I FEEL like a zookeeper who has just closed the zoo for good.
Opened the cage doors, waited until the last wombat had waddled out (encouraged, perhaps, by a helpful toecap), locked everything up, dropped the keys in the letterbox and shuffled home for a cup of tea and retirement.
Now I shall spend the rest of retirement like this: making tea, digging the garden in a desultory manner, and wondering if the wombat found a handy burrow.
My last child — the youngest of five — turns 21 today. Happy birthday El. Short for Ellen. She writes it: LN, and if she ever buys a can of spray paint the world will be in trouble. There’s a lot of ways you can spray LN.
Anyway, the zoo is empty. The stock has been dwindling for some time. Now it’s gone.
You think ‘zoo’ is just a turn of phrase?
Come and sit at our dinner table sometime, where the noise resembles a parrot house and the manners make a chimps’ tea party look like something at Buckingham Palace.
But hang on — if the animals have bolted and the zoo is empty, how come mealtimes are still a war zone? I hear you ask.
The others are already over 21 and we still have meals that would embarrass an orangutan with its hands tied behind its back.
I keep forgetting that they come back (not orangutans – children, but it amounts to the same thing).
In fact, while we’re on a roll with the animal references: kids are like pets – they’re not just for Christmas. And it’s a lot harder to take them to the pound.
I’ve been brooding for some time about this final 21st birthday (in our house we make a big deal of being 21, not 18 – it postpones the expense a bit longer) as if it were the end of something.
Overnight I’ll become one of those useless little bits that are left over when you mend the vacuum cleaner, and that turn up under a cushion 12 months later when no one can remember what it did and no one cares.
Hence the zoo analogy. I told LN. She was furious. She resembles a wombat in the same way a stick insect does and, I’m bound to say, she moves more like a swan.
She wanted to know, if I’m talking about letting things go, why she couldn’t be an eagle (and why not? I can name a number of young men who would testify to her ability to rip living things into small pieces).
But the reality is that I haven’t been able to let any of them go, because they won’t.
They’re like those bits of sticking plaster that you succeed only in transferring from hand to hand while you try to flick them into the waste bin.
I’m going to hear a snuffling at the door in a week or two and the wombat will waddle in and — figuratively speaking — start widdling in the corners.
No! If history is any guide two wombats will waddle in, and one will have its head shaved and DEF TO EVRYFINK tattooed on its knuckles.
Or — if you prefer, LN — an eagle will fly in through the window and start disembowelling dead things on the settee.
Goldfish would have been easier, but not half as much fun.