Jonny McCambridge: Feeling my age (and more) pushing a swing and failing to order a pizza

My mobile phone is being waved uncertainly in the direction of the barcode on our restaurant table. As I hold it aloft, I feel foolish. Nothing is happening. Indeed, I am not even sure what is supposed to be happening.
​Pushing the swing is a considerable physical effort but somehow makes me feel, for just a short while, like a younger man​Pushing the swing is a considerable physical effort but somehow makes me feel, for just a short while, like a younger man
​Pushing the swing is a considerable physical effort but somehow makes me feel, for just a short while, like a younger man

I do not know why it has to be this way. I had tried to order pizza in the traditional manner, by attracting the attention of a member of staff as she passed our table, only to be told the transaction had to be completed through the barcode. As I struggle, a steady stream of waiters walk past our table, smiling. I notice that the kitchen is only around 10 yards from where I am sitting. I could conceivably yell our order through the hatch.

Eventually, mercifully, my son intervenes. He relieves me of the phone, scans the barcode and processes the order efficiently. I marvel as I watch him work, the swiftness of his slim fingers operating the electronic device. Where did this confidence, this surety, come from? He rolls his eyes indulgently at my panicked, breathless instructions.

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‘Make sure and order a large pizza with anchovies for me! And chips too!’

We are enjoying a day out. A game of bowling (won by my son), video games in an arcade (won by my son) and now the consumption of hefty amounts of crispy Italian bread covered with a tomato base and assorted toppings (I am the overwhelming favourite).

There is an ulterior motive. My wife and I have decided that it is time for ‘The Talk’. Just in case there are any younger readers (or indeed, any readers at all), I will not go into the specifics of The Talk. Suffice to say, it involves Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

My son sits across the table. He nods. There is a slight reddening of his features and a short awkward silence. Then he speaks.

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‘Daddy, does this mean it’s you who eats all the mince pies and cookies?’

Things are changing. My son is growing at a frightening rate. At the current pace of development, I know it will not be very long until he is a lanky teenager looking down at me (both physically and metaphorically). Next month, he will go on a school trip overnight to London, his first such adventure without his parents. If he is in any way daunted, he is expert at concealing it. He glories in the opportunity while I am fretful.

He has his own bank card, his own money and my physical presence is no longer a necessity for financial transactions. A couple of days ago we stopped at a service station. I made my obligatory trip to the toilet and by the time I emerged he had already ordered his lunch.

He walks home from school on his own, he goes out in the early evening to play with his friends. During the Easter holidays he has pleaded to be allowed to stay up a bit later at night. I have trouble remaining awake after 10pm. Now I find myself reminding him to switch off the lights before he goes to bed as I succumb to the inevitable and ever-present exhaustion.

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It has not escaped my notice that his prodigious progression coincides with the escalation of my own bumbling state of regression. As I prepare to enter the second half-century of my existence, I know that I am far, far from being an old man, but that doesn’t stop me feeling that way sometimes.

My ragged and untidy hair and beard are now almost entirely snowy white. Nothing seems to be able to stop the relentless march of my waistline. My eyesight and memory seem to be engaged in a terrible race to see which can fail me completely first. My ability to complete any significant task is now tempered and measured against my capacity to stay awake long enough. All journeys, indeed any trip outside of the house, has to be prepared in advance with careful thought given to the convenience of a public convenience. It is not unknown for my son’s friends, when they meet me, to ask if I am his grandfather.

We leave the restaurant. My ability to move at pace has been further reduced by my generous consumption of pizza. We go to a play park that my son likes. The ideal is that he will play on the recreational equipment while I rest (perhaps even nap) on a bench. It does not work out that way.

There is a large swing attached to an overhanging bar by several chains. It needs to be pushed. My son always returns to this swing because it can be moved in multiple directions. It is almost more like a fairground ride than a playpark feature.

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‘Come on daddy!’ he exhorts. I drag my aching bones and stuffed belly off the bench. He folds his lanky legs below his body on the seat as I start to push.

From long experience I know the method well. If I stand in one place and merely push, the basket will go back and forward like a traditional swing. In order to open up its full range of options, I have to become mobile. It requires me to dash around, running towards the swing to provide the momentum which sends it in high spinning arcs. I begin to sweat as I manipulate its movement, throwing in unexpected changes of direction. Several times I mistime my run and fail to make contact with the basket, sending my son towards helpless mirth.

The minutes run on, my son shows no inclination towards leaving the swing.

‘Higher daddy higher! Look at me mummy! Look at me!’

As the sun begins its gradual descent towards the horizon and my son and I continue our game, time seems to lose value. It is easy to think, if even for just a short time, that he is a younger child and I am a younger man.

The pushing goes on. I know that I will be sore tomorrow. I don’t mind one bit.

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