Remarkable though it may seem – especially to anyone who has seen me completely fail to control a three year old – once upon a time there were people who let the teenage me look after their own children, even the ones older than three.
I had a couple of regular babysitting jobs – which I will write about in due course – but this post is about one of the occasional jobs which I would do, for the couple who have become two of my parents’ best – if not the best (I’m not really in a position to make such value judgments) – friends.
I actually liked looking after the children I babysat. They were all well behaved and I rarely had any problems, but this night was a bit different.
I always looked forward to babysitting at this particular house. I knew the children well, they were good fun to be with, but more importantly to get there I had to pass the off licence, which meant that I could grab some extra snacks on my way there (usually a Coke, a Cadbury’s Flake and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps). The odd thing about this house was the telephone.
I know that is, in itself, an odd thing to pick up on, but this house must have been one of the last in the country to have a party line; that is, the line was shared with someone else and to make an outgoing call you first had to lift the receiver and check that none of the other users were on the line at the same time. Similarly, any incoming call had to find the line free of any number of potential users.
For some reason, I was only looking after this couple’s daughter on this particular evening. We shall refer to her as ‘Ruth’ because (a) that is her name and (b) otherwise the title of this piece won’t make any sense.
At the time, Ruth was about nine. We were sitting in an armchair reading stories when the phone rang. Ruth jumped up to answer it. As the phone was just outside the living room door I could hear her side of the conversation, which mostly consisted of her saying ‘pardon?’. Then she said “Richard, there’s a man on the telephone who wants to know what colour my pants are”.
That was probably the fastest that I have ever covered ten yards so quickly in my life. My recollection is that I simply grabbed the phone and slammed it down. I’m pretty sure that yelling something obscene down the phone whilst in the presence of a pre-teen would have been frowned upon, even in those more liberal days.
I’m not sure that Ruth will even remember the incident. She hasn’t changed a lot over the intervening years. She’s still painfully skinny, still ferociously feisty, and still a vegetablist despite all of the evidence that animals are, in fact, really yummy when cooked by anyone other than me. The scary thing is that she now has three children, which is the second surest way to make me feel old.