MAN’S WORLD: Alone with my friends

200 miles there, 200 miles back and Tom is safely delivered to university.

Jessica went weeks ago – and that’s the last we’ll see of them until Christmas.

Miss them? Of course I’ll miss them. Astonishingly we appear not to have done what Master Larkin suggested and they’re rather pleasant young adults.

Intelligent, witty (yes, obviously with added sarcasm) and good company round the dinner table.

But sadly, far too fond of my wine.

It wasn’t always like this…

“Glass of wine, Tom?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“But it’s your last family meal. Until Christmas anyway. This time next week you’ll be at university.”

“No, I’m fine.”

If anything, Jessica was even more reticent. Buck’s Fizz on Christmas morning? A family tradition. Half a cider when she was out with her mates? Apparently so. ‘Long slow comfortable screw against the wall’ when she felt like winding her dad up? Most definitely. But wine with her meals? No thanks.

Well, higher education has certainly taught them something. And I’ve discovered a somewhat less attractive side to my character.

“What are we drinking with the meal, Dad?”

“Red.”

“Is it a good bottle from the wine club? Or that cheap stuff from Tesco?”

I’m ashamed of this. But there’s no other way to put it. I tell my son an outright lie. “No, no. There are a couple of nice bottles from the wine club. Go and get them off the wine rack.” Will he recognise the labels? I’m gambling he doesn’t go to the corner shop often enough to know what’s on special offer.

I survive another meal with my credibility intact. Tom professes himself satisfied with the wine. To prove it he finishes off my cheese.

Meanwhile Jessica and her mother have become best wine buddies.

“Where are you going?”

“To watch a film.”

“But you’re taking the wine bottle…”

“Yes. We’re going to finish it.”

“What about me?”

“You can stack the dishwasher.”

Fortunately they only do it with white wine – Jessica doesn’t like red, so at least that’s one small mercy. But clearly it’s only a matter of time. ‘Where’s mine, Dad?’ she’ll say next time she comes home. ‘I’ve started drinking red wine now.’

What’s going on, damn it? When I was at university wine was Hirondelle. If there wasn’t any Hirondelle we drank some German stuff that was later found to be 80% antifreeze. No wonder we survived the winter without central heating. Back home my Dad was convinced Hungarian Bull’s Blood made him a connoisseur. Of course I stuck to lager.

Now Tom is complaining about the quality of my wine – and I’m turning into the dog. Come home from the butchers, present Pepper with a juicy bone and she scuttles off down the garden to hide it. A case of wine is delivered to work, I bring it home – and immediately start hiding it round the house.

(The consensus among my pals on Twitter is the cupboard under the stairs. Quite rightly they believe the chances of Tom ever reaching for the Hoover are significantly below zero.)

To be honest, I’m worried. Have I turned into an alcoholic Mr. Mean? A man who just wants to sit in the garden shed with a bottle of Shiraz?

But there’s an even bigger worry. Because like all things in life the wine bottle will turn full circle.

‘Grandad’ll be here soon, Daddy. Shall I get a bottle of wine out?’

‘I suppose so. But make sure it’s off the top shelf.’

‘Is that the nice wine, Daddy?’

‘No, sweetheart, it’s paint stripper from the local commune. It’s called revenge. A dish best eaten cold. And served with red wine…’