What they don’t like – really cannot stand – is their father asking them if they intend to be glued to TikTok all weekend, and then when the response is yet more grunts, mentioning the dedication, determination and healthy, outdoorsy scampering around of the new tennis sensation.
Now that the Raducanu hullabaloo has quietened, the three of my four who are never off their phones are probably thinking that the “Why can’t you be more like Emma?” plea will be phased out of circulation. But I’m currently finessing another irresistible inquiry and it’s a beaut. It will go something like this: “Where do you think domestic power comes from and who do you suppose pays for it?”
Are we heading for another three-day week? Boris Johnson and his Cabinet are the new Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks, extolling the virtues of the HGV lifestyle just like Dave Lee Travis and fellow DJ Paul Burnett in that dreadful song “Convoy GB”, in the hope that drivers will take up the offer of temporary work visas and deliver fuel to the garage forecourts so the punch-ups at the pumps will cease.
That won’t solve the entire energy crisis. Not with the recent fire at a National Grid site stopping us from – legally – syphoning electricity from France, suppliers going bust and gas bills set to go boom. So, power cuts, blackouts and a near-complete 1970s theme-park experience only lacking beige Austin Allegros and grey meat from tins? Bring it on…
I don’t think it’s cruel or worthy of a call to social services to suggest that my children – those permanently plugged-in, multi-channel, thermostatically snug darlings – might acquire perspective, appreciation and, come on, just some bloody gratitude if they were to endure even a few of the privations I suffered when believing that the world revolved around me.
I wonder if they think I’m making up the 70s. How in my teenage years there were only three TV stations. How that was also the measly number of bars on the electric fire with its – woohoo – imitation flame effect. How icicles formed on the insides of windows. How when you breathed out it, looked like you were on 40 Capstan Full Strength.
These, I tell them, were the good times. The bad times were the miners’ strike of 1972, the three-day week of 1974 and the winter of discontent in 1979 when rubbish – all the tins which held the grey meat, all the toys and gadgets from K-Tel and Ronco which very quickly broke – piled high and uncollected in the streets.
That was grim, I say, but just imagine a giant lever being pulled to immobilise the pathetically small number of electricity-dependent creature comforts around back then. I want the prospect of a big shutdown to frighten my entitled brood into turning off lights when they leave rooms and to stop swanning around in hot-pants, crop-tops and synthetic football strips and just assuming the heating will always be adjusted upwards.
But don’t tell them this: were the bad times really that bad? I remember a lot of fun: meals by candlelight, Buckaroo and Mousetrap by torchlight and skiving school to watch football with afternoon kickoffs because floodlights were banned.
My father almost set fire to the house trying to cook fondue with an oxyacetylene blowtorch. He had emerged from the ration-book age to employ au pairs and wear his hair long and he was damned if the minor inconvenience of a power cut was going to cancel a groovy Sunday tradition.
Still, maybe he and my mother, in having to settle for a steak and kidney dinner, courtesy of Mr Fray Bentos, will have found consolation by following the marital advice for surviving those dark times. Temporarily off work? Kids at school? Have sex at a different time of the day! In a different room!
Honestly, this was genuine guidance. As was saving electricity by not ironing underpants. Imagine, in the tittersome era of Benny Hill and Dick Emery, how hilarious that sounded. Same with a radio debate I remember where a vicar was asked if, in the spirit of energy conservation, he’d urge the men and women of his flock to share baths.
Then there was Patrick Jenkin, Edward Heath’s Minister for Energy during the three-day week, who urged the populace to save electricity by brushing their teeth in the dark until it was discovered he used an electric toothbrush and his London home was photographed with lights blazing in every room. A far more trustworthy voice was Blue Peter’s John Noakes who told us to line our blankets with newspaper to keep warm.
Yes, TV was forced to shut down at 10.30pm but John Peel was ready on the transistor, smuggled under those bed-covers, to blow our minds with progressive rock. Noddy Holder of Slade reckoned Heath’s announcement of the three-day week was the final push sending “Merry Xmas Everybody” to the top of the charts as a defiantly happy record in the midst of “a disastrous period politically”.
Forty-seven years ago, people became rather fond of the dark and the world slowing down. They enjoyed re-reading old books and digging the garden, rather like recently under Covid. I’m telling my phone-addicted kids that a new three-day week would be like lockdown with knobs on and lights off, but these rubbish dad jokes just enrage them.
Come on, I say, you’ll love the lovely, warm glow of a candle after your devices go dark and can’t be re-charged. My youngest at least is entering into the spirit. “I’ll make conker soup,” declared Hector, three, the other day. And I’ll heat it up with an oxyacetylene blowtorch.