The Bulletin at 60: From the archive (March 1991): Backchat by Geoff Meade - Meadelets Ahoy
People always say it’s difficult when the kids first leave home, but that doesn’t soften the blow.
When you’ve been used to the noise and bustle of a family the silence is eerie after they’ve upped and left. Don’t worry, I told Mrs M, you’ll get used to it, but I wasn’t really that confident, even though the little mites promised they’d be back when they got fed up and needed support.
It’s not just the fact that they wanted to stay away from home. They’ve done that countless times, but always in somebody’s house. This time they just wanted to be given total freedom. They wanted to be cast adrift with nothing more than a tent and a tin of biscuits. How far are they going to get like that, demanded Mrs M, but they just said oh mum, don’t fuss, we’ll be fine.
What can you do? They’ve got to have their freedom. You can’t chain them to the proverbial apron strings for ever. They’d just resent it. The day they left was difficult. They’d set their heart on it. Us moping wasn’t going to help. We had spent the day shopping and whathaveyou. We tried to keep things as normal as possible.
Mrs M blames me, really, because I suggested buying the tent. There, I said, wouldn’t it be fun to go camping? Sleeping under the stars, no hassles, no alarm clocks, no nothing.
They leapt at the idea, of course, even after I pointed out that it wasn’t really like that, that it was really all creepy crawlies and noises in the dark. But they thought it was brilliant. Radical. Mega. Right on, pop, they said, have tent will travel. What a way to go. And so on.
Mrs M was not keen at all, but the modern mum doesn’t show worry. She actively encourages this sort of adventure. They’ll be all right, we insisted. No need to fuss. They will be alright won’t they? Course, I said, best thing they could do. Broaden their horizons, let them off the leash. Give them a packet of wholemeal biscuits, a travel bag and mark my words they’ll come back better people. Possibly.
In other words, we made the best of it. As the afternoon drew on into dusk, we watched them pack up and stood on the doorstep in a wind which was rather too chilly and watched them disappear down the path. Camping is for summer, said Mrs M, and I had to agree, but when we mentioned the fact that it was barely spring they just delivered one of those gawping stares which tells you that parents really can be a pain sometimes.
In the early evening silence we watched television for a while and then shuffled off to bed, but Mrs M couldn’t settle. The weathermen on the box had said temperatures would be one or two degrees above zero that night, which didn’t make us feel any better. She kept thinking of them out there in the dark, coping with a leaky, draughty tent. What if they suddenly wanted to give up all the bravura and come back home? What if, in the cold and the dark of the night, mum and dad’s caution seemed a little less naff than it had a few hours earlier? What if they desperately wanted just to call it a day and sneak back to the bosom of the family. By 2am it had stopped raining but there was a chill in the air, even indoors.
It's no good, said Mrs M, sitting up. She padded across to the window and peered out into the dark.
I’d left the outside light on, so that if they’d put the tent a bit further away from the house you could have seen it clearly. As it was, from an upstairs window, the angle wasn’t too acute to get a good view. But it was there all right, just far enough from the doorstep to qualify as away from home.
Just then we heard the kitchen door squeak slowly open and a pair of feet padded up the stairs. It was a triumphant Meadelet, back from the adventure.
No, it hadn’t been too cold, not in clothes, coat, duvet and travelling rug. It was just that the flaming cat was on the prowl and kept pawing at the tent, preventing sleep – a domestic version of the kind of thing that you have to contend with in the jungle beyond civilisation.
The remainder of the expedition returned soon after that, declaring the event a small step for man but a giant step for a Meadelet. And for Meadlet’s parents, too.
This article was first published in The Bulletin on 28 March, 1991