Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Early Bird meal deals beckon now I'm an empty nester

Empty nest: the kids have flown
Empty nest: the kids have flown

I could hear the clock tick in the kitchen. It was probably the first time in 20 years I had done so. Upstairs, Iggy Pop wasn't competing with LCD Soundsystem to see who could upset the neighbours the most. The buzz of guitar amps left on at top volume wasn't there, either.

No soaking-wet towels were piled up in the hallway. Water was not dripping through the kitchen ceiling from overflowing shower trays.

There were no empty biscuit packets left in the cupboard and the fridge door was suspiciously closed. There was a sense of order and serenity. Something that I had many times longed for, but now made me sad.

Outside, the scuffed patch of grass where the goalmouth had been was still a reminder, but too poignant to dwell on. In the terrible vernacular of the TV sociologists, we were now 'empty nesters'.

I spent a lot of last weekend on the motorways of Britain and the one-way systems of London and Cardiff.

Both my boys have started university life at the same time (no apology is going to work, Nick Clegg) and for them an exciting new chapter has begun.

We stayed a while in both cities, going out for meals and into the bars, mingling with the students.

It seemed like only yesterday that I was doing this myself, the excitement of new faces and places, the three years of not worrying about the outside world, study for study's sake, where bullshit and self re-invention are art forms.

Now I was old, it was not my time, and I was rightly dragged away into the car for the journey home before I could embarrass myself. It was back to life with The Man for me.

I never saw it coming. Nobody does. My deep-seated fear of the rush of time and my inability to slow it down still hadn't prepared me for the moment they would leave.

In my mind, I have them running around with the delight of a four- and five-year-old as they point at the crazy antics of the chimps at Bristol Zoo, or trying on various school uniforms in varying shades of discomfort, or scoring the first-ever goal for the junior Sunday side.

Like all fathers, waving off your children to another stage of their lives has you wondering about your own life.

They will never again be so influenced by you, or need you (except financially!) so much.

Would they even still laugh at your Shearer and Hanson impressions during Match of the Day again, let alone listen to your views on the music of the '80s and '90s?

Back home the walls, now not throbbing to bass notes, are festooned with pictures of them taken through the years, although not unsurprisingly the mid-teen 'problem' era is not well represented. The images are a reminder that it is your life, not theirs, that is really changing.

At home, they make you feel young. Keep you on your toes. Now absent, you could end up looking forward to sweeping up the autumn leaves in the garden, or turning up for the restaurant's Early Bird meal-deal offer, if you're not careful.

Look, it's not like they're miles away, or that they won't be back on by the end of the week asking for more cash to see them through Freshers' Week.

It was just hard to think like that driving home in the rain on the M25 on Sunday night.

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