I had Michael in Cork for the weekend recently. One evening he, my father and I sat down to dinner together. My father is quite deaf. Michael was anxious to return to the iPad. But we were sitting at the dinner table. I was sitting in my mother’s place and perhaps something of her spirit infused me as I strained my (I like to think) not inconsiderable skills as a conversationalist to breaking point.
Me: Michael, ask Granddad what it was like at school when he was a little boy?
Michael (dutiful but indifferent): What was it like at school when you were a little boy, Granddad?
My father: What?
Me (loudly and in the face of Michael’s manifest indifference): He wants to know what it was like at school when you were a little boy.
My father (testily): I can’t remember, it was years ago.
Me (loudly): Michael, you like school, don’t you.
Michael (quietly): No.
My father: What’s that?
Me (loudly): Nothing.
[Several more minutes pass in vain attempts to promote conversation on my part – the other protagonists remain largely indifferent]
Me: Will we excuse Michael?
My father and Michael (in tones of considerable relief): Yes.