If you saw an old Renault 12 on the road these days you’d regard it as a classic car, but back in the late 1980s it was what you might call a bog standard, unattractive and unremarkable family vehicle. We had one for a while, nicknamed The White Elephant, and each morning my sister would request to be let out of the car some distance from her secondary school lest she be seen by her peers and suffer untold mortification. What fun times my Dad must have had, ferrying us around with that sort of gratitude. My other abiding memory of this car was the registration plate which began with the letters ‘KIC’. We used to joke that it meant you had to kick the car to start it. Or maybe we weren’t joking.
I was reminded of all this during the week as I drove my own children through the town on our way to do the weekly shop. ‘Can you roll up the window Daddy?’ the oldest boy, aged 7, asked. ‘No problem,’ I replied, ‘are you a bit cold?’ ‘No,’ he explained, ‘I don’t want people to hear your music.’
I nearly veered off the road in shock. ‘What?!’ I spluttered.
‘Your music is embarrassing,’ he politely informed me.
I was struck immediately by a number of realisations. My son – before he has even reached double digits – now experiences the emotional state of embarrassment. I had hoped that it’d be at least another five or six years before that phase entered our lives. (I fully expect the arrival of the teenage years to be exactly like Harry Enfield’s brilliant Kevin the teenager character.) I also realised how my Dad must have felt all those years ago when we were so ‘embarrassed’ to be seen in the White Elephant. Obviously this made me feel quite old, and a small bit guilty too. Finally, and most crucially, I realised just what a great album Deep Purple’s Machine Head is. Yes, of course it contains Smoke On The Water, but the whole album really showcases Ritchie Blackmore on top of his game and it’s little surprise that the band broke new ground for the heavy metal genre.
However, my son didn’t appear to be a fan of Deep Purple. This revelation was a massive disappointment to me, and I saw only one course of action: turn the volume up and start head-banging. Anyone passing by, who might have witnessed the scene, would have thought to themselves: ‘There’s a cool guy rocking out to Highway Star, but it’s a pity his kids aren’t into it.’ Alternatively, they might have wondered: ‘Who is that eejit making a show of himself in front of those poor unfortunate children?’
The boy was reaching Code Red levels of mortification at this point, but they say attack is the best form of defence. I decided I wasn’t going to justify my taste in music, nor was I going to humour him in the feelings of ‘embarrassment’ that he claimed to have. I felt it my duty to prove that there was no need to be ashamed of my behaviour. There will be time enough for that later on when he’s in a school band, practicing in the garage, and I’ll throw on my Motorhead tee and leather jeans and insist on ‘jamming’ with his ‘crew’. Hey, it’s my garage after all.
I took this approach for the rest of the day. I tested out a variety of new and interesting walks along the aisles of the supermarket. ‘There’s nothing to be embarrassed about son!’ I shouted as I did a freestyle moonwalk along the frozen fish section. Fellow shoppers looked on in amusement, or possibly disgust. At the checkout I pretended to be French. The best part was when I let on to forget my pin for the debit card. ‘Nothing to be embarrassed about,’ I assured my son in a French accent. The line of people queuing stared on with wry smiles, or they could have been frowning angrily, it wasn’t immediately clear.
In the car park I shouted ‘Wheeee!’ as I pushed the trolley towards the car. I also reintroduced the freestyle moonwalk when I returned it to the trolley bay. Did I get the point across to my son? I’d like to think so. He didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day but I feel we had one of those special father-son moments. You reach a stage in life when ‘embarrassment’ is something you remember feeling a long time ago. Who cares what people think? Do you want to enjoy the small, simple things in life and express this enjoyment? Then go right ahead: free your inner headbanger or give that freestyle moonwalk a go.