MAN’S WORLD: Teenage love affairs

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Scene: The Hall. Lounge and dining room opening off.

Mid 70s/early 80s décor. A bookcase largely filled with Reader’s Digest editions. An atlas. The Bible. An encyclopaedia.

There is a telephone table with a two-tone grey telephone.

On a shelf underneath is a phone directory and a three inch thick Yellow Pages.

A boy enters. He is 14 or 15. He wears a mustard polo-neck and brown corduroy trousers.

He looks around furtively. Unbeknown to him his father is listening in the lounge. His mother is in the dining room – also listening.

Nervously he picks up the phone. He puts it down. He counts to three. Grabs the phone: rapidly dials a number.

Male voice: (answering phone) Six-one-seven-nine-five

Teenage boy: Ah. Er… That is – sorry, wrong number.

The boy puts the phone down. Swears. Takes a deep breath. Takes another deep breath.

Teenage boy: (muttering to himself) Just do it, alright? Just damn well do it.

He dials the number again. A teenage girl answers.

Teenage boy: Ah. Er… That is. Er… it’s me.

Teenage girl: Hi.

Teenage boy: Yes. Hi. Hello. That is… hi.

I’ll put you out of your misery. After all, it’s not Shakespeare. The nervous stammering went on for a lot longer. But she said yes.

I asked Alicia out. She said yes. “Well,” mum said, coming out of hiding, “We are grown up, aren’t we?”

Dad grunted and gave me a book about cold showers and ‘controlling your animal lust.’

The point is, the phone was in the hall. I had no secrets. One of my parents listened in on every conversation I ever had with a girl. (No, I couldn’t use the phone box down the road. It was permanently vandalised.)

And now? Well, yes, there’s a phone in our hall. Whether it’s charged up or not is another matter. We keep it for PPI calls – and Jane’s mother.

Obviously any communication my children have with the outside world – and especially with potential boy/girlfriends – takes place in their bedroom. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Tom speak on his mobile.

So the chance of any parental eavesdropping is nil. Possibly lower. Which is a shame – because as our old mate Sherlock would say, ‘the game’s afoot.’ Or it might be.

That’s the problem. I don’t know.

When I took Tom back to university he seemed more than usually obsessed with his mobile.

The nearer we got to Cambridge the more obsessed he became.

The only time he took any notice of me was when I spilled my Costa coffee down my jumper.

I tried to see what he was texting but contraflows kept interrupting me. So I unloaded his stuff, said goodbye and drove home in a state of frustrated ignorance.

…To find that Ben had gone out for a walk after school. “He did that yesterday as well,” Jane said knowingly. So he did. A quick text and he was off.

Well there was only one reason I went out for a walk after school. That and the chance of finding a public phone box that worked.

Is he meeting someone?

If you say it’s not of my business all I can answer is that your children are two and four.

I’m sorry, but by the time they’re teenagers there are far more interesting things to think about than what’s in the party bag.

All parents want to know what’s going in their children’s love lives. Or if they have one.

Damn it, we’re supposed to live in a surveillance society. GCHQ may well know who my sons are so fervently texting.

I haven’t got a clue…