When did you last see your grandchildren?

A cold call first! It’s 9.45 in the morning, and this is the time they usually judge it right to get on the blower and either offer to sell me windows (one company, Europlas, has been ‘in my area’ more than seventy times in the last two years, the liars – they would outnumber the locals if that were the case, and certainly fill the post office) or ask me to take part in a survey, or, a particular nuisance, leave me a promotional and pre-recorded message.

But today, it was a book club, to which I do actually belong, but which seems to have desisted from sending me their monthly say-no-or-we’ll-send-you-the-editor’s-choice magazine. Maybe cold calling is a better tactic for them. They had a special offer on: a novel by James Paterson. No thanks. They see from my profile, though, that I have bought the odd reference book from them in the past, and even the occasional novel. ‘What novels do you like reading?’ my personal shopper persisted this morning. I thought of the precarious stack of fiction next to the bed, a life-threatening amount of fiction (in that, in one fleet teeter, it could fall on me in the night and crush me to death). ‘Look’ – oh dear, I had engaged with him, he must have thought his lucky number had come up – ‘I haven’t time to discuss it, and I don’t need any more fiction,’ I riposted. But by now, he was plainly scanning my details for any loopholes, and he found a big one.

‘Do you have any grandchildren?’ he said.

So this is it. I have now officially crossed over to the marketing band in which I might be considering lashing out on children’s books again (let’s leave out of consideration the fact that, biologically, it is perfectly possible for me to be a great-grandfather at my age). I have had the grandfather (possible) box ticked for the first time.

‘Because we have some very good books for children,’ he pattered on, ‘books that they would enjoy.’

As it happens, my son was only telling me the other day that he wanted to put off having a family for as long as possible. I didn’t know whether to cheer (‘You mean I might get retirement without responsibility?’) or to sympathise. Perhaps I won’t have any grandchildren.

‘I haven’t got any grandchildren,’ I told him, just a touch tetchily, as if I were still in my forties, and the big bold ‘born in 1952’ sign he was looking at must be the result of incompetent typing. He rang off. But actually, I have, by marriage – why am I being so apologetic? – three great nephews/nieces, and, if they are anything like their parents, they are all avid readers.

It’s time to picture it. What kind of grandfather do I want to be? One with a white beard? (Too late: I have one. I keep forgetting, which is what proto-grandparents do.) I have very little to go on: my own father made it to two grandsons before he died, and he never got much further than watching them bounce up and down in the baby-bouncers which were then the new craze. Is it too much to hope that they will be born with an interest in alternative country singers (Neko Case is my latest fad; she’s terrific), and a penchant for chess (which, at 56, I have only just started to play, online, with a grandmother friend who does not look anything like a grandmother. Neither of us really knows what we are doing, because we are not too good at thinking ahead, which is another grandparentish quality).

I think I have decided. I will be a glamorous grandfather.

One can dream.


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