BROTHERS are seldom cut out to be friends while they're growing up. My elder brother and I couldn't stand the sight of each other when we were kids. We scrapped, traded insults, and generally viewed each other with contempt.

(He was the one, you may recall, who used to pull rank and insist I had to be Robin while he basked in the glory of being Batman. The psychological scar remains.)

A generation on and my eldest, Christopher, 12, and his younger brother, Jack, nine, are just the same. Hardly an hour goes by when they're not at each other's throats.

They fight over who's sitting in the front seat of the car, whose turn it is on the Playstation, who left the lounge in a mess, and what they're going to watch on television. The elder calls the younger 'moron' and the younger calls the elder 'imbecile'.

They have about as much in common as cat and dog, Ulrika and Nancy; Roy Keane and Alf Inge Haaland; Neil Hamilton and Mohamed Al Fayed; and George W Bush and Saddam Hussein, although admittedly the implications for world peace aren't quite so grave.

We could therefore be forgiven for being struck by the irony of the moment when Jack came home and explained why he'd like to do the French lessons being offered as an after-school activity.

Given that it was going to cost £3 per session and he's already doing football training, trampolining, and guitar lessons, we were entitled to ask why he was so keen.

I thought it might have to do with the fact that his favourite footballer - Thierry Henry - plays for France, but I was wrong. "It's so I can communicate with Christopher because he's learning French at the big school," he enlightened us with a serious expression.


Nevertheless, you can't knock enthusiasm, so Jack was given the go-head. The French lessons lasted a mere two weeks before he decided he was bored and didn't want to do them any more. In that fleeting fortnight, he's learned to count up to 29 and sing a song with the lyrics "Hello, how do you do, I'm feeling fine, goodbye."

He might have found it more useful if he'd learned some phrases which he and his brother actually use in general conversation with each other. Such as:

"Sors de ma chambre, cretin" - Get out of my room, moron.

"Je te hais" - I hate you.

"Ferme-la, tu veux, imbecile" - Just shut up, imbecile.

"Laisse mes affaires tranquilles" - Leave my things alone.

"C'est (de) sa faute" - It was his fault.

"C'est pas juste" - It's not fair.

"C'est moi qui l'avais d'abord" - I had it first.

Asked if his brief dalliance with French had made any difference to their relationship, Jack simply said: "Not really - I still get on his nerves."

Christopher's response was blunter: "He could speak Martian and he'd still be a pain in the neck."

So there we are. Detente is as far away as ever. C'est la vie.


The Dad At Large Roadshow made it to a meeting of Hartlepool Tangent and collected the following...

IAN Pace is now an acclaimed pianist playing all over the world. When he was six and living in Hartlepool, he had a reputation as a bit of a bookworm.

"Will you buy me a new atlas?" he asked his dad, Alan, one day.

"Why?" his dad inquired.

"Because I've finished this one," replied Ian.

AS a young teacher at Ward Jackson Nursery School in Hartlepool, Hilary Capes was standing in the playground wearing a cape held together by a celtic brooch.

A four-year-old ran up to her and asked: "Miss, did you win that medal in the war?"

A LITTLE boy called Wilf was living in Hart village, near Hartlepool, during the war. A paper boy came down the lane shouting "German troops on the move."

Wilf ran indoors screaming, convinced that German troops were on the moon and ready to fire missiles from outer space.

ALISON Pederson, aged six, had regular piano lessons at home and never seemed to mind. But one day Alison was told she'd have to go to the piano teacher's house for a lesson. The little girl threw 'an absolute wobbly' and her parents couldn't understand her reaction.

It was only when she calmed down sometime later that the reason emerged:

"All right, I'll go - but who's going to carry the piano?"

Alison is 33 now and living in New Zealand.

NEXT it was the long and winding road to the High Dales Group of WIs in Thoralby Village Hall... where I heard how Damian, aged eight, was being driven home from school in Middleham with his friend Peter sitting beside him.

"Mum, what exactly is a condom?" Damian asked.

Embarrassed though she was, his mum thought she'd better tell the truth and launched into a matter-of-fact explanation.

After she'd finished, there was a silent pause and the mum glanced in the rear view mirror to see a puzzled look on both the boys' faces.

"Oh," said Damian, "Peter thought it was a big bird."

Published: 24/10/2002