Jack's dad is waiting to hear if his engineering firm is making him redundant. Meanwhile, the family (IT consultant Mum, genius twin girls, guitar-playing slacker Jack), have been living off baked beans...
Home town:Silicon City
Fave read:The Glass Beading Game
Part-time job:Window cleaner
Politics: The Conservatory Party
The axe fell at dad's work but somehow missed him. He can't believe it, especially when others got the chop, including all the graduates they've recruited in the last three years. (I'm reminding him of this at least once a day to make up for the terrible time he's given me since I said - aged seven - that I was never going to be an engineer.)
Anyway, he's wandering around like a man given a second chance at life, pinching the twins' cheeks and rumpling my hair all the time (gerroff! It's not like I'm five years old), and telling us how much he loves us. Mum's started defensively picking up saucepans whenever he comes near the kitchen or carrying her laptop about elsewhere in the house, ready to raise the lid on him. It's not just cheek pinching and hair rumpling they get up to in private, I know that, so Lord knows what he's got in store for her. Let's not even go there...
The rest of us protect ourselves by holding up the holiday brochures that have been allowed back in the house since the austerity year ended. Dad's so over the moon that these even include long-haul holidays, which we've never had. I'm trying to push him in the direction of an RV trip across the States (Las Vegas, here we come!) and praying that the dollar drops to help him choose.
And I hope the Euro doesn't collapse or we'll be off to view some stupid tower in Sarajevo that twists round and - if we're lucky - the foundations of some library in Split that will one day look like a photocopier - i.e., gawking at extreme architecture instead of actually having a holiday. Still, if it has to be architecture, maybe he'd go for Dubai?
Also on the agenda, now we have a secure income for the rest of my education (although I don't think the parents would go wild if I suggested a gap year), is the conservatory.
Dad actually refuses to go in it because it's so badly designed (freezing in winter, baking in summer). I mean, duh, we don't actually live in a mansion so he has to work quite hard to keep out of it.
He started trying to re-engineer the conservatory the moment we moved in. First came the fans: instantly rejected as they just move the hot air around. Also, as he demonstrated to me on paper, the motor on a portable fan would actually increase the ambient air temperature by blah blah blah diddly squat - oh, sorry, must have stopped listening at that point.
Then came the quotes for blinds: thousands of pounds. He went mad. "It's just fabric!" he said. "Ah, solar-coated fabric, which deflects sunlight," said the salesman, in a goggle-eyed "look at the science!" sort of way. Dad let him out three hours later, weeping, after he'd grilled him on the properties of the coating, the evidence for deflection, whether he didn't actually mean absorption, the solar heat gain coefficient of that deflection/absorption process and the frequency range of deflection/absorption... you can imagine the torture.
He then demanded window-sized samples (they gave them to him and said he could keep them: it probably saved on the psychiatric debriefing and rehab for another salesman) and he spent a month teetering on a stepladder at hourly intervals to measure the temperature at the top of the room and then rushing into the garden to do the same outside. Of course, he designed and built his own portable thermometer probe thing. And, no, I didn't want to hold the bloody soldering iron. Mind you, I did the spreadsheet for him and we found the temperature difference was a measly 7 per cent.
Then came the solar coating - more difficult to measure, because they wouldn't give him samples big enough (the tormented salesman actually ended up saying "We're a bespoke business, not a DIY warehouse, mate"). Dad solved that by contacting one of the satisfied clients in the literature who turned out to be a BT engineer, so he was used to endless interventions in his own space. They did the hourly probe thing at this guy's house together over a weekend and became quite matey, until it became clear by Sunday evening that he'd paid hundreds for something that only reduced the temperature by 11.6 per cent.
At this point, we started getting satirical and suggested he just paint the outside white or stick a load of rush matting on the roof (we'd have a beach hut in the garden!) but now you could see the madness in his eyes. It was time (puts on Jeremy Clarkson voice) for the intervention of a machine.
He looked into building an extractor fan, which was right up his street as he'd have to connect the extractor box to a thermostat and test it exhaustively, but there was nowhere he could put the ducting or the box, except the back wall of our sitting room, and mum wouldn't let him.
Now it was serious: air conditioning. He sneered at portable units, mostly because they vent through a tiny tube which has to be stuck through a window at head height so, of course, the air can't move fast enough and the motor overheats. I said he should leave one running and hopefully it would explode and trash the conservatory which he could then rebuild with a proper roof and walls, but he said we'd more likely burn the house down which was not the required outcome. (Ooh la la, engineers, so picky.)
Which just leaves one possibility: the split air-conditioning system.
It's got a compressor! A condenser! And an evaporator! A blower! Ducting! Honestly, dad's like a kid in a sweet shop. He hasn't told mum that this means sticking a great big engine casing on the back of the conservatory. Or that it will cost thousands. But then his job's safe, in the worst recession in living memory.
A man can follow his dream, can't he?