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In a hurry to get away

Phil Hogan

You have to be patient with the elderly.

ONE HATES to fast-track one's over-cheerful mother through breakfast, but we are in a kind of a hurry and if she will just sit there stirring her Special K instead of eating it while continuing her live morning commentary on the concerns of the moment — the fluffy ducks on the lawn, the lovely trees, her bad knee, the interesting dream she had last night — how am I supposed to get my shirt ironed?

My wife, more sympathetic to the reluctance of the wartime generation to eat food in a slightly more urgent way, preferring as they do to push everything round their plates for ages like tanks on a map before eventually squashing it into a little mashed heap on the backs of their forks and chewing it a hundred times and wasting nothing that you cannot make a nettle and bootlace soup out of afterwards, is now calmly making things worse by agreeing with my mother about the fluffiness of the ducks and loveliness of trees and making polite inquiries about her knee and the interesting dream.

"Could we get a move on?" I say. My wife relieves me of toast duty and ushers me out of the kitchen and tells me not to be so horrible, because it's only a matter of time before my mum starts wondering what kind of a son keeps inviting his mother down to our house only to suddenly disappear off to ... well, on this occasion to a nice big wedding in leafy Suffolk the minute her back is turned, though, as I am quick to point out, who else would take so much unaccountable pleasure in looking after a houseful of unruly children while we are miles away drinking our own volume in someone else's champagne? Grandparents love being exploited.

"Did I tell you the wedding is in their garden?" I call to my mum in my new non-horrible way. "Oo, how lovely!" she says, now sensing (wrongly) that this is the perfect time to recount for the millionth time the hilarious story about the day the elder Hogans struggled down from snowy Leeds to sunny London for my own rather laidback wedding a hundred years ago. Was it Brian, she wonders — you know, the name of that milkman with the one eye who had to help Dad push the car off the end of the street?

"Have you finished your Special K yet Mum?" I ask. Yes, she laughs (though not with reference to Special K), there they all were running up the platform in the blizzard, not realising until they were halfway to London that they'd left the car doors wide open with all the wedding presents and best suits and ties sitting in the back. What larks — turning up at Marylebone register office in moon boots and big fishermen's jumpers!

My wife finds time to wash some grapes before we leave, but at last we are heading up to Cambridge where we have to meet Gary from Barcelona at a roadside layby. Gary, who is a designer, is wearing a loud Dolce & Gabbana shirt with ripped jeans and Prada trainers.

He has bought the happy couple a wardrobe, he tells us, with a picture of them both superimposed on the doors. Brilliant, I tell him back. We got them some towels.

Gary has more to say than my mother, though it does not so much slow us down as speed us up. "I think we might have time to go to the pub," he suggests. "Now you're talking," I say.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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