THERE are 5,160 miles between Britain and Los Angeles – with a route across Northern Ireland, Greenland and Canada – but the 11-hour flight journey was well worth it.

It was primarily a business trip, but it also gave me the chance to see my brother, Paul, who lives in Hollywood. It also meant I could finally meet his little girl, Isabella so, for one week only, this column is more Uncle at Large than Grandad At Large.

It’s seven years since Isabella was born and, the day after an emotional reunion at Los Angeles airport, we took Isabella for a meal at her favourite Chinese restaurant.

Once her initial shyness had receded, she opened her ruck-sack to show me a succession of her best-loved toys and began to tell me about all the things she likes to do: drawing and painting at school; riding a bike with her dad along the seafront; going on the roller-coaster and other rides at the funfair on Santa Monica pier; and going to ballet classes.

Ballet classes! This was an area I felt qualified to discuss. “My daughter – your cousin Hannah – did ballet lessons when she was your age and now she’s a ballet teacher in London,” I explained.

Isabella immediately wanted to demonstrate some of her best ballet moves which were very impressive. But, with hindsight, I’d have been better off focusing on drawing and painting because she then announced in her American accent: “Hey, why don’t I give Daddy and Uncle Peter some ballet lessons?”

There are times – whether you’re a dad, a grandad, or an uncle – when you just have to swallow your pride and go with the flow.

Before we knew it, me and my brother were on our feet, prancing to the music from Swan Lake which was being played from a mobile phone on the table.

“No, no, like this,” instructed Isabella as we disappointed her with our graceless pirouettes and indelicate knee-bends.

“But I’ve had three cartilage operations,” I replied, beads of sweat breaking out on my brow.

Fortunately, the restaurant was quiet but a man at a nearby table watched the show unfold before shaking his head and returning to his chicken chow mein.

“Mmm, I think you’re gonna need more work,” concluded our dance teacher.

A couple of waiters were slightly more appreciative, giving us a sympathetic slow hand-clap as we sat down, completely prawn crackered.

Over the next few days, we managed to squeeze in a game of tennis, a spot of face-painting, and a bike ride along the beach to Santa Monica pier. I accompanied Isabella to the funfair and had final confirmation that I’m in urgent need of a fitness regime when I struggled to get the safety bar over my burger-filled belly on the Froggy Ride.

That said, it was an unforgettable first trip to America and a joy to see my brother and meet my beautiful niece for the first time.

My priorities now I’m back home are to lose some weight and to somehow censor the video that’s doing the rounds on the internet showing me ballet dancing to Swan Lake in a Chinese restaurant on the other side of the world.


ANOTHER little update from former Mum At Large columnist Ruth Campbell…

Her 23-year-old son arrived home for the Christmas holidays on a Friday night with a dilemma: his girlfriend, who has just started a new job in London and is struggling financially while she finds her feet, told him that they’re not to buy Christmas presents for each other this year because she has no money.

“She insisted I mustn’t buy her one, because it’ll make her feel really bad. But then what if she’s upset on Christmas morning if I haven’t got her anything? What should I do?” he asked Ruth.

His Mum advised him to buy something like tickets for an event, or vouchers for a nice meal at a restaurant: “Then you can tell her you’ve not just bought it for her but for you as well, something you can enjoy together,” she suggested.

His face lit up: “Pure genius! That’s why you’re a girl and I’m a boy,” he replied.

MY eldest son, Christopher, was leaving for work and saying goodbye to his two-year-old little girl, Chloe.

“Are you going to be a good for Mummy today?”

Chloe thought about it for a couple of seconds, then replied: “Ye…no, naughty!”