Saturday, 19 March 2011

How To Make Conversation Across A Cultural Divide, And Disinherit Yourself In The Process.

I'm off to Dorset to take Dad home - which is going to be fun, seeing as he isn't speaking to me.

Instead of occupying his usual position on the sofa and wielding the remote control as if it were a weapon of mass destruction, he's upstairs, throwing the last of his belongings into a suitcase. He's refusing my help, and is muttering to Max about the complete lack of support he gets from his kids. I'm assuming that he means me by that.

It all starts while I'm getting dressed this morning. I'm hopping about on one foot, trying to get the other one into the leg of my tights, when the bloody phone starts to ring. Max is no help as he's still in bed -   preparing for unemployment and Jeremy Kyle.

"Let it go to the answer-phone," he says, which seems a sensible suggestion to me.

The caller's bound to be yet another of those bloody marketing firms, so it's not as if I'll be missing anything and, anyway, I hate the phone. Unlike a certain other person who just can't resist it. Honestly - why can't the older generation let a ringing phone ring? I don't know what's the matter with them.

Dad's still on the line when I eventually make it down the stairs, even though this feat takes quite a while - I'm positive these tights are the wrong way round.

"Is that bloody Northwick Eezi Home Finance again?" I say. "Tell them to sod off and remove our number from their calling sheets. We're registered with the TPS!"

Dad scowls, while gesturing for me to leave the room - so I comply without complaint. It can't be healthy to be so mindlessly obedient. I'm already in the hallway before I remember that I don't have to do as he says, and could always listen in instead.

I overcome a rogue twinge of guilt by telling myself that he'll thank me for invading his privacy when I save him from buying something that he doesn't need. These marketing people have no scruples, and Dad's a vulnerable, lonely pensioner like Mr Edmonds - or so he'd have us all believe.

No call-centre version of Darren is going to get away with ripping my father off, so I rush back into the sitting room and take control. It's quite a buzz, for all of the five seconds it lasts.

"Give it to me," I mouth at Dad.

He shakes his head and hangs onto the phone for dear life, even though I try really hard to wrestle it from him. He's got an awfully strong grip for a man who's just had a triple bypass and is supposedly a convalescent. (I blame all the high reps he's been doing with the remote for that.)

Anyway, we're still embroiled in a tug of war when Dad suddenly changes his line of attack. He gives me a sneaky push when I'm least expecting it, and I fall backwards on to a chair. It's not the most dignified landing, but there's no need for him to look so smug. He'd do no better if he was wearing these tights.

Like Chumbawumba, I may get knocked down, but I get up again - and Dad's not the only one who can try a different approach. I shall give up this unequal physical struggle and rely on disapproval instead. It worked for Gandhi, after all.

I cross my legs into the Lotus Position - slightly modified to allow for the tights - and then I hold my hand out for the phone, while trying very hard not to blink. Dad takes absolutely no notice, beyond turning his back on me, but then it took a few years in India, too.

"My daughter," he says, into the receiver. "No, dau-ghter. Door- terr. My daughter. I think she wants to speak to you."

"Damn right I do," I say, as I attack from behind and grab the phone while I have the chance. Now I'll show Dad who's the boss.

"Molly, my dear - meet my new love," he says. "All the way from sunny Thailand."

"Hurro," says Porn-Poon. Or something like that. I'm far too traumatised for my ears to work. Or my brain.

"Hurro. Hu-rro!" she says, again.

God, she even sounds about twelve years old. And why can't I think of a thing to say? Now I know how The Boss feels during tricky surgery appointments - especially when I refuse to help him out.

"Um, hello," I say - nothing better having come to mind. "So I guess you're a fan of Gary Glitter, then?"

Why did I say that? Why? Why? It's as if I've suddenly developed Tourettes. And all I can think of to add to that exceptional opening gambit is something about the leader of the gang. Lateral thinking, I suppose.

After I've finished singing the tune, there's silence at the other end of the phone, and Dad's face has gone a very funny colour indeed. I'm going to kill him by accident if I don't get a grip. And I have to make nice, anyway - seeing as this could be Stepmother Mark IV I'm talking to. (God forbid.)

"Nice to meet you, Porn-Poon," I say.

Shit! Is that actually her name - or is it just what Dinah calls her behind Dad's back? I can't remember, and Dad's no help. He's just glaring at me as if he'd like to kill me. Which he'll probably attempt, as soon as I get off the phone - and it's not as if I don't already know which one of us would win that fight.

I need to calm down, right now, and then make normal conversation. How hard can it be? I do it all the time with mad constituents, so it's not as if I lack experience - except that they're not usually shagging my Dad.

Oh, dear God, what an image. Now I'm making it so much worse. I know - I'll ask Porn-Poon about her hobbies. I'm sure that's what self-help books for the socially-inept would suggest.

"So," I say. "Dad tells me that you like old men."

According to Dad - before he stops speaking to me altogether - this last effort isn't my worst offence. I better it with my follow up:

"Can you just explain to me why?"

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