MAN’S WORLD: The great expedition

Our youngest son’s voice floated down from his bedroom.

“Mum, where’s my green t-shirt?”

“Third drawer down. Washed, ironed, put away.”

Time passed. Very little of it…

“Mum, where are my army trousers? The ones with all the pockets?”

“The ironing basket. Washed, ironed, not yet put away.”

Even less time passed…

“Mum, where’s my - ”

“Blimey,” I said, “Mothers need a mental map don’t they? Something to keep track of every item of clothing in the house.

It’s the domestic equivalent of Harry Potter’s Marauders’ Map – except that it only shows trousers and underpants.”

“Exactly,” my wife said. “But thank goodness I’d only need it to keep track of the children’s clothes.”

Did I detect a note of sarcasm?

Ben was leaving for the weekend. 9am Saturday to 4pm Sunday. He’s doing the bronze Duke of Edinburgh award – and this was the practice expedition.

I checked the weather forecast for the 87th time.

“Have you got some waterproof trousers?”

“How many times, dad? School give us waterproof trousers.”

“If you’re sure…”

“I am sure. And before you ask again, yes, my shoes are waterproof. No, we don’t need to go into town for anything.”

“OK then. So tomorrow night I’ll go down to the shop and get your emergency rations.”

“No, dad.” And Ben explained – also for the 87thalthough he was theoretically responsible for his group’s emergency rations the other boys had committed to bringing so much food that there was no need.

Equally patiently, I explained that we couldn’t allow ourselves to be outparented.

“I don’t care if you have too much food. We’re parents. If you don’t take any food and everyone else does we’ll feel guilty.”

“So you’d rather I had extra weight to carry.”

“If you put it like that, yes.”

And so I trekked down to the corner shop and came back with enough energy bars, muesli bars and ‘natural crunch’ bars to equip a small army.

“Dad, all I’m doing is going for a walk with my friends.”

“School said ten miles on Saturday and six on Sunday didn’t they? Besides, you eat every ten minutes at home.”

Jane was worrying about his lunch on Saturday. “Do you want sandwiches? I’ll happily send your dad to the shop again.”

“I told you, we’ve already planned what we’re eating.”

And so they had – at one of their many team meetings. Maybe we just couldn’t deal with our son being organised without us…

Saturday came. Mercifully it was dry. Not that it stopped me offering to detour into town on the way to school.

“Not again, dad. But I do need to take the trowel.”

“The trowel? The garden trowel? What do you need that for?”

“It’s to bury our poo, dad.”

The thought was too awful to contemplate. “You mean all these D of E expeditions have left a trail of teenage poo stretching across the Yorkshire Moors?”

“If you like.”

“So some poor guy on Time Team is going to discover it in 500 years’ time and claim it as evidence of a lost civilisation. ‘Little is known of these teenage tribes, apparently living wild on the Yorkshire Moors and undocumented in 21st century literature…’”

“Just get in the car, dad.”

Stop press. Sunday afternoon. He’s back. So are all the ‘natural crunch’ bars.

And everything else I bought. But there was one small victory for parental concern. His waterproof shoes weren’t. While Jane sharpens up her chiropody skills I’ve been ordered to prepare food.

“Lots of it, dad,” was his precise instruction.

So to paraphrase Captain Oates, I am just going to the kitchen – and may be some time…