The legend of the free pass... and making the most of it
Father Crisis with Fulton Ross
There's a halcyon period in a man's life, roughly between leaving school and having children, when he stops needing to ask for permission to do things.
With the benefit of hindsight, he would have made more of this time, rather than frittering it away working, watching TV and going to the pub. Had he known the window of opportunity was all the time narrowing he would have done stuff - learned Cantonese, written the great American novel, trekked to Machu Picchu by mule.
But before he knew it, 10 years had gone by and responsibility sat heavily on his shoulders, like a fat troll, constantly reminding him about the slew of direct debits ravaging his account every month and the list of people who rely on him.
On some rare occasions, though, he can throw off the trappings of obligation; tell the fat troll to sod off back under his bridge. Those occasions are the stuff of legend, spoken about in awed whispers by domesticated men the world over. Collectively, they are known as the free pass.
And I had one.
I was busy packing my case, giddy with excitement, herself standing in the doorway, arms folded - quietly raging.
"So, when will you be back?" she asks.
"Late Sunday," I say, placing more emphasis than was strictly necessary on the word 'late'.
"Fine," she sighs (meaning not fine at all, meaning how dare you go away and leave me alone for the whole weekend with the kids).
"Look," I say, "you told me you were okay with this."
She stares at me, and for a second I think she might withdraw her approval, grab my plane ticket and rip it up, then send me out to pull weeds in the garden. It's ridiculous - like your ma letting you stay off school because of a convincing fake cough, then at the last minute clipping you on the head, saying she knew you were at it, and dragging you to the bus stop by your ear.
But, no, she merely observes that if I'm only taking hand luggage I won't be allowed to carry liquids over 100ml.
"I'm aware of that," I reply snootily, "I have flown before, you know."
When she's gone, I take the deodorant can and toothpaste from the bottom of my case and return them to the bathroom.
Then I'm off, nothing but miles and miles of open road in front of me and the Proclaimers blasting from the car stereo - I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today. Ah! AH! Ah! Yay!
Check-in at the airport is bliss. Frazzled-looking parents kettle whining children towards their gates, dropping things and snapping at each other. "I TOLD you already, I put them in the zipped pocket of Charlie's rucksack. Oh Jesus! Where is Charlie!"
I smile and stroll by, pausing momentarily to point the parents in the direction of a small boy who is sat in WH Smiths about to rip open the biggest Toblerone in the world. "Charlie! No!" I hear as I saunter on whistling jauntily, a Starbucks coffee in one hand, a newspaper tucked under my arm, which I intend to read from cover to cover.
Loud bursts of laughter erupt from the bar area, where a group of men wearing identical T-shirts with 'lads on tour' printed on the back are downing pints. I check my watch. It's not yet 8am. What is it about going on holiday that makes it acceptable to have lager with breakfast? Said breakfast being, by the look of it, crisps and salted nuts.
Is it testament to how far I've come, or how boring I've become, that I never once consider veering towards the bar for a pint of the black stuff and some pickled onion Taytos? Forget 'lads on tour', this is 'dads on tour'.
And, of course, 'the lads' are on my flight, jostling up the aisle on a wave of lager fumes as I put my liquid-free case in the overhead lockers. I hope they have been segregated up the back, but unfortunately they've been seated at random, meaning they have to shout across the rows to each other, cackling away like a troop of heavily tattooed baboons.
"I feel the need, I feel the need for speed!" one of them hollers as we accelerate down the runway, but 'Top Gun' this ain't - it's Easyjet, and this is going to be a long flight. I almost wish I had a child with me; a tired, hungry howling baby to drown them out.
We touch down and I practically run for the exit. My mate is outside to pick me up, his two young children in the back.
"Herself has gone for a massage," he says, "told me as I'm playing golf all afternoon, I can take the kids in the morning."
He then informs me three other members of our all-dad party either can't make it for child-related reasons or can only play nine holes.
"But we're still going out on the lash tonight, right?"
"Em, no. Can't get babysitters."
So, it wasn't exactly weekend in Vegas. We golfed, had a barbecue, watched some footie and drank in moderation (they couldn't be doing with a hangover with the kids up at seven, and I was hardly going to get locked by myself).
On the flight home, which was mercifully free of beered-up baboons, I reflected my hedonistic days, such as they were, are behind me. Maybe that's no bad thing. Still fancy Machu Picchu by mule, though.