Ruth Walker: Nice holiday if you can get it

Ruth Walker. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Ruth Walker. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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YOUNGEST son is trying to go on holiday. To Nice. I say “trying” because, since anything of a remotely practical nature has a tendency to pass him by, there’s just one fairly significant problem. He doesn’t have a passport.

He lost the last one. Doesn’t know where. He had it one day, then when we went to find it, it had – rather like numerous lunch boxes, school jumpers, his birth certificate and that mysterious gene that controls his common sense – gone AWOL (it’s probably down the side of the sofa, along with the unwanted pizza crusts and letters from the school informing me my son has been late every day for the past month, but I’m reluctant to look for fear of what else I might find there).

So, with just four weeks to spare, we apply for a new one. Every day we check the mail for chunky, official-looking envelopes. Nothing. Then, three days before he’s due to fly, a letter arrives. Thank you for your application, but the photographs are too light, can you send new ones?

Crisis. He sounds shaky. Close to tears, even, when he calls to break the news. So I take the afternoon off work, sprint home to pick up the car and drive to Asda, where the Photo Me machine isn’t working, then to Ocean Terminal, where it is, then tear off to the post office, where we just mis s the last post that could guarantee next day delivery. It’s like an episode of The Dukes Of Hazzard (if the Dukes owned a Renault Scenic rather than the General Lee), all leaping out of moving cars and rolling over bonnets, avoiding head-on collisions and leaving only dust, scattered pound coins and broken dreams in our wake.

It’s an emotional and physical roller coaster which, for most 15-year-olds, would be too much. Walls might be punched. Doors slammed. Xbox controllers smashed. But he’s resilient, this one, and the tremulous voice full of anger and disappointment that called me three hours previously has regained its confident swagger. It’s as if he’s charmed. It’s like he’s made of that stuff that lines playgrounds so small heads don’t break. Bouncy. Everything’s going to be fine. Can I have a cup of tea? Then, since you’re home early, could you take me to Topman to get new shorts? What’s for dinner?

“Can’t he see how difficult it is 
for everyone involved?” crows Daughter, angrily and, coincidentally, from Nice, when I tell her of the developments.

She’s my resident parenting expert, aged 19 and drunk on the power of superior years, not to mention the bitter, unfair truth that she didn’t 
get away with half the stuff her brothers do.

“He has to start thinking of others,” she says. “He’s so young.”

Don’t be too hard on him, I tell her as she nurses her sunburn. (Jeez, I TOLD her to wear plenty of SPF. Why does she never listen?). But she knows I’m soft on him. My baby boy, for whom life seems so easy. Blessed.

I’d love to tell you the passport comes on time. But it doesn’t. In the end, he flies out two days later, and he’s cool with that. But his sister? 
She’s raging.