August 3, 2012 8:39 pm

Spot the teenager

When your youngest child asks you to buy spot cream while you’re doing the weekly shop, you know you’re old

What qualifies as an essential purchase? The older Cost Centres, young men of 22 and 17, get through industrial quantities of hair gel. But CC#3 caused a lot of grief recently when he texted his father, whom he knew was at the supermarket, and asked him to procure some spot cream as a matter of some urgency.

Illustration by James Ferguson©James Ferguson

This caused an outpouring of anguish from Mr M. Not that he minded being texted in the middle of his weekly shop. No, he told me as he unpacked the groceries, it was because it made him feel his age. When your youngest child asks for spot cream, you know you’re old. “We don’t have a baby any more,” were his final plaintive words.

Well, we have not had a baby for some time, in case he hadn’t noticed. They are all capable (just about) of tying their own shoelaces and much else besides. The older two have just been on separate but concurrent holidays to Holland. CC#1 was on a cricket tour, based in Amsterdam, with our village cricket club; CC#2 and his friends were drawn to the same city, or rather to its reputation as a party town. One of CC#1’s fellow cricketers took the party theme so seriously that he ended up, briefly, in police custody. This is how I came to know that the standard fine for drunk and disorderly behaviour in Holland is €120.

Two days after CC#1 had reported this incident, Mr M got a text message from CC#2. It explained that he too had had a similar encounter with the Dutch police, and this had wiped out his available funds. Please could he have some money transferred to his account?

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Mrs Moneypenny

We were in Italy at the time, and to be honest I paid no mind at all to this message when it was first read out to me. After all, if any of the Cost Centres seriously needed money, why on earth would they approach their father? They know who handles the money in our household, and it isn’t Mr M, whose principal financial requirement is that when he puts his card in an ATM, cash will emerge. As long as that continues to happen, he is content to leave matters financial to me. This was clearly a practical joke played on #2 by his friends, who had got hold of his phone.

Even so, Mr M and I had a heated debate. Not about who had “borrowed” #2’s phone and sent the message, but Mr M’s reaction when he first read it. For the few minutes that he thought it might be genuine, he was really concerned. Poor #2, he said, how terrible for him, falling foul of the Dutch police. Poor #2? I could hardly believe my ears. If our children choose to drink so much that they end up in police custody, then they should take the consequences. CC#2 had a budget for both that holiday and his week in Cornwall that followed it, and it was part subsidised by us. Drink himself into a Dutch police cell with his own money, if he wished, but not with ours. What was all this outpouring of sympathy? Mr M really is getting old and soft if that is his reaction.

But both CCs returned safely and last weekend all three of them and Mr M took part in our village beer and cricket festival. Amsterdam Cricket Club also sent a team, and I even entered a corporate team drawn from my colleagues and clients. We organised shirts, and my senior male colleague suggested that we buy each of the team a new box, as he didn’t fancy borrowing anyone else’s. His assistant, charged with buying these crucial protective items, had never previously handled one and had certainly never been asked to purchase anything like them before.

This weekend I shall be in Austria having 10 days R&R at an establishment near Innsbruck recommended by a reader. I asked her if she had any tips for what to take. Since you ask, she said, there is one absolutely essential purchase – wet toilet paper. Oh dear. I fear I’m going to start feeling very old indeed.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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