The car is alive with the acrimonious sound of a familiar debate. Anyone who has lived in a two-teacher family will know the score: we are playing that old and much-loved game "My job's harder than your job".
I steam in, citing the pressures of endless preparation and marking and the ceaseless demands of the latest electronic monitoring system. My wife, a long-time infant teacher, hits back with the sheer fatigue of being on your feet all day while pandering to 30 young egos.
When we arrive at my sister's for a family gathering, we park the car and the debate. Unresolved as ever, of course.
Inside, the adults are all waiting for us and so are the kids. So far my own children - now in their thirties - have resolutely refused to provide me with any grandchildren; instead I have to make do with infrequent meetings with my great nephew and niece.
Alfie, aged 3, recognises a like mind when he sees one, so I don't have long to wait. "Horsey, horsey," he demands as soon as he claps eyes on me. This involves me bouncing him up and down on my knee until the "horse" is in such a wild gallop that he pitches the rider on to the carpet. My tolerance for this little caper is four, possibly five cycles. Alfie's is seemingly endless.
To divert him to something less taxing, I try the "I've pinched your nose off" routine. Very quickly, though, Alfie turns this into a chase from room to room as he demands the return of his snaffled schnozzle.
Gasping for breath and adult dignity, I take the coward's way out and go into hiding. In the corner stands my sister's wilting Christmas tree and, beyond it, a long, heavy curtain. I tuck myself behind the curtain and wait. Alfie is nonplussed, despite my calling out his name at frequent intervals. This game is certainly more restful than the others, but a bit on the tedious side. So, after a minute or two, I come out and declare "game over".
But Alfie is having none of it. Now it's his turn to hide; the curtain worked for me, so why not for him? "Where could he be?" I ponder theatrically. "Here!" he shouts, bursting out of his hiding place. But, given that he's 60-odd years younger than good old Uncle Stephen, he was never likely to adopt the same degree of caution.
First the curtain comes down, followed closely by the rail. Then Alfie totters and teeters, crashing forward into the tree. Miraculously he is unhurt, but you can't say the same for the poor wrecked Christmas tree. "What's that noise?" calls my sister from the kitchen.
I grab the top of the tree in a desperate attempt to right it. It stands for a full five seconds before collapsing for a second time on top of the ruined curtains and rail. Cue my sister arriving in the highest of high dudgeon to find her big brother standing haplessly amid the wreck of her sitting room.
In the car on the way home, I know exactly what's coming. "You only had to deal with one of them and just look what happened to you," my wife says. "Yes," I reply ruefully. "It looks like you won that one." Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London
"Yes," I reply ruefully. "It looks like you won that one."
Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London