Sunday night has always been our night. It’s an unspoken given. Actually, it’s a spoken given now and again when she’s pretended to forget and needed reminding. But the fact still remains - apart from those unfortunate occasions when my wife’s menstrual cycle coincides with Antiques Roadshow and Songs of Praise - Sunday has always been our Date Night.
‘Date Night’ is obviously a euphemism. The wording’s evolved over the years : ‘Date Night’; ‘Early Night’; ‘Wine Night’ - and each incarnation has brought with it its own trappings and traditions, (from steak and Stella through candles and dancing to dabbling in porn); but whatever you want to call it or dress it up with the bottom line is it’s the night when I’m allowed to get hold of my wife.
Why Sunday? Well, if you’ve got kids you’ll know why. Sunday is ‘School in the Morning’. The one evening of the week when you can legitimately ship your kid off to bed early with good reason while not being knackered to the point of passing out yourself.
And so it’s always been our tradition. Unspoken. But the trouble with kids as they get older is they start speaking - especially daughters. And then they start doing. And that’s when, if you’re not careful, your painstakingly constructed domestic set-up can come crumbling down around your ears.
The cracks started when my daughter got this boyfriend. She’d dabbled in this inappropriate chav here and that rugger bugger there as she negotiated the swamp of adolescence. And each spotty faced fuckwit she brought home - or in some cases just showed us on her phone on ‘Chatsnap’ or whatever - I smiled at through gritted teeth while wanting to tear his head off and stick it on a spike outside the house as a warning to all future beaus who dared to lay a finger on my little girl. But all a bloke can do in such situations is follow his wife’s lead and trust that her sharing a gender with the daughter and therefore a shared cultural and emotional experience will see us all through to the sunny uplands on the other side of teenage hormones.
But then along came Brad. Brad played guitar in a band. Brad was captain of the school debating team. Brad was two years older and in the Lower Sixth and had a car and had ‘previous relationships’ and called my wife by her first name and invaded my kitchen to help with washing up and his parents lived up on Heathview and were big in the Council and knew their wine and asked questions at parents’ fucking meetings at the school! Brad. Brad who was a teenage control freak pressurising my daughter into letting him get inside her pants. Pants that I still pay for!
So we set some ground rules regarding curfews and sleeping arrangements and have established a kind of uneasy peace over the disputed territory of my daughter’s chastity. What they do round at his parents’ house is anybody’s guess - pass around the peace pipe and debate Chomsky, probably. But in our house dignity is respected.
And then came the extraordinary Sunday. The change to the advertised programme, as it were. My wife announced she was having her customary two hour soak two hours early on this particular Sunday afternoon, as we were going out.
“Out? Out where!? On a Sunday!?” I panicked.
“For a meal.”
“Meal? What meal? We’ve got food in the house.”
“I just thought it would be nice. We never go out.”
She pointed out that now our daughter was older we could get away with the odd night out on our own. But then the daughter in question came in and let it slip - asking if I’d had it mentioned to me about Brad coming round.
“Oh, so she’s old enough to be left alone, is she? Funny sort of alone that with Brad here making his moves.”
“‘Making his moves’!? What decade are you in, Dad?”
“One that has no respect for common decency.” I stammered.
But it was no use. It was two against one. And so we got dressed up in clothes not made for comfort and booked a table at Luigi’s while my daughter and beautiful Brad ordered a Chinese and readied themselves to take the plump out of our best cushions. If nothing else the local restaurants and takeaways did well out of our bizarre evening of role reversal.
Always the last to find out - I now began to realise that our impromptu dinner date was nothing to do with our own relationship, (which would have been served better by a Prosecco and Netflix followed by a bunk-up), but that we were basically being sent to the cinema with a fiver by a couple of horny hormonal teenagers!
Actually, come to mention it, I wish we had gone to the cinema. I’ve never been one for talking across a table over candles in public. Stick the telly on pause midway through a ‘Peaky Blinders’ and me and the better half could jaw for ages on Tom Hardy acting Cillian Murphy off the screen; but stick us either side of a red tablecloth and a waxy Mateus bottle and it’s like a couple of Trappist monks have ventured out for the night.
And tonight was no exception. Until, that is, she dropped the ‘F’ bomb. After that we did nothing but talk - if you can call rowing talking, that is. This particular ‘F’ bomb stood for ‘Family Planning’. (I suppose I could have used the ‘C’ bomb - ‘Contraception’.) Because I was halfway through my rustic pate when she told me that our daughter had been to see the Doctor on Wednesday and it wasn’t to get a new inhaler!
I spat out a tenner’s worth of pate and plonk when she told me. We really do have no chance, us blokes, do we? When it comes to the superior yet manipulative intellect of our womenfolk? The whole thing was a set-up from start to finish. Both mother and daughter manoeuvring me into the position I’m in now where I can’t properly kick off while folk around me are tearing at their Foccaccia. Luigi would never let me back in through the door if I did what I really wanted to do which was to grab her garlic mushrooms and sling them, smashing and slopping against his signed photo of Placido Domingo. Because just like their well-publicised multi-tasking, women can kill flocks of birds with one stone. And that is what they have both done tonight - this dinner has vacated the house for Brad to break in my daughter just as it has given her mother the opportunity to lecture me about our daughter going on the pill.
My whispered dissent hissed into quiet seething through two more courses before it exploded like a shook Coke bottle in the cab home when I ranted and raved about Randy Brad and his laid-on night of lust. Cabbies don’t count. Unlike restauranteurs, they can handle the odd passengers’ domestic in their rear-view mirror. And if they had daughters they’d know where I was coming from, too. When all is said and done, this is my little girl!
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got back home. I’d presumed - getting used to their shared duplicity - that daughter had texted wife to give the all clear and Brad had long since folded away his Spider-Man costume or gimp mask. The last thing I expected when we stepped into the living room, though, was my daughter to be sitting alone in the middle of the sofa crying in front of Newsnight! Of course, I started demanding to know where the violator had vamoosed to when my wife shushed me to shut up while she calmed the girl down and discovered that she wasn’t crying because of what Brad had done, but rather she was crying because of what Brad hadn’t done.
And then it hit me. Brad was a bloke. Well, a boy - which is a bloke in waiting, basically. Which means he is just as ignorant and oblivious and malleable as me. And just as susceptible to the wily ways of the femme fatales in our sorry little lives. He wasn’t the moustachioed villain of the piece tying my daughter to the train tracks - he was the damsel in distress being tied to the tracks by his girlfriend. Victim not villain.
It turns out the pressure to perform was all too much for beautiful Brad. Rabbit in the headlights. He might have a car and a Les Paul copy but there had been no strumming or moving up through the gears tonight. He had been as much in the dark about the whole true purpose behind the evening as I had been. And now he was probably at home licking his wounds and drinking his Mummy’s Ovaltine. Probably in front of ‘Newsnight’.
But I didn’t feel smug about Brad. I just had an overwhelming feeling of empathy towards him. Like I wanted to reach out to him. I won’t of course. Because we’re blokes. And blokes only ever reach out to one another in order to punch or pass a pint.
I started to condole with Daddy hugs, but my wife soon put paid to that. She didn’t want her pet project of having her only daughter grow up too soon so she can keep her as the ultimate BFF to be scuppered by our ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ act. Instead she tucked her in herself - with an Ovaltine, funnily enough - and we consoled ourselves with the cosy familiarity of our bedtime routine.
She went first while I warmed her side of the bed. Then it was my turn. Ablutions on a promise. I knew she wouldn’t be ‘slipping into something slinky’ while I cleaned my teeth and Lynxed my pyjama bottoms. I knew it wouldn’t be a full-blown ‘Date Night’ what with the hiatus earlier in the evening, not to mention our little argument and whatnot, but I thought when I came back to our bedroom thoroughly mouthwashed there might be something mildly approaching conjugal on offer.
Instead, all I got was my pillows and a blanket and the cold shoulder.
‘Funny old night, I mused as I lay on the sofa wondering why we didn’t have a spare duvet. This was the last place I thought I’d end up on a Sunday night. None of us have finished up where we thought we’d be. But then all promises are made to be broken. The prospect of ‘putting out’ invariably ends in being ‘put out’ yourself, I supposed as I browsed in the glow from my mobile.
When a desperate man stoops to folly and sulks in the living room, alone; he finds his penis with an automatic hand and clicks on ‘Pornhub’ on his mobile phone.