It is suppertime at Bomford HQ. The boys have shuffled, protesting, from the television to the dining room. I have broken the news. It is tuna curry.
“Yes! The best meal ever!” says Harry, six, in a surprise development.
Alec’s face crumples. “Pooiest meal in the whole wide world,” he says, climbing despondently onto his chair and assessing his plate.
Economical with his language, he glances over at his twin brother, Kit, four.
“Ugh, Kit?” he inquires.
For once, it is not a double ‘ugh’ as Kit is already tucking into his meal. Two out of three – not a bad strike rate. We only have one meal that they will all happily eat and I save that for swimming night, for obvious reasons.
Alec, four, immediately leaps off his chair clutching his trousers. “Need a poo!” he splutters before sprinting from the room.
Kit’s fork clatters to the floor. It has gathered a shriveled raisin and a hair clump by the time I retrieve it from the far side of the room. Reluctantly I leave to fetch him a clean one. One potato, two potato…. three –
“Mummy! Kit threw his rice at me!”
“Harry nappy baby bum!”
“Please be nice,” I shout pointlessly from the kitchen.
Next, the sound of a chair scraping the floor and rapid patter of footsteps. A wail.
“Mummy, Kit hit me!”
Oh to be Mr Tickle. With those extraordinarily long arms of his I could probably throttle both of them from where I stand.
There is a sound of muffled straining, a gush of water and Alec is back in our midst looking mournfully at his now congealed curry.
Welcome to my “nursery of democracy” as the family dinnertime was christened by a food writer recently. Yes, that cradle of civilization where my sons learn to socialise and together we develop our family culture while catching up on each other’s news. Presumably all while eating food topped with a smiley face fashioned from a couple of olives and an organic carrot.
In truth, our mealtimes owe more to North Korea than the free world. Bribery, threats and blackmail are often employed simply to get the boys as far as the dining room table, let alone actually putting food in their mouths.
So while other households grapple articulately with the complexities of modern life over their spaghetti bolognese, my family is stuck in the starting blocks, barely able to transport fork to mouth or bum to seat without encouragement of an official nature. As dictator-in-chief, my job consists of blocking the exits, providing helpful reminders that food is often nicer when it’s hot and confiscating anything which could be fiddled with, broken or used as a weapon. If there is a lull in this role I then crack down on excessive table drumming (Harry), burping (Kit) and repetitive joke telling (Alec). I admit that this approach does not leave much room for discussions of a more philosophical nature, except perhaps to ponder on how quickly bedtime is approaching.
It is no doubt a relief to everyone when I finally leave the dining room, laden with half empty plates, the boys’ food intake quotas eventually met.
Harry follows me into the kitchen in an attempt to get first dibs on the Pretty Peachy yogurt, safe in the knowledge that once selected, both Alec and Kit will want it and therefore refuse to eat anything else.
I would point this out to him, but I am standing by the bin with most of Alec’s tuna curry in my mouth. I motion to him to return to his seat with less authority than I’d hoped for.
When I return to the dining room clutching an apple and some jaffa cakes, Alec’s face brightens.
“Best mummy ever!” he shouts.
“You don’t really know that for certain Alec, ” Harry cautions, sensibly.
“Mummy ever,” repeats Alec, defiantly. He senses there could be a jaffa-related bonus if this loyalty to the leader continues.
Kit’s apple is eaten and he is now dismantling his jaffa cake. Flakes of chocolate litter the floor until all that is left is the orange jelly in the palm of his hand. Finally and joyfully this is stuffed into his mouth.
“Can I get down?” shouts Harry from the lounge.
Dinner is officially over – it must be, the room is empty.
An hour later and I am switching off Harry’s bedroom light and heading down the stairs.
I emit a non-committal grunt.