Ian is so well-settled in the new house that we hardly see him. It's about a mile and a half from where we live. By all accounts the house has already become a magnet for his many mates. But me and Shirley, we are feeling a certain emptiness. It's a premonition of things to come.
Up until this point in time we have been blessed with a happy family life - meals round the table, barbecues, some crises to get through, pets, never-ending conversation and companionship, a long list of lovely holidays - camping in France, the summer in Italy, trips to Ireland, all the Balearic Islands, Greece, Portugal, three times in America, cottages with open fires and coastal caravans. It has been wonderful and it began in August 1984 when Ian was born. So we have had twenty three years of busy family life - little time to rest on your haunches or feel sorry for yourself. We have been simply... living.
Now what? I guess many people have been through this sense of emptiness - as if your main mission in life - to raise a family - is almost through. Sure, Ian will continue to need support with his house and financial affairs and Frances will come home during university holidaytime but it's never going to be quite the same again.
Where is the little girl in her red wellington boots, wrestling with the hosepipe on a hot summer's evening? And where is the boy who yelled one Christmas morning - "...He's been! HE'S BEEN!"...the same boy I taught to ride a bike and with whom I scaled Ben Nevis. And where is the girl who blew out the candles and weirdly wrote her name in perfect mirror image script?
But you know, the thing was, I always knew such a day would come and I knew the trick was to love and live each day because this joy wouldn't last forever. I remember weeping one afternoon when Frances was four and Ian was eight. I had taken them to the post office to post their paintings for a "Blue Peter" TV competition. They were holding my hands and laughing. I saw our combined shadows on the pavement - moving as one and I had this overwhelming and grievous realisation that this ordinary moment was exceptional and that one day I would look back on it as a symbolically happy picture of my fatherhood and no matter what I tried I just couldn't hang on to the physical reality of the moment forever... only the memory.
You see... as well as being hard as nails... Yorkshiremen can also be bloody soft too!