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'Dad, can I talk to you?'

I'MSURE when I was 14 there were fewer crises in the world. I can recall fuel shortages, strikes at British Leyland and doing my homework by candlelight, but my generation was too young to follow Cuba and we'd left home long before schoolkids started dying from Ecstasy.

No one ever said it's easy to be a parent but I think my father had a smoother run of it. I can remember when I was Sarah's age, my Dad starting off our man-to-boy talk with the words, "Remember, whatever happens, you can always ask for help".

Now I realise he was talking about the outside possibility that I might stop making Airfix kits long enough to get someone pregnant. The poor man must have been very shocked, therefore, when, two hours later, I was back downstairs, proposing to take him up on his offer. I'd dropped my French book while revising in the bath and it needed to be dried out, page by page, before morning.

Sarah, by contrast, lives in a world of perennial crisis. Last week she came to us in great distress about her roots. Wearil, I was just about to start explaining that the lack of ethnic diversity within this family was a regrettable biological given when I realised that, for once, political correctness was not the issue.

We were talking hair. Sal was beginning to wish she hadn't had highlights for her birthday. From long years of experience, I have learned that a girl with a problem does not welcome solutions. A girl wants sympathy. It's only boys who need their text books dried in front of the fire.

This week, however, the problem was genuinely worrying. The girls Sarah hangs out with have taken to pilfering cosmetics and sweets from Woolworth's. "And, like, dad, I really don't want to."

Swallowing my immediate reaction - asking if the world has gone off its rocker - I explained that these silly middle-class kids get their fix from the risk of prosecution. I think - I hope - I provided a sensible sounding board for Sarah to say no. All the time, I couldn't help yearning for the days of soggy French texts books, though.


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