‘Mum, why can’t I go?’ my surly teenager protests. ‘You’re worse than a nanny state, innit? Whatever happened to Freedom Day?’
What indeed, I wonder, as my phone lights up with a text from the GPs reminding me that face masks should still be worn for appointments. Truth be told, nothing much seems to have changed since July 19th. The supermarkets are still full of veiled faces and pedestrians automatically jump into the road to avoid close contact. There’s been no wild partying on our street nor any inclination to go clubbing. But, maybe that’s my age…
Grunting Teen, however, is keen to maximise his socialising opportunities. The hot summer weather has seen him meeting up every day with ‘the gang’. The problem is that the gang members are largely unknown to me or have grown so much in lockdown that they are now completely unrecognisable. Surely that Hulk lookalike isn’t little Sam from Y1? And that Love Island wannabe can’t be sweet Melissa from the Infants’ Nativity play? But at least I know where they live and am still on nodding terms with their parents.
It’s just I can’t bring myself to trust that Ryan, who seems to have appointed himself unofficial leader of the group. Despite his messy, blonde hair and habit of speaking in half sentences, he’s managed to cast a spell over the others. Everyone wants to join his inner Cabinet, despite the fact that he promotes and demotes people on a whim. However half-baked his plans, his lackies follow unquestioningly. Playing basketball in the dark? So, what if we lose all the balls? A 15km route-march without water bottles? Just as well it buckets it down to counteract the dehydration.
And his latest campaign is a camping trip to the Peaks. The Nearly-Beloved, whilst impressed by Ryan being dropped off in a Porsche, is not impressed by the lack of clarity on this blueprint for disaster. ‘That boy has got more money than sense,’ he mutters, ‘probably thinks there’ll be a butler waiting outside his yurt, not a rampaging bull or an irate farmer. And besides, what campsite is fool enough to allow a bunch of sixteen-year-olds to stay there?’
But some businesses are desperate for customers and, apparently, if we don’t let Grunting Teen go, we’ll be ruining his summer and his future chance of hobnobbing with the elite at Ryan’s mansion with its in-house cinema and games room. So, in the end, worn down by his constant canvassing and the oppressive heat, we cave in – with some conditions. A list of contact details and no wild water swimming.
To drum home the point, I show him news reports of three recent tragedies. He looks shocked. But he has a teenage brain. Exercising caution is not one of its priorities. Nor is healthy eating.
‘Can I take some Pot Noodles?’ he asks.
‘What, not bacon and eggs?’ gasps the Nearly-Beloved, who has fond memories of his Scouting days, where true leadership meant a hearty fry-up.
‘Ryan said we were going to take his camping stove… But I don’t think he knows how it works…’
The Nearly-Beloved rolls his eyes. ‘Your head of operations seems less than competent. How are you going to boil water for your nutritious supper then?
‘I’ll take some Oreos,’ replies Ryan’s spin doctor, demonstrating a reactive rather than proactive approach to problems.
‘And what time do you intend setting off?’ continues his father as if he’s auditioning for Prime-Minister’s question time.
‘Hmm, good point,’ says Grunting Teen, scrolling through his messages. ‘This one says 11am… Ah, but that one says 10 am… Or… is it now after lunch?’
It appears that Ryan is a super spreader of confusion. But to avoid focusing on flawed planning, Grunting Teen adeptly shifts the responsibility.
‘Mum, what have you done with my sleeping bag?’
I sigh, then go and retrieve it, along with his rucksack into which I quietly slip a couple of apples, a bag of nuts and a juice box.
Just then his phone vibrates. ‘It’s Ryan,’ he says, ‘The Peaks is off. Apparently, all the campsite’s staff have been ‘pinged’ so they’ve got to shut down.’
I utter a prayer of gratitude and start to unpack his things.
‘Mum, what are you doing?’ he shouts, ‘The Peaks is off. But we’re going to camp out in Ryan’s garden instead.’
Oh well. A spur-of-the-moment solution. Leadership of sorts. A win for this set of parents. Not sure how it’ll go down with the others…