OUR eldest has got his first job. My chest swelled with pride when Christopher asked if he could get a paper round in our village to earn extra pocket money.

"Good for you, son," I said. "It's never too early to become a wage-earner."

Christopher is only 12 so his mum had to sign a form saying she'd accompany him on his round, delivering the free paper on Friday nights. I was all for it... until I went home from work early last week.

It's not very often I'm home early. It's usually around 10.30pm so I was looking forward to surprising the family and relaxing in front of the TV with a glass of wine at the end of a long week. When I pulled up at the house just before 7.30pm, Mum and the four kids were coming out in their overcoats to deliver the papers.

Well, what else could I do? I'd forgotten it was paper round night. I couldn't go indoors, watch Coronation Street and drink Merlot in the warm while they trudged round the village in the cold and dark, could I? "I'll give you a hand," I ventured, trying to sound enthusiastic.

We decided to split up into teams. Christopher and I would start at one end of his round while Mum and the others would do the other end and we'd meet in the middle.

I soon discovered that it wasn't just delivering newspapers. There were four leaflets to be inserted into each copy. "I'll insert, you deliver," I suggested.

We started out as friends. Within half an hour, we'd fallen out. Juggling a pile of newspapers and a stack of leaflets in the freezing rain while he walked up and down garden paths at the pace of an arthritic tortoise was all too much for a tired dad to take. "Hurry up," I snapped. "I'm going as fast as I can," he snapped back.

With an hour on the clock, my patience evaporated. I grabbed his sack and decided to insert and deliver at an altogether faster rate. The papers were getting soggier by the minute, leaflets were flying around like confetti in the wind, nasty little dogs were trying to bite off my fingers through awkward letter-boxes, and I pulled a muscle when I nearly did the splits on something greasy on the pavement.

Two perishing hours I was out there. It got even worse when we finally arrived at the house, soaked and shivering: "Who's trampled mud onto this carpet?" screamed Mum. "Oh no, it's not mud it's dog..." Her words trailed off into a kind of anguished moan. I lifted my shoe and my blood froze. It was me.

The look I got was blacker and colder than the night and it occurred to me that next week's paper could easily be reporting a murder. All I'd wanted was to come home early and relax in front of the telly. I wish I'd stayed at work.

For the record, Christopher's wages were £12. His brothers and sister all got their reward from the sweet shop. Me? I haven't even had the price of a pint.


HEALTH Secretary, Darlington MP and father-of-two Alan Milburn was at a school in London, promoting the nutritional value of fruit, when a little boy asked: "Are you Tony Blair?" "No," replied the minister.

"Are you Tony Blair's brother?" the boy went on. "No, but I sometimes feel like his brother because he's always on my back," said Mr Milburn.

"Does that mean you sleep in the same bedroom?" enquired the boy. With journalists and photographers all around, Mr Milburn decided to end the conversation right there.

THE Dad At Large Roadshow trundled happily along to The Friendship Group at Northlands Methodist Church in Darlington... where Marion Oxley recalled baby-sitting for Keith and James one Christmas. James, two, wouldn't go to sleep and Keith, four, told him he had to because it was nearly Jesus' birthday and he wouldn't get any presents.

"Jesus was born a lot of years ago in a stable," explained Keith. "Were you there?" asked James. "No," replied Keith. "Was me mam there?" asked James. "No, but I think Nanna was," said Keith.

...and Elsie Baldry remembered how 20 years ago, a little girl called Patricia had been associating with a boy her parents didn't really approve of.

One day, the girl's mum overheard her say something which rocked her to the core: "Mum's got a hole, Angela's got a hole, and Christine's got a hole - but Daddy hasn't got a hole."

The mum's suspicions immediately turned to the undesirable little boy. "What do you mean?" she asked Patricia. The child jumped up, led her to the bathroom and pointed to the toothbrush-holder where her toothbrush, her mum's toothbrush and her sisters' toothbrushes were all standing neatly to attention. There wasn't enough room for Dad's toothbrush. "Look," said Patricia, "Mum's got a hole, Angela's got a hole and Christine's got a hole - but poor Daddy hasn't got a hole." Phew!

Published: 07/11/2002