Jack's blog

We drop in again on Jack and learn more about what it's like to grow up in a family of engineers. This issue, Jack's potential holiday romance is scuppered by his dad's enthusiasm for his job and a dirty great wire.

Ideal holiday: watching the women's beach volleyball grand slam in Switzerland.

Holiday I got: two weeks in France with the parents and the tweeks, flying ants and a swimming pool full of little kids. (Holiday park specially chosen far enough down the country to get us to Futuroscope and down to Millau to goggle at the bridge and talk to complete strangers about how our government lacks the vision to do engineering properly. Complete strangers, hanging around with their tongues lolling out as they gaze upwards in awe, are all Brits, of course, as no one else plans their holidays around bridges.)

So, why bridges and not beaches? And damned attractive sportswear? Because I'm still only 16 and can't go on holiday on my own. If there was a smiley for impotent adolescent rage, it would go here. But they don't do one yet, so if you can imagine a fist squishing a smiley face into its component pixels, then we are on the same page.

It wasn't all bad. I met a girl. But more about her later.

Dad loves holidays. Mostly because something always goes wrong. Look, you're miles from home, deprived of your usual resources, faced with foreign and under-serviced technology (hire car, pedalo, keypad on the mini bar) and a population that don't understand the method-ology of engineering - OMG, it's just like doing a telecoms project in Murmansk. Which is why I am not going to be an engineer. Why choose a profession that's under-resourced and understaffed unless you were absolutely driven to by a need to impose order on the world?

Just like the rest of them, Dad likes a challenge. He never travels without a tool kit, and the most important part of it is a dirty great wire which solves everything from catastrophic flip-flop blowout (temporary binding solution) to fraying accelerator cable - the wire holds it in place until we can get to tiny garage, with donkey tethered outside and red flowers growing out of old oil cans, where Dad and fat man in overalls converse in universal engineering language, which means peering into the guts of the car, saying ah! and passing each other spanners. By the end, they're like brothers and drink beer in the café next door where conversation runs along the lines of "Peugeot - bon! Cheval travailleur d'Afrique! Toyota - electronique! Pheughr!" Or Greek equivalent. Or Spanish.

Whatever, the car always breaks down, Dad always fixes it and Mum and us kids are always left feeding the donkey with apples nicked from the hotel. It's not that Mum couldn't do the "Ah! Pheughr!" bits but she figures she's on holiday, she's got a nice dress on, and why should she be the one covered in oil. Plus, it's not a proper holiday for Dad if he doesn't have to chuck out at least one shirt and shorts combo when he gets home.

So, we've admired the bridge, we've done the theme park, now we're lounging by the pool when an awesome girl arrives with her parents. I snap jaw back into position and swim up and down very fast to impress her.

This doesn't work, so I manage to trip over my own feet while getting out and smack my face on the poolside. This makes her rush over to see if I still have teeth; she's obviously an angel. Anyway, I get my mouth working long enough to order Orangina and we spend a couple of hours chatting, until Kate has to leave to get changed - she's going on a trip with her parents (very hot mum - good sign; hairy dad who looks very suspiciously at me).

So I'm sitting there planning how I can ask her into town one night and she comes running back, still in swimsuit, which is a personal bonus for me, saying: "We're locked out!" So I carry on sitting there, this time with my mouth hanging open, wondering whether anything in my life has equipped me to deal with this problem and win this beautiful girl's heart, when suddenly Dad leaps to his feet.

And he runs to the car and whips out his toolbox and before you can say, "Dad, don't you think they'll have a spare key at reception?" - which doesn't sound as heroic as "I'll fix this for you!" - we're all standing round their chalet door while Dad sticks the dirty great bit of wire down the side and jiggles it about and clicks it open. "Key in lock!" he says, handing it to her and launching into a lecture on just how locks work.

I'm so not interested, so just glance at the face of the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with and the father I'm going to have to suck up to and I can tell that, rather than a look of wonder at the magic of engineering demonstrated by my Dad, they've got a look of sheer horror on their faces because they think he's a house breaker. I realise that Kate isn't going to be encouraged to see me again.

"So, Mum," I say, as I sip a lonely Coke at dinner. "How did you and Dad meet?"

"Engineering trade convention," she says. "The overhead projector wasn't working..."

"What's an overhead projector, mum?" asks Alice.

Mum looks at her steadily. "I am wondering whether your generation actually ever needs to hear the words Betamax or typewriter," she says. "Or whether we can just skip about 30 years of R&D."

"How about Dymo printer?" asks Dad.

"John Bull printing set!"

Cue parents cracking up over primitive technology-related joke. I sip my Coke and look into the night, heartbroken.

"Anyway, whatever piece of obsolete technology it was, Dad fixed it. And you can't go far wrong with a man like that."

So, crap holiday. Still single. GCSE results came out alright though; looks like I'm doing economics, maths, music and biology. I'll never be an engineer, but maybe I'll be able to afford to just pay someone to fix the damn overhead projector?

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