There is an episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza introduces his new girlfriend Susan to his good – female – friend, Elaine. It is the Worlds Collide episode – and we know what happens when worlds collide: catastrophe.
Susan becomes friends with Elaine; Elaine tells Susan all about the George she doesn’t know from their relationship; ditto Susan to Elaine.
Independent George is no more.
I was put in mind of this classic episode yesterday while enjoying my regular Sunday afternoon pint or two at my local.
There I was, happily gassing away with the regulars, discussing the Premiership race, the price of beer, the pending refurbishment of the pub, when nature called and I slipped downstairs for a comfort break.
I turned to a different world – a world which had collided with another.
I was about to raise my pint to my lips, when…
‘Beef!’ said a VERY familiar sounding voice from the other side of the bar.
‘Keith!’ followed a less familiar, but still known-to-me voice.
My heart sank faster than the beer I was drinking.
I forced the corners of my lips up into a rictus smile and tried to casually turn around without revealing my displeasure.
Inside, I was feeling ‘WTF!’. But on the outside, I said: ‘Daisy! Wow! Whoa! Daisy! And Mark. Wow! Whoa! Grrrrrrreat to see you. But what are you doing in here?’
Daisy, you see, is my 10 year-old stepdaughter.
Mark, fyi, is her real dad.
And with them were her real dad’s wife and her real dad’s one year-old son.
World + World = Kaboom.
‘Come and join us,’ said Mark.
‘But I would rather stick rusty pins in my eyes,’ I thought, which, thankfully, didn’t reach my lips.
Now this might all sound disingenuous on my part. I mean, I am fully aware of the conflicts and tensions that exist between opposite factions of so-called Blended Families.
No such tensions exist in ours. I get on with Daisy’s dad like a house on fire. Daisy’s mum – Mark’s ex-wife – gets on with Mark’s new wife with similar burning harmony. And my own sons – Daisy’s other two younger brothers (keep up at the back), love her youngest brother to bits.
And yet, and yet….this scene was all WRONG.
The pub is my sanctuary; my escape from family life. It’s where Pub Keith exists, never to be known by those who are familiar with Housedad Keith.
The pub is where I am a different part of ME. No cooking, no cleaning, no ironing, no nagging, no bedtime stories, no homework cajoling, no playfighting, no cuddling (except after six pints), no tidying rooms, picking up wet towels or begging for the kids to ‘Pleeeeeease go to sleep.’
Like George Costanza, Pub Keith is Independent Keith. I can be whoever I want to be in the pub. I don’t know where anyone lives, or what they do for a living. I don’t know – or care – whether they have kids or are married or single.
Pub Keith talks about bacon and cheese; the likelihood of United beating City; the ludicrous price of a pint; the best guitar solo ever played; the worst merits of Star Trek: The Next Generation vs the carbuncle that was Deep Space Nine.
Pub Keith isn’t a dad, or a husband, or a former magazine editor, or a domestic drudge, or even a blogger, or a Tweeter.
I’ve actually bumped into pub regulars in the street while out with my family and they looked stunned.
‘I didn’t know you had kids,’ they say. Like one of those ‘I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on’ moments.
And I like it that way. Compartments. My world, my rules.
Shamefully, when I was invited the other world of my Blended Family, I initially declined.
‘Hey, that’s OK,’ I said. ‘I’m in company. You guys enjoy yourself.’
But my stepdaughter was having none of it.
‘But we came in here to see you. I knew you’d be here. You’re always here.’
What have I ever done to her? Nine years of slavish love and devotion, and this is how she re-pays me?
I saw my world heading towards their world on a collision course that, short of recruiting Bruce Willis, I could do nothing to avoid, so I nodded my farewells to the drinking partners I know nothing about and joined the part of my family I drink with people I know nothing about to escape.
At first, I was on edge. Not because I don’t get along with any of the people on the Step-side of my family, but because they were encroaching on my space.
And guess what? Nothing happened. There was no collision, there was no catastrophe. No-one died, not even me on the inside.
In fact, it was tremendous fun. Two pints of tremendous fun – bought by my step-daughter’s real dad.
We talked about their trip to the zoo; we talked about the price of beer in the pub; we talked about the quality of the burgers they’d ordered for lunch. Then we talked about football; the likelihood of QPR getting a point against City.
And then my stepdaughter’s real dad, her stepmum and her youngest brother, all left to leave me and my stepdaughter flicking through the photos she’d taken of tigers, penguins and gorillas, before returning home to my Housedad World.
These planetary collisions aren’t so bad, after all.