The implication was clear. I had spent nearly 21 years bringing up my first-born Cost Centre, sent him to expensive schools and yet a vital part of his education had been overlooked. CC#1 didn’t say that he blamed me, exactly, but the tone of his voice gave him away.
This revelation occurred about six months ago, when CC#1, then dating the daughter of a wealthy and successful man and his equally successful career wife, was taken to his first Michelin-starred restaurant, the Waterside Inn at Bray. The omission was not that we had failed to take him to any Michelin-starred restaurants while he was growing up. (Why would we? Children are expensive enough without encouraging them to expect an amuse-bouche every time they eat out.) It was far worse than that. He had been confronted with a fish knife for the first time in his life, and had not known what it was. This had, in his view, let him down when trying to make an impression on his girlfriend’s parents.
In the great scheme of things, I explained to CC#1, it is not life critical to know what a fish knife is. In any case, like side-by-side shotguns, they are a Victorian affectation and not used even in some of the grandest houses in England. So it’s a bit much that my son should berate me for failing to instruct him in non-core cutlery skills.
No wonder raising puppies is so rewarding: for a start, they never reproach you. Mr M is devoted to the wellbeing of our six Labrador puppies (three black, three yellow) delivered by our gundog on New Year’s Eve. He has solicited piles of newspapers from everyone in the village and relines their pen continually. I have even found him wiping down each of their mouths with a facecloth after feeding them. The other week he had to weigh them – I would have used a large mixing bowl on the kitchen scales, but he got out our main bathroom scales, weighed himself, then picked up a puppy and got back on again. Six times. I can’t bear to see what I weigh once.
One of our puppies is destined for the home of a Significant Person and his wife. They have been keen to choose it, and, to my horror, proposed visiting our house to do so. I was stressing about the prospect of a state visit by SP and his wife, and envisaged having to find a firm of contract cleaners followed by an interior decorator before we could receive them. In the end, I realised it would be cheaper and less mentally exhausting to put all the puppies and their mother in the car and drive them over to SP’s country house.
I took CC#3 with me, to assist with logistics, bribing him with the prospect of a swim in SP’s indoor pool. I instructed him to line the car boot with newspaper from our large pile and a rug, and to place the puppies on top. It was only when we arrived that we learnt that SP was away, but Lady SP let us bring six five-week-old Labrador puppies into her kitchen. Slightly concerned for the floor, I offered to bring in some newspaper from the car. It was then I realised that every sheet of newspaper was from a red-top tabloid. When did we start reading The Sun and the News of the World, I screamed down the phone at Mr M? They came from the chap who built the dog-pen, he explained.
I decided against bringing four-in-a-bed sex romp headlines into Lady SP’s kitchen. CC#3 had his indoor swim and then we sat down for lunch, with the very hospitable Lady SP, her adult son, his wife and their two children. Lunch, served up by friendly and welcoming staff, was a delicious-looking goujons of sole. Just as I was starting to think I had survived all possibility of embarrassment, CC#3, who was seated some distance from me, held up the piece of cutlery he had been given to eat his fish, and asked a question very loudly of the whole table: “What is this?” Maybe CC#1 was right after all.