess here that only the girls in my house can manage multi-talk. The best that I can do is to nod in the right places and try not to make eye contact with any one person.
I still recall the joy of welcoming our future son-in-law to one of these meal times. He sat wide-eyed listening to the girls seamlessly moving form one subject to another whilst I continued to nod my agreement. He was quiet literally speechless and even if he did have something to say there were no moments of silence available to him.
So what shall we conclude from this example of communicative differences? My wife and I have tried over the years to make allowances for our peccadilloes. She tries not to ask me questions when football is on and I try to remember to tell her what all the men wore on my night out.
It was like a scene from a world war two movie as I stood like a nervous RAF commander waiting for the planes to return from their latest sortie. As daughter number three turned the corner in her blue Citroen emblazoned with L-plates there was no sign of damaged just the usual look of fear on the examiners face.
I hovered near the entrance of the test centre hoping to pick up signs of whether her mission was successful. With a punch in the air and a quick smile in my direction the newly crowned fluffy dice owner declared her victory.
We celebrated by having the music on load on the way home and the ceremonial removing of the extra rear view mirror. Then, as if I hadn’t already suffered enough over the past four months of dad and daughter lessons, she unleashed the full terror of this new found freedom on me. “I want to travel down to see my friends in Norfolk the day after tomorrow”, she offered as if a 143-mile road trip was just round the corner.
I resorted to the best answer a dad can use in situations like these; “you had better talk to your mother”. It didn’t stop her enthusiasm. With a cold, menacing stare at the road ahead she asked, “Is it easy to drive in France?”
Norfolk! France! Give me chance to get used the idea of you driving to the town centre first. I knew such things would happen but I need time to get accustomed to such changes. I tried to stem the tide of youthful automotive ideas by hinting at the need for another couple of lessons to cover motorway driving and multi-storey car parks but it was too late. My little girl was ready to fly………or drive as the case may be.
The pain was slightly eased by her offer to collect youngest daughter from various weekly clubs and occasionally put petrol in the now over used car, although in truth I know that such enthusiasm will be short lived.
It has occurred to me that in my eagerness to prepare her for the practical test I had forgotten to tell her about some very important driving rules:
1) Never have an amusing car sticker because they generally don’t work. Except for one that I saw on an old guy’s car, it read ‘My other hat’s a balaclaver’.
2) Always turn the embarrassing music down when you stop at traffic lights. You never know who is watching.
3) Never forgive anyone who continually drives in the middle lane of a near empty motorway.
4) Expect signs for ‘Town Centre Parking’ to mysteriously disappear just after they have lead you into a bus lane
5) Know that ‘All other routes’ means all other routes EXCEPT the one that you need.
I am pleased to report that, in the two weeks since L’s were turned into P’s, fluffy dice owner has successfully travelled to Norfolk and back. I am proud of her although I still stand at the kitchen window waiting for her spitfire to return.
As confusing as the weather might be in this ozone depleted, globally warmed world of ours I can still just about recognise the change in the seasons. As such I am gearing up for lighter nights and the promise of a trip to a local beauty spot. We will look at old buildings eating ice-cream and, if I can convince my wife to bring the flat shoes she uses for driving, we will sample some local ale.
The day out will no doubt include two things that are as traditionally to our family as raincoats and flip-flops.
Firstly, we will walk far enough to hear the girls complain about the distance; this will develop in to an argument about wearing the correct type of shoes and end in at least one party member refusing to budge another 2.54 cm.
Secondly, one of the girls will decide to challenge mum to do something a little more daring than would be her natural inclination. 'Come on mum, have a go. Everyone else is doing it' they will cry leaving her protestations ignored.
Last year we took on the delights of Bolton Abbey. We looked at relics and ate frozen dessert before setting off on the path towards the river. Here we were faced with a choice that divides all families into two camps: stepping stones or footbridge.
The girls started work on chipping away at mum’s footbridge selection. 'Look mum, even little kids can do it' says daughter number two laying down a challenge.
My wife asks for my opinion and, to be honest, I am torn between two thoughts. Firstly, I feel the need to protect her from the overwhelming power that is 'four daughters working together'. However, I am also caught by the idea that it might well be fun to watch her attempt the stepping stones. Her fate is sealed.
Two daughters head off across the stones without fear of the two-foot deep stream of water. I walk ahead of my bride in an attempt to talk her through the whole process with two other daughters in tow. Ten stones into our journey and my wife's nerve disappears. Now please don’t think of her as fearless. You can't give birth to four daughters without having some ability to face a challenge.
On this sunny day however the bride of my youth stopped in her tracks and refused to make another step. Returning the way we came was not an option because the steps were full of other eager travellers. By now whole families had stopped to watch proceedings from both banks of the river and the nearby footbridge.
Using all the encouraging words that I could find I attempted to lure my wife across the waters but the lady was not for moving and I had to make the ultimate sacrifice. Without fear for the safety of my own Nike trainers I jumped into the river to hold her hand as she continued. I was neither bothered by the applause from the assembled crowd nor by the cold water rising towards the area that men are most accustomed to protecting; my wallet. No! It was the thought of how much my footwear was going to smell after such an episode.
We arrived at the other side to cheers and I received a worthy hug as my wife once again saw me as a hero. I am certain that she is not the only person to have reached stepping stone number ten and refused to move in either direction. I have therefore decided to set up a new help group for those who have suffered a similar trauma at Bolton Abbey; VENUS; ‘Vow Eternally - Never Use Stones’. I also feel the need to set up a group for all those heroes who, like me, have felt the cold water in vulnerable places. It will be called MARS, ‘Manly At River Steps’. We will gather in a local hostelry to dry our trainers and share stories of our heroic deeds.