Jack's off to play with his band tonight. But he still needs Dad to drive him there. Is there no escape for a teenage rock star from his family of engineers?
Good things about being 17: driving lessons!
Bad things: no gift-wrapped car in the drive when I wake up. "What, you mean driving lessons is all I get? Seventeen is a milestone!" I say to my parents at breakfast.
"No it's not," say the twins. "Seventeen-year-olds can't vote, can't get married, can't join the army. It's a non-age. If it wasn't for your spots, no-one would even know you're here."
I jolt the table with my personal Ninja move, dumping morning bowl of cornflakes in small sister's lap. Two for two! Mum howls - she washed the floor yesterday - and Dad mutters something about 17 going on seven.
I glare but say nothing as I need Dad to drive me to the gig tonight. It's the curse of the young rock star, having to lug parents around to gigs. There's four dads who share the driving. We need two cars, because of the drum kit, unless it's Chopper's dad who drives some humongous black four-wheel drive monster vehicle.
Dad's jealous, because he has the oldest car. As I tell Mum about the line-up, Dad can't help giving a running commentary. Chopper, or James, is on drums ("his father's a solicitor"). WD40, or Felix, is the bassist ("consultant surgeon, thoracic department"). Banjo (he really is called Banjo) is lead guitar ("forensic accountant, travels abroad a lot") and me, vocals and rhythm guitar.
"Good grief," says Mum. "You're an incredibly aspirational band, aren't you? Where are the plumbers? Or the heating engineers?"
"Engineering technicians, for God's sake," says Dad.
"Well that's not very rock and roll, Dad," I say. "So it would be OK with you if I played with the son of a heating engineering technician, but not a heating engineer?" Dad looks awkward.
"Stick with the surgeons, love," says Mum. "You'll need some financial help with the first album."
So, back to breakfast where Dad is asking who's doing the run with him.
"Banjo's dad," I say.
"Ah," says Dad, wistfully. "So my eight-year-old Mondeo will be in convoy with an Audi Q7 V12, if I'm not mistaken."
"God, Dad, it's only a car."
"Only a car? Only a car? Sometimes I don't think you can be my son," says Dad. "It's never 'only' a car. It's... a field of engineering dreams, a 200-year experiment in refining an appallingly inefficient way of getting from A to B and yet it remains the holy grail of engineering aspiration. If we get the next generation right, or the one after that... we will become as gods. Never use 'only' in the same sentence as 'car'."
"Why don't you have a really nice car, Dad?" asks Alice, playing him like a pro.
He shoots her a look of pure vitriol (appropriate, really, as that's what they use in car batteries), and says: "Because
I am not a lawyer or a consultant surgeon or an accountant. I actually get my hands dirty to make a living and, as such, am very badly remunerated for it."
"Surgeons get their hands dirty, Dad," says Alice, still saccharine sweet. "They're always scrubbing up on 'Casualty', and I should think there's blood everywhere in surgery."
"And it's not as if you've ever got your hands really dirty, Dad," I say. "I mean, you really just sit at a computer all day."
"Well, yes, OK, but you know what I mean. I make things. Engineers make things."
"Well, actually Dad..." I begin, but he cuts me off, probably because it's years since he's actually made anything himself.
"Ancient Egypt!" he says. "Now, there's a civilisation that appreciated engineering."
"Unh?" we say. Mum mutters "Good grief!" and starts clearing cornflakes. A memory from my own ancient history floats up: "My Year 3 project on Egypt. The pyramid of professions, which showed the classes in Egyptian society, where engineers were...."
"Yes! On the third tier! Just below high priests! Only priests and the Pharoah were more important than us!"
Oh, for crying out loud. That was primary school.
Dad was so impressed with the pyramid of flipping engineers that he got someone in marketing to blow it up to A3, highlight engineering in gold and laminate it, and he then forced me to hand it in as project work. I earned a special headteacher's prize and the undying hatred of my classmates, who thought Egyptians were spoddy and boring. It cost me years of playing dumb to stop being class git.
Dad warbles on...
"And you know who was below engineers? Next rung down, not able to afford slaves or nice houses with central heating and running water?"
"Dad, I think that's Romans," says Amy.
"Also good engineers!" says Dad.
"We really are in a Monty Python sketch here, aren't we?" I say, to no one in particular.
"On tier four: the scribes! People who earn their living from moving figures around and scratching down what you can and can't do! The solicitors and accountants of their time! And as for surgeons, I imagine they were right at the bottom with the barbers and the coffin makers."
"Sarcophagus makers," says Amy.
"Correct!" says Dad. "The surgeons would be the ones pulling your brains through your nose and packing your internal organs in jam jars! Death merchants and bean counters! Whereas engineers built the pyramids!"
"Oh Dad, where did it all go wrong?" asks Alice, now pretending to be sympathetic.
There is a pause. "Well, I suppose pyramids went out of fashion, and surgeons got better at what they do.... thanks to the technology we gave them... but I just can't explain lawyers or accountants. There's no excuse for them at all."