Before you date my daughter, I have a little test...

David Diebold

'OH," I croak, trying to avoid eye contact as I realise I've just walked in on the middle teen and his girlfriend, who've clearly been vigorously adjusting each other's hairstyles on the sofa.

They sit upright, bleary-eyed, respective mops looking like Edward Scissorhands creations.

Of course, I'm all the way into the room before I notice, so it's too late to simply pop back out. I'd have to turn right around. Steps would need to be retraced, adding to the awkwardness.

No, I decide, I'll just have to act like there's nothing uncomfortable with this situation, so I pretend to ignore the pair, as they sit side-by-side now, looking at their hands, and I lean in over them and squint at the bookshelves above their heads.

"Um," I say, agonisingly aware that I have, in fact, now forgotten what it was that I came in for.

"Let's see," I add, sucking my teeth as I pretend to browse the rows of titles that I can't even see, because I left my glasses in the other room.

I need an exit strategy, and fast. Finally, I just lunge for a random book, which makes the girlfriend flinch badly, but the blasted thing is stuck, forcing me to lean in even more painfully and prise it free with both hands.

"Sorry," I manage. "Just, um. Ah! Hah-hah." I grab the book and shuffle out backwards, bowing, before closing the door behind me a little too loudly, lobbing the useless book away and slapping myself on the forehead.

"Idiot," I hiss at myself.

My wife is coming down the stairs, possibly headed towards the room I just left.


I give her a manic, mimed grimace, shaking my hands in the air and motioning over my shoulder with my head while opening my mouth wide to emphasise the word "girlfriend", which I whisper at her hoarsely.

"What on earth is your problem?" she says, suddenly frozen in the act of descending.

"GIRLFRIEND!" I rasp, bobbing my head over my left shoulder at the door and wiggling my eyebrows.

"Oh, for God's sake," she says, coming down and pushing past me into the kitchen. "I thought you were having some kind of stroke."

"No, no, no," I tell her. "It's the middle one – his girlfriend – the two of them. I just walked in and I'm sure – no, I'm positive – they'd been, you know, kissing."

She bursts out laughing. "You idiot," she says.

"Seriously," I grin. "Their hair was all. . ." and I show her with my hands in the air above my head.

My wife chuckles. "You'll be in trouble," she tells me.

"I think I already am," I say.

"You realise how sexist you are, in fairness," she continues. "I mean, if it was our daughter, not him, sitting in there on the sofa with a boyfriend.

"If she were 17," sighs my wife, "and you'd just walked in on HER. I don't imagine you'd be creeping around whispering about it."

"Oh, no question," I say. "The boy would still be mid-air somewhere over the front drive – and I'd be boarding up the windows before he landed."

"It's all ahead of us," she says.

"I suppose we'll just have to have some sort of rules," I frown.


"Like?" says my wife.

"Like, no boys?" I offer.

"Right," she deadpans. "Because that'll work."

"In Portland, my father would bring my younger sister's new boyfriends into his study for a little chat about manners and curfews."

"Oh," says my wife. "That all seems rather gentlemanly."

"Yeah," I continue. "He'd stand in front of the big collection of rifles he had on the wall."

"Ah," says my wife.

"And I heard a story about a country singer who'd fire a shotgun loaded with rock salt into the ground next to the boyfriend whenever his daughter was being picked up for the first time by a new date. He'd tell them: 'See that? After midnight my aim gets a whole hell of a lot better."

"That sort of makes sense," says my wife.

"It does?" I say.

"That he was a country singer, I mean," she says. "Not the threat of assaulting someone with a deadly weapon."

"You know what's far more likely?" she says. "That you'll end up hijacking her boyfriends and boring them to death about music and movies."

"Boys don't get bored by music and movies," I tell her, "but that IS an excellent idea. All prospective boyfriends must pass a test at the front door. If the books, music and films they like aren't up to scratch, they don't get in."

"God help our poor daughter," sighs my wife. "She has a life of celibacy ahead of her."

"I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to be offended by that remark or not," I say.