I’m not sure why but Catherine, our elder daughter, 17, has suddenly taken to cookery and baking. Mostly puddings and cakes. And mostly a diversion from homework or music practice methinks. Well put yourself in her place – 1000 word psychology essay on pecking behaviour in pigeons or a tarte aux fraises the size of a manhole cover?
Still, this leaves me in a bit of a quandary over the balance between school and kitchen. On the one hand, homework is definitely taking second place to the cookery. On the other, we are now eating like pre-revolutionary French royalty. Life is suddenly a parade of pavlovas, a melee of meringue, a cornucopia of cakes.
And the essay? My normal response to inadequate homework is the Heavyhanded Disciplinarian Father Speech, delivered with what I fancy is Churchillian bearing “Never in the field of human homework has so little been done for so long”.
You get the picture.
But this kind of oratory carries no weight when delivered by a man wiping lemon curd from his shirt. Nor will a teenage daughter take a lecture from a father holding an embarrassing large slice of Victoria Sponge and spluttering cake crumbs while talking.
Insidiously, Parkinson’s has robbed me of my natural gravitas (younger daughter Alice is sniggering as she reads this – wot gravitas?). Instead of sitting at the head of the table at dinner, punctuating the daily chatter and school gossip with bon mots, my attention is focussed nowadays on simply relaying food from plate to mouth.
“You’re quiet” my friends will say as I battle with my meal like a pianist learning Rachmaninov. Nobody (outside the family) has yet offered to cut up my food but that day will doubtless come. In the meantime, I chart a messy course from meal to meal.
Parkinsonian tremors can turn the average meal into a challenge worthy of The Krypton Factor. On a bad day, peas are scattered to the four corners of the earth, soup usually gets no further than my lap while red wine targets my best white shirt like a cruise missile. Certainly, nothing much seems to find my mouth!
Our dog is no fool and has always taken up station near the messiest eater in the family. For many years that was Alex, who addressed his food with all the refinement of a velociraptor. At breakfast, lunch and supper, Flora would lie Sphinx-like waiting for the occasional morsel.
No longer. For many months now, Flora has not moved from my side at mealtimes. Nor does she lie down. No, she sits dribbling (much like me) by my side in the sure and certain hope of the manna to follow. She has the decency to look up at me with liquid brown eyes as though apologising. “Nothing personal” she seems to be saying “it’s just business – and I’m hungry”
Mealtimes take on a comically unpredictable air. Always able to lighten even my darkest moods, my family guess openly how much food will end up on the floor. Rotigotine roulette if you will. Sometimes, like tipsters studying form, the kids will ask me when my last dose was taken or press Claire for details of the anticipated supper. For instance, a well-dosed Jon despatching a plate of sandwiches barely draws their attention. On the other hand, a tired and tremulous father facing Spaghetti Bolognese has them scurrying for the camcorder, with barely concealed glee. We take our seats, I reach for the parmesan and, ten seconds later, the table looks like a nativity scene. We are all sobbing with laughter.
Something must be done and the kids conclude that a bib is the way forward.
Alice and I go shopping. In Mothercare.
Alice: “You are going to behave yourself Dad, aren’t you”
Jon (winks): “Trust me” (fiendish smile)
Shop assistant enters, stage left
Mothercare shop assistant: “Can I help you?”
Jon: “Yes please – I need a bib.”
MSA; “Certainly sir. Here is our range of bibs”
Jon: “They all look very small to me”
MSA (surprised): “They are a standard size. How big do you need?”
Alice bites her tongue to stop herself laughing.
Jon (glances round): “What have you got in a 16” collar?”