Four bottles of gin

It’s busy in the supermarket. Saturday afternoon and the aisles are bustling with shoppers.

I select a checkout queue. My son is with me and wants to load the shopping onto the moving belt. He’s at the stage where he wants to be involved in every part of every process. He insisted on steering the trolley along the aisles and only bumped into a few people.

He starts to unload. One large bottle of gin. A second large bottle of gin. A third large bottle of gin. A fourth, smaller, bottle of gin. Then he moves on to the other items. The potato waffles and coco pops.

We have to wait while the shopper in front is being served. My son finds his voice.

‘Are you going to drink all that tonight daddy?’ he says, unhelpfully.

I picked this checkout because there was only one shopper in front, an older woman who had a small number of items.

But it’s a rookie mistake as she has divided her shopping into three lots which are to be paid for separately. Also she has vouchers which she is trying to find at the bottom of her handbag.

I wait. I may be imagining it but I think there may be the slightest raising of an eyebrow when she notices my son handling the gin bottles.

My son is impatient to get to the front of the queue. This supermarket chain is giving away cards which are used to fill an album with every ten pounds spent.

It’s a brilliant wheeze, targeting children to get parents to spend more money. At one stroke my usual practise of trying to spend as little money as possible has been reversed with my son entreating me to pile more items into the trolley so he can get more of the valuable cards.

Some of the more kindly checkout assistants hand out more packs of cards than they are supposed to and my boy has worked out that if he is with me they are more likely to be sympathetic. While we wait he practises the cute, pleading look he will use when we get to the front.

Then, finally, it is our turn. The checkout worker says hello and begins to scan my shopping. She takes hold of the first bottle of gin and struggles to remove the security tag from the bottle. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.

It’s not even good gin. It’s not one of the sophisticated designer brands which line shelves these days. It’s neither coloured nor flavoured.

In fact it’s the store’s own brand. The writing on the plain label says ‘Basics’. It’s not a good look.

The attendant passes the first bottle to me and begins to work on the second. My discomfort grows. The noise of the security tag being removed seems to echo around the whole cavernous store and I imagine that everyone is looking at me.

I’m packing shopping into a bag which I brought with me. First one bottle, then another, and another. The assistant looks at me and smiles. It’s fine, it’s nobody else’s business and no-one is worried about the contents of my shopping trolley. I start to wonder if employees are trained, or at least instructed, not to comment on the range of items which they are scanning.

Then a thought invades my head. My overactive imagination begins to believe that she knows my wife is working today and that I’m looking after my young son on my own. I have a vision of police calling at my front door because concerns have been raised that a drunk man is in charge of a young child.

I come back to reality and chastise myself for my foolishness. I continue packing. I can feel the reddening at the back of my neck.

And then I crack. Of course I crack because that’s just the way I am.

I begin to talk to her.

‘I know this doesn’t look good but I’m not drinking these.’

She smiles at me.

‘No, I don’t drink at all actually, I gave up alcohol some years ago.’

She keeps smiling and, perhaps, looks a little surprised. I go on.

‘You see I’ve got a little apple tree in my front yard, it’s a crab apple tree. Usually I make jelly but I thought I’d try something different this year.’

She scans another item. I have a sense that everyone in the shop is listening to me. There’s a voice in my head telling me to stop.

‘So I thought I’d have a go at making flavoured liqueur this year. It’s for Christmas presents. I make hampers you see.’

She nods along. My son moves behind me.

‘My wee man and me picked the apples off it this morning. It was a bumper crop, we got two-hundred and thirty four apples. I’ve measured out how much gin I need for the weight of apples I have. That’s why I’ve got the three big bottles and then smaller one….that’s the exact amount of gin I need….I don’t actually drink.’

The checkout assistant’s smile remains fixed. She passes me the last item and then responds for the first time.

‘There was a woman in here the other day. She had lots of bottles in her trolley, she said the same thing.’

I laugh and nod along, although I’m not sure why.

Then she turns to my son and asks him if he’s collecting the hero cards. He says yes and gives her the look he’s been practising. She gives him a large handful of packs of cards. Many more than he’s entitled to.

And then we leave the store. My son is clutching his packs of cards and smiling. I’m clutching my four bottles of gin and am eager to get home.


Only when I laugh

I’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed good physical health throughout my life.

Which made it all the more unexpected when I recently injured myself.

To be clear from the start, my ailment was minor. I was playing tennis and when stretching for a shot felt a ripping, searing pain travel up the back of my right calf.

‘Oh, that can’t be good,’ I thought immediately. I tried to run the injury off and continue with the game but it became apparent quickly that I could put no weight on that leg and would have to retire.

Soon after I got home my leg started to swell. I was unable to walk that evening and had to travel up and down the stairs by sliding on my backside.

I had an instinctive feeling that I should probably get some medical attention. But I found myself in a strange in-between place. If I had fallen and broken my ankle I would have been taken straight to hospital. But I guessed I had merely torn or sprained a muscle. So what was I to do?

There was the option of going to Accident and Emergency. But previous history has informed me that this is a place only to visit when you are desperate. An A&E visit would have involved being driven into Belfast, triaged and (quite rightly) put at the bottom of the priority list and then waiting several hours and possibly throughout the night to be seen by a doctor.

Another option was to get an appointment with my GP. But again recent history in this area has not been positive. When I’ve phoned on previous occasions seeking an appointment I’ve been told there are none available. Or, to elaborate, the clinic only offers appointments for a set number of weeks in advance. They are all usually all full. As each day passes a new set of appointments open up and are immediately filled by people phoning seconds after the surgery has opened in the morning to get the prized date six weeks later.

It just didn’t seem like a likely solution.

But there was another reason which held me back from pursuing immediate medical help. The idea, in my head, that resources are scarce and that there are many more deserving cases than me. Is it really morally defensible for me to hog a valuable slot with a doctor for something as mundane as a sore leg?

It was the same feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and reluctance which prevented me for many years from seeking help for mental health issues. I waited too long. Much too long.

But, on this evening, as my leg throbbed, I tried to come up with another way. I went online and found that my local health trust had a self-referral physiotherapy service.

Even here I was cautious, not wanting to clog up a system designed for people with more serious problems. But the explanatory notes were clear in stating the service catered for muscle strains, sprains and sports injuries. I filled the form out, explaining, that at that exact moment, I was unable to walk on the leg.

I sent off the online form. Soon I received an email confirming receipt and telling me that my claim would be triaged within eight days.

So I moved on. My wife did an admirable job of bandaging my injured leg. The school run did not cease for my injury so I had a few days of hobbling up and down the main street of the little village where I live to get my boy to the school gates on time.

After a while a huge bruise appeared on my shin. The severe pain eventually gave way to a dull ache and my limp went from severe to moderate to slight.

After a couple of weeks I was able to walk in a fashion which prevented other parents on the school run having to ask me if I needed help.

I knew that I was healing but there was still part of me which thought it was worth getting a medical opinion. Even though I was walking well I knew that any more energetic stretching motion still resulted in sharp pain. Even a light jog remained out of the question and when I massaged the muscles with my fingers the ache became more pronounced. I wanted a reassurance that the healing process was following the right path and advice on how to avoid a similar injury in the future.

Then, seventeen days after I had hurt myself, I got a letter from my health trust. It contained confirmation of my referral and a reference and phone number.

I called the number and the woman at the other end gave me the first available physio appointment at my local hospital. Which was in mid-November.

I had been patient throughout the process, uncomplaining and prepared to wait my turn. But now it occurred to me that by the time I would finally get seen by a qualified professional it would be close to three months since I had hurt myself. I really wanted to be running again and back on the tennis court by then.

My wife suggested, not for the first time, that I should call the private health company to whom we pay money each month.

We’ve been covered by private health insurance for several years. Twice we have gone down this route when my son needed operations for which there were long waiting lists.

On one occasion, when my boy developed a nasty and worrying growth on the back of his neck, we took him to the GP who opened the conversation by asking us if we had private health insurance, such was the potential delay otherwise.

But, even though we paid every month for it, I had never before considered using it for myself.

This is difficult to explain. Perhaps there was some form of latent guilt about me taking a short cut when others are having to suffer and wait.

After much persuasion I made the phone call. I answered lots of questions before I was referred to a private clinic. The clinic phoned me hours later and offered me a physio session early in the morning of the next working day.

On the same day I got the phone call I received a letter from the health trust confirming my November appointment. I made a mental note to be sure to cancel this appointment.

And then, this morning, another letter dropped on the mat in my hall. I was running out of the house to fetch my son from school when I saw it. It was addressed to me and the envelope again bore the name of my local health trust. It looked the same as the letter I had received from them the day previously.

I quickly ripped it open. It contained information that I had been referred to the ear, nose and throat service in a hospital.

I was now late and had no time to examine it further. I drove away confused. How had a leg injury and a physio appointment ended up with me being referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist?

It bugged me all day until I got home and read the letter properly. Now I realised that the letter wasn’t for me at all but for my son who has the same first initial.

But it still didn’t make sense. Why was my son being referred to a hospital specialist? And why did I not know anything about it?

My wife and I searched for an answer. Then, eventually, one presented itself.

When my son was in P1, like all the children, he was examined by the school nurse. She sent a letter home in which she said she thought his hearing should be tested. She told us that she was going to write a letter to his GP about it.

I was unconcerned. I spend a lot of time with my son every day and I’m certain that there is no issue with his hearing. Having said that, if the school nurse believed that it should be checked then I had no problem in going along with it.

Then time passed. A lot of time. I never heard from the nurse again or the GP about the matter. I suppose we forgot all about it. My son continues to grow and I’m as certain now as I was then that there is no issue with his hearing.

But today, a full two years later, a letter had arrived from the health trust about the matter.

I sat down and read it again.

The letter said they had received a referral from his GP.

Then it contained this sentence.

‘We want to reassure you that you have not been overlooked, and regret that it has not been possible to give you a date for your appointment.’

The letter was accompanied by a reply form asking us if we still wanted to proceed with an appointment. There was also an addressed envelope, with no postage paid.

I was a little bemused. I thought about what was happening.

Two years just to receive a letter from the hospital informing my son that he has not been overlooked.

I hobbled up the stairs, my leg was throbbing again, but I hardly noticed it now.


The quiet one

I had my first conversation with my son’s new teacher today.

Actually, it couldn’t really be described as a conversation. My boy had forgotten to put his lunchbox and homework folder in his schoolbag and we had to return to the school gate to collect them. While he ran into the classroom I stood there making a stilted attempt to communicate with his teacher.

‘How’s he settling in?’ I asked, because that’s what a parent says to a teacher.

‘He’s settling really well,’ she replied automatically, giving the impression that this is the stock answer to something she gets asked a lot. And then, almost as an afterthought, she added ‘He’s very quiet.’

I felt the familiar sting of defensiveness. A lot of thoughts went through my mind, things I could say to her.

How I could tell her that he’s not in the least bit quiet or reserved, how he never stops talking and laughing, how his imagination and creativity drains my reserves of energy every day, how I’m often left dazzled and awed by the rate of his development.

But I didn’t say that. I didn’t because I have to recognise that the little boy that I see, that I spend most of my time every day with, is not the same little boy she sees. How, to her, he is just one in a room full of children. And how she can only go on what she witnesses.

So instead I just nodded my head and mumbled.

‘Aye, it takes time for him to come out of himself when he meets someone new.’

I left the encounter feeling slightly troubled that I had not expressed myself quite the way that I should have. How I should have supported him more robustly.

It is one of the running jokes among the parents on the school run about how little our children tell us of what goes on in the classroom. How on a daily basis we malign the absence of clear communication about the mysteries that occur when that bell rings.

Now a new thought occurs to me. Maybe the children are the wisest. Maybe it’s best that we are kept out of it. Perhaps there are parts of the processes of socialisation that a parent really doesn’t want to see.

Just before my chat with the teacher I had been watching my son take part in his first tennis class. I signed him up last week and then spent the time in between fretting over whether he was ready. Would he be able to mix and adapt? Rather pathetically I had even taken him into the back garden the night before and attempted to demonstrate a rudimentary forehand and backhand.

The situation today was novel. The arrangement was that the tennis teacher would pick the children up from their classroom and bring them to the all-weather pitch where small tennis nets had been erected.

I was worried about this. It was the first time ever that my little boy had not been picked up from the classroom by a family member. And no matter how many times he had assured me that he was comfortable with the arrangement, I still feared something would go wrong.

So when it came to time for tennis I found myself loitering halfway between the pitch and the classroom, as if I somehow feared that he would slip through the cracks and end up in an in-between purgatory.

I relaxed a little when I saw him among the line of children being led onto the pitch. But just a little.

The early signs were promising. He laughed during the warm-up exercises and seemed engaged by the instructions of the coaches.

It began to rain. I realised, as the drips ran down my nose, that I was the only parent who had come to watch the tennis lesson. 

When the children were split into smaller groups I noticed something unusual about my son’s appearance. Of course he had food over his jumper (like every day) and was wearing his coat inside out (as he often does) but there was something else. I noticed that he had his trousers on back to front. I was confused for a second until I remembered that today is PE and in P3 the children change themselves into their sports gear and back into uniform.

I felt a parental stab of anguish about how my boy would ever cope on his own in the big world.

The children then played a game of Stick in the Mud. As the other kids ran around manically my boy stood confused for a second. I felt the stab again. Then he seemed to grasp the point of the game and joined in. But, to my eyes, he seemed to lack the conviction and confidence of the other boys. Occasionally he would glance in my direction for reassurance.

Soon the coaches paired the children and asked them to gently throw a tennis ball towards each other and try to catch it. I winced every time the ball sailed through my son’s grasp.

Then they moved onto using little racquets to hit the ball back and forward over a low net.

I saw the boy who had been paired with my son tell him to put his racquet down. My boy, ever passive, meekly complied. Then the other boy walloped the ball to the other end of the court and sent my son scuttling after it like a ball boy.

I burned with indignation and had to fight off the urge to invade the court. Then one of the coaches saw what was happening and gently encouraged my little boy to lift up the racquet again. Soon he was happily swinging the racquet at the ball. Sometimes he made contact. On a couple of occasions he even got the ball over the net.

Each time he swung the racquet I jumped up, in the rain, on my own, and shouted encouragement, telling him that he was brilliant.

As the session drew to a close some of the other parents arrived. The children lined up and were released once more into our care. My son ran to me and I drowned him in a massive embrace. He jumped up and down.

Then he told me, with a giggle, that the zip seemed to have fallen off his trousers. Then we realised that he’d forgotten his lunchbox and homework and we had to go and see the teacher.

Soon we were driving home. I was thinking again about what the teacher said about him being quiet. He had not stopped talking to me for more than ten minutes since I picked him up.

‘Daddy,’ he blurted out excitedly. ‘I never realised tennis was so easy. I can’t wait to go back next week.’

Later in the day I thought about this. Maybe this sums up adolescence. Finding simplicity in complicated things.

It’s the other way around for the nervous parent. Everything seems arduous, every journey of development has to traverse a minefield.

He may be the quiet one, the least confident, but when, like today, I see the joy in his little face I realise that it doesn’t bother him. He’s more comfortable in his skin than I am.

I will worry about him for every second of every day for the rest of my life. That’s the role of the parent. And I’m more than happy to soak up all the trauma while he has all the fun. After all, my shoulders are bigger than his.


Sleep, interrupted

Getting to sleep is not a problem, it never has been. There’s usually a pleasing weariness in my mind, bones and muscles at nighttime, a satisfaction and relief that I’ve made it through another day. I might try to read but I never get more than a few pages before the words begin to swim and my drowsy eyelids become like lead. 

Then I sleep. Usually one of the last things that goes through my exhausted brain is a hope that I can make it through until the morning and the comfort of daylight.

Sometimes I do, but often I fall short.

I wake suddenly and am afraid. I’m unsure of my surroundings and am anxious for a moment that there’s an intruder in the room. There’s not, apart from the unwelcome one inside my own skull.

I sit up and check the time. I’ve been asleep for less than two hours but my previous enervation is now a distant memory. I’m utterly alert and I know that rest is far away now. My wife and son are dozing in the bed beside me. It’s so dark that I can’t see them but I’m aware of their presence, I can sense their breathing. I’m terrified.

I go through the routine. A visit to the toilet, making sure the lights are turned off in the other rooms, checking the news and sport headlines on my phone. Then I return to bed and put my head on the pillow again. I squeeze my eyes tight as if that may force sleep closer. I turn onto my back, then my side. Then my back again.

I know that the attack is not far away and I try everything I can to divert it. But the workings of the mind can flow like a great river which is impossible to divert. The thoughts come. Why am I not good enough? Why do I mess up everything I do? Wouldn’t it be better if I wasn’t here?

Then the process starts to deepen, giving substance to the abstract. I’m not making enough money. I’ve failed in my career. I’m a terrible father and husband. I can’t accomplish any task. Everyone would be happier if I wasn’t here. The conclusions are the same as before.

My breathing is irregular now, short and panicked. My guts are churning. Twisting. A physical manifestation of what goes on in my brain. There’s a tremble in my fingers under the blanket and a line of sweat on my spine. It’s the normality of this which is the most terrifying thing, the fact that every day is followed by a night.

There’s no reason I understand why existence should be so much harder in the dark, why problems are magnified and I’m infested with self-loathing. But that’s just how it is. Not always, but often. Take away the comfort of the day and its routines and I’m left naked, in this primal state. I worry that this is the real me, when the insulation of civilisation is stripped away. Pathetic and afraid. 

I turn over again and again. Towards my family, towards the ceiling, towards the wall. Hours can pass like this. If I could just sleep it would be over, but the more I will it the further away it seems. It feels like I will never sleep again.

Sometimes I might go downstairs and watch telly, or read my phone, or, like tonight, compose a story. A story about exactly what goes on in my mind after midnight. That way, when I write about it, I take back control of the narrative, remind myself that however rogue my thought processes become, they are still part of me. And I’m worth something.

Eventually I get my breathing under control. The short, hurried gasps are replaced by long sweeping inhalations and exhalations. In through the nose, out through the mouth, just like I’ve been taught. I start to fill my mind with things of my choice. Tonight I do counting, not any specific object, but just bald numbers. Counting higher and higher. I’m able to lie still now.

I’m not sure if it’s still the same night or the next morning when I eventually lose any sense of myself again. I don’t know if I’m sleeping but I must be because my mind seems empty now and my limbs feel weightless. The rest is as welcome as rain on a parched field.

It’s not very long before my son is stirring beside me. And when he’s up, that means I’m awake again. He climbs over me, eager to meet the day head on. He has no experience which tells him that such challenges should be met with caution, eased into.

I get up and make his breakfast and a cup of tea for my wife. I sit beside him while he spills Rice Krispies on the sofa. I think about what needs to be done. Get him washed and dressed. The school run. Catch up with work. Write down the story from last night about not being able to sleep. Pick him up from school. Make dinner.

There’s plenty to do. Before I begin I take a moment to myself, consider how I’m feeling about the day. Then I push ahead with it because the routine is what drives us forward. It’s inescapable.

And so is the fact that tonight, or tomorrow, or soon, I will have another sleepless night. The maggot worries will swarm all over me again. I will feel the despondency and the sense that I don’t deserve to exist anymore will be keen.

And I will suffer. And then it will pass and I will move on, as before. When the dark is at its most absolute I will keep telling myself that the next morning always comes. The sun always rises again.


Digging potatoes

This story has been under composition in my mind for some time.

Several months in fact. Right from the time my son and I planted the seed potatoes in bags of muck back in the spring.

And the narrative I’ve been mentally polishing has always been much the same. A heartwarming tale of another adventure which brings the two of us closer together. From planting and tending, through to excitedly digging the spuds, picking them from the black soil like precious stones. Him learning from me something about the sacred provenance of the food he eats. Another step in his journey towards enlightenment. The passing on of experience and wisdom from one generation to the next.

It’s a lovely story. But there’s one glaring problem. It’s a complete fantasy, riven with untruth from start to finish. And I’ve always thought that if this blog is to have any merit at all then it needs to be ruthlessly honest.

The real version is this. Months back I thought it would be a valuable experience if my boy was to get some experience in growing food that he ate. I mentioned the potato idea to him a few times but it rarely seemed to break the surface of his notice.

I bought the bags, the seeds and the soil and set it all up in the back yard. I called for him to assist me but he didn’t immediately move. I finally managed to secure about half of his attention by promising that we were going to grow chips. He stood miserably at the side of the grow bags while I tried to rouse some enthusiasm.

I showed him the seed potatoes and urged him to plant them deep in the soil.

He didn’t want to.

‘It’s ok buddy, don’t worry about getting your hands dirty.’

He gave me a look which seemed to suggest that his objection was based upon distaste, not concerns over hygiene.

‘You do it daddy.’

I sighed. Eventually we reached a compromise that he would place the seeds on the top of the dirt and then I would push them down. He did a couple and then went back to his iPad to watch Ryan’s Toy Review while I completed the job.

As the months passed I made sure the grow bags were properly watered every day and got plenty of sun. Occasionally I would mention their progress to my son, particularly when the leaves began to push out of the compost. He never asked about it once.

Today I made a large fuss over the process of emptying the bags and sifting through the soil to find the potatoes. My son promised he would help.

Then I upturned the first bag, sending a number of bugs scurrying for cover. My son retreated a few steps. I began to break up the packed soil with my hands.

‘Come on buddy, let’s get stuck in.’

He didn’t move and looked at me with scepticism.

‘You do it daddy.’

So I did, with him standing back and giving me directions when he spotted a pale potato.

In truth the harvest in the first bag was miserable. I grabbed a couple of small potatoes and held them up towards my son hopefully. They were smaller than marbles. He looked unimpressed.

Then I went to fetch the second bag. When I returned my son was gone, back to his virtual world of games and impersonal connections.

I went on. The crop in the second bag was much better, with some largish potatoes which would not have looked out of place in a grocer’s shop. I scooped up a couple and went running into the house.

‘Look buddy! Look at these potatoes!’

He was sitting with his iPad on the sofa.

‘That’s great daddy,’ he said without looking up.

And there I was. Standing uselessly with a large potato in each hand and finally getting the point. My son is not interested. He will give me the minimal amount of his attention to allow me to take the photos, begin the process, gather enough material for a blog. But his heart is not in it.

I went back to my digging a little subdued and wounded. And as I filled the basin with grubby little spuds I reasoned it out in my mind.

As a daddy I want the right to choose what my son will be interested in, to be the guiding hand in his choices. At the root of it all I want him to be a reflection of me.

But he’s not me. He’s his own person and every day his choices take him a little bit further away from me.

Perhaps some day he will be interested in growing potatoes, and classical music, and cricket, and the Muppet Christmas Carol. But he will get there at his own speed and because he has found the direction all on his own.

I can’t live my own life again through my child and I shouldn’t try. Kids go their own way and can’t simply be moulded like clay.

I’ll always shake my head in despair at the computer games that absorb his attention but I can’t compel him towards something else because I think it is of more worth. That’s just how it is.

I’m sifting through the last bag and unearthing the final few potatoes. I’m covered in a fine film of sweat and there is mud on my shorts and under my fingernails. From a slow start the little basin is now almost full. It’s close to impressive.

My son surprises me by reappearing in the garden. He walks over and peers at the haul.

‘There’s a lot there now, isn’t there daddy?’

‘Yes buddy.’

‘And can we use them to make chips tonight?’

‘Yes we can.’

‘And can we bring some down to show Granda?’

‘Of course.’

He pauses for a moment and looks again at the spuds.

‘I did really well with the potatoes, didn’t I daddy?’

‘You did buddy. You really did.’


(Not) In my back yard

It’s a sunny afternoon near the end of the holidays. My son and I are in the back garden and perhaps there’s a slight feeling of melancholia carried in the warm summer breeze, a regret over how fast the time passes. I probably feel it more than he does.

I’m doing something with the old lawnmower pretending not to hear him complaining about the bird poo on the seat of his blue swing. I’ve just nipped into the house to connect a plug when my son’s urgent shout brings me running back out.

‘Daddy! Daddy! Someone’s parked their car in our house!’

It takes me a few seconds to catch his meaning. He leads me to our back gate, I open the creaking wooden structure and there it is, a muddy black car parked directly across the end of our driveway, blocking access to the rear yard.

We look about for a few minutes, thinking possibly that someone is visiting us or delivering a package to our house. But nobody can be found and the conclusion is clear. The driver has blocked our gate while he or she has gone to carry out whatever their business is in our estate.

We walk around the car. I take a few photos. My son is snapping at my heels, buzzing agitatedly.

‘Daddy, they can’t park there! This is our house! Call the police!’

I’ve seen my share of residential parking disputes over the years. I had a neighbour once who, if anyone dared to park on the pavement in front of his terraced house, would emerge and roar about how long he had lived on this street and how he had earned the right to park outside his own fucking house.

I had other neighbours who, if they determined that a car had parked too close to their front door, would surround that car front and back with their own two vehicles in a pincer movement, making it close to impossible for the offending driver to drive away. It was a crude way of making a point.

I know anecdotally from family members of another man who has put nails under the tyres of cars that parked on the footpath at the end of his garden. I’m aware of another person who leaves sarcastic notes on the windscreens of cars which park anywhere near the end of her driveway.

I’ve always tried not to get involved, determined, as ever, to see both sides of the argument. After all, I have reasoned, the planet is heading for climate change apocalypse and politics has become debased and shockingly toxic, so it makes no sense to get heated over something as trivial as inconsiderate parking. That’s what I tell myself.

But now here I am, feeling my mood darken because a car has blocked my driveway. I argue internally that this is different, this car is actually on my land, blocking an entrance route. I’ve every right to bristle at the trespass. I tell myself that I’d love to give the driver a stern lecture and a poisonous glare, if only I wasn’t so profoundly petrified at the prospect of human confrontation.

And then something occurs to me. My son is angry, more angry than I am. He’s six-years-old. I know what’s happening here. He’s aping my behaviour, doing what he thinks I’ll do, and what he thinks I want him to do. But he’s six-years old and I don’t want him or me to be annoyed on this sunny afternoon, even if my instinct is telling me that I’ve every right to be.

So I sit on the swing with the bird poo and I ask him why he’s angry. He tells me it’s because the car has parked on our land, on the stones that distinguish our plot from the road outside.

Which is true. But it’s also true that I never use the back gate for access. The car, while parked inconsiderately, is causing us no material harm and perhaps it’s not worth getting steamed about.

I try to explain this to my son, telling him that we’ve no way of knowing why that car has parked there, perhaps the driver had an emergency, perhaps he did not recognise it as a entrance point. Or perhaps, I suggest, he or she did it deliberately and always make a point of parking in the most antagonistic fashion they can manage. We have no way of controlling the behaviour of others, just of ourselves. My son looks confusedly at me before he runs off to play another game.

I’ve got a news alert on my phone. It’s from the BBC and tells me that swathes of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil are burning at record rates. I put the phone back in my pocket.

It’s about an hour later when I finally get round to mowing the lawn. My son is now playing indoors and I’m clearing toys off the grass. I’ve left the back gate open, perhaps as a way of making a point.

Then I hear the crunch of footprints on stones nearby. A car door opens and an engine reluctantly growls into life.

I stand tall and, just for a moment, consider that I should go and talk to the driver. Maybe we’d have a good yarn about it, maybe he or she would apologise, I’d say it’s fine and we’d have a shared laugh at the misunderstanding. Maybe the driver would get defensive and annoyed and some relationship would be poisoned, but at least I’d have made my point.

But, as I said earlier, I’m a coward by instinct. I return to my mower and watch the car drive away in the cracks between the slats of my old garden fence. There are more clouds in the sky now than earlier and I feel the breeze on my bare forearms and see it play with the leaves at the end of the thin branches at the far side of the garden. I notice that there are blackberries on the thorny bushes, the first I’ve seen this year, a sign that summer is on the wane. I get on with cutting the grass.