I cautiously creep round the edge of the house and peek into the drive. To my surprise, it is Dad. He’s getting out of his car in his business suit, looking a bit hassled. The next minute the front door has opened and Mum is coming down the path like she expected him.
“Chris! At last.”
“I came as soon as I could get away. But you know, I have a lot on right now…Is this really essential?”
“Yes it is! This is a crisis, Chris. A crisis with our son. And I need your support!”
OMG. What happened?
I duck back into the garden and head silently into the kitchen, where I can hear them talking. I edge forward and see them coming into the hall.
“I took Frank’s computer to my Pilates class,” Mum is saying grimly.
“You did what?” Dad seems flummoxed. “Anne, I know you want to keep it away from Frank, but isn’t that a bit extreme?”
I have visions of Mum, staggering into the church hall, holding Frank’s computer, and I have to clamp my mouth tightly closed to stop laughing. Is she going to take Frank’s computer everywhere now? Like a pet?
“You don’t understand!” spits Mum. “I took it for Arjun to have a look at.”
“Arjun?” Dad looks more baffled than ever.
“Arjun is in my Pilates class. He’s a computer software developer and he works from home. I said, ‘Arjun, can you tell from this computer how often my son has been playing games during the last week?’ ”
“Right.” Dad eyes her warily. “And could Arjun tell?”
“Oh, he could tell,” says Mum in ominous tones. “He could tell, all right.”
There’s silence. I can see Dad instinctively backing away, but he can’t escape before the tidal wave of sound hits him.
“Every night! EVERY NIGHT! He starts at two a.m. and he logs off at six. Can you believe it?”
“You’re joking.” Dad seems genuinely shocked. “Are you sure?”
“Ask Arjun.” Mum proffers her phone. “Ask him! He does freelance work for Google. He knows what he’s talking about.”
“Right. No, it’s fine. I don’t need to talk to Arjun.” Dad sinks onto the stairs. “Jesus. Every night?”
“He creeps around. Lies to us. He’s addicted! I knew it. I knew it.”
“OK. Well, that’s it, he’s banned for life.”
“Life.” Mum nods.
“Till he’s an adult.”
“At least,” Mum says. “At least. You know, Alison at my book group doesn’t even have TV in the house. She says screens are the cigarettes of our age. They’re toxic, and we’re only going to realize the damage they’re doing when it’s too late.”
“Right.” Dad looks uneasy. “I’m not sure we need to go that far, do we?”
“Well, maybe we should!” Mum cries, sounding stressed. “You know, Chris, maybe we’ve got this all wrong! Maybe we should go back to basics. Card games. Family walks. Discussions.”
“I mean, books! What happened to books? That’s what we should be doing! Reading the Booker short list! Not watching all this toxic, mindless television and playing brain-sapping video games. I mean, what are we doing, Chris? What are we doing?”
“Absolutely.” Dad is nodding fervently. “No, I totally agree. Totally agree.” There’s a slight pause before he says, “What about Downton?”
“Oh, well, Downton.” Mum looks wrong-footed. “That’s different. That’s…you know. History.”
“And The Killing?”
My parents are addicted to The Killing. They gorge themselves on like four episodes at a time, and then say, “One more? Just one more?”
“I’m talking about the children,” says Mum at last. “I’m talking about the future generation. They should be reading books.”
“Oh, good.” Dad exhales in relief. “Because whatever else I do in my life, I’m finishing The Killing.”
“Are you kidding? We have to finish The Killing,” Mum agrees. “We could watch one tonight.”
“We could watch two.”
“After we’ve spoken to Frank.”
“Oh God.” Dad rubs his head. “I need a drink.”
The house is quiet for a while after that. It’s the calm before the kickoff. Felix comes home from a playdate where they made pizza and unveils the most revolting tomatoey-cheesy mess and makes Mum heat it up in the oven. Then he refuses to eat it.