Jack's parents are engineers - but for how much longer in this recession? His sisters have a future beckoning as researchers - but will they get the funding? Is technophobe Jack the only one in his family to stand a chance of earning a living?
It's hard times at Faraday Towers this month: Dad's been told his job is under review.
I tell him not to look so down, but to be like Pete Doherty: when he got thrown out of The Libertines, he reinvented himself in Babyshambles and bagged Kate Moss, so being sacked was a good thing. Dad points out that Pete's fall and rise was accompanied by regular appointments with the friendly West London magistrates, truckloads of drugs and a face that looked like he'd fallen head first into a tin of white matt emulsion, and that engineers don't usually go down that road. They like the feeling of control.
But following a quiet couple of months for Mum's IT consultancy, the parents are taking control of what they can - the money: treats and eats have suddenly dried up.
Mum is experimenting with 'shopping down', which means not going for the posh stuff with coulis of whatsit and terrine de this and that on the packaging, but bunging the cheapest, nastiest stuff she can find in the trolley. And, because she has to do her systems analysis bit, she shopped at five different supermarkets, did a blind tasting and we were all gobsmacked to find we actually preferred the baked beans you get in tins with white labels.
"Hmm, how do you find out who makes this stuff?" Dad asks within earshot of the twins, hoping they would hack into Unilever's headquarters and do some guerilla food reconnaissance. "Unethical, Dad," they say, which was surprising for them. Thanks to their junior hacking abilities, they've had free membership of kiddies' National Geographic for years.
Anyway, we won't know anything until next month so everything's on hold. It's like being in a horror movie with the creepy music and you know someone's hiding in a cupboard with a big axe. You just don't know what's going to get hacked off. Slash! Down to a four day week? Whack! Job gone, but a big pay off? Wham! He gets to keep his job but five others are out?
Mum's being practical and thinking worst case scenario. She's already got her eye on my bedroom as the place for a potential lodger (I'd be upstairs with the Scalextric set). Dad's horrified, but I reckon he should keep it zipped or the Scalextric will be out the front for the binmen.
"But how can you tell he'd be the right sort?" he wails, casting a sidelong glance at me. This translates as: "How can you make sure he's not a slack-jawed non-technologist who won't understand me when I say we need to check the capacitors because the TV monitor's gone all dim?"
"You could ask what he likes reading," suggests Mum.
"What, like the Daily Mail? Or chick lit?"
"No, what magazines he takes."
"Ooh, like your thinking. So it would be a yes if he's a New Scientist man and definitely a no if he takes Caravanning Monthly? Although Classic Caravanner might be OK 'cos they do a lot of their own maintenance. He'd be handy with a soldering iron."
"If he had a caravan, he wouldn't need my room," I say, snappily.
"Fair enough. Classic Car then. Or Kerrang. Then he could talk to you about mosh pits and all that."
With the idea of the lodger also on hold, Dad has prepared for the coming storm by finding an online forum (www.outage-rage.com [new window]) for engineers who've suddenly found themselves with a lot of free time.
Mum is more positive and says he should have a look at www.uptimechat.org but Dad just shot her a look. I logged on, out of interest, and it was grim - all cheery advice on where to upload your CV, whereas we all know what engineers like to do is complain and make out that they know more than anyone else, so a grumpy old engineer forum would do Dad nicely.
I wondered if he'd be watching a lot of daytime TV (which I'm not allowed to do, which seems unfair as I am a teenager and one of my raisins d'etre (lol) is lounging around on the sofa). Anyway, one of the threads on the forum ('Squeezing your TV licence until the pips squeak') said he should be watching Richard Hammond's 'Engineering Connections' on BBC iPlayer. "Yeah," says Dad, typing furiously, "but it's programming that simplifies a complex issue and just looks at one facet of the problem - I mean, you'd think creating a winglet was the only reason the Airbus stays in the air, while decades of refinement to the basic aerofoil were completely ignored."
A lively discussion ensued, as they say, and one of the posters finished with: "But isn't it great that engineering's on TV at last?"
"Great? Perhaps," types Dad. "Greatly ironic? Absolutely. Just as the British public gets interested in engineers, there's no longer a job in engineering for them to do. We'll be like the miners, you know. Whole communities laid to waste. They'll be doing tributes to us in 25 years time, asking what we're doing now - acting as tour guides at the National Museum of Engineering, I should think. Or over in India, training all the people who really are doing the engineering."
Mum looks at him typing away. "He won't be one of those unemployed men moping about the house," she says, fondly. (No, just moping around in cyberspace, I think.) She picks up a big club studded with nails. "Now to hunt down some clients. Else the mortgage don't get paid."
No, I was just kidding about the last bit... she's much more subtle about snagging clients! She just scares the pants off them by mouthing the words "Microsoft upgrade time" and they come whimpering to heel.
I just hope they can pay when they do. I've still got to get to university...