“Hey Mum, I just bought an aircraft hangar.” “Really, sweetie? What for?” Under other circumstances I might have reacted more strongly to this intelligence, but I’m distracted by a survey of the kitchen cupboard, which in its usual erratic way appears to contain eight tins of sardines, but no bread for toast.
“To keep my planes in, of course!” “That’s nice -” ( There’s that Italian recipe for sardines and pasta, but I’ve never got past the combination of fish and raisins…) “– er, so how many planes does that make now?”
I’m struggling to pay for silver leaf to coat the Dairy Milk squares on his sister’s disco ball birthday cake; a new plane is probably not within my fiscal reality space right now.
“It’s okay, Mum. I’m good at making money. Or I could steal one. It’s quicker, but I might get shot.” “Don’t do that, it’s pasta for supper. Such a shame to miss it, just for a new plane.”
One of the many professionally useful things about my children is that they are, in the most adorable way, completely normal. Our house vibrates to the transit of trends: Miley Cyrus, One Direction, Arsenal, selfies, Instagram, Vyne and Youtubers – though I managed to discover independently, through circumstances I don’t specially want to reveal here. I have no need of external focus groups: we’ve got one right here at home.
So, of course, we’ve also got Grand Theft Auto.
It undoubtedly marks me out as a terrible parent that I let it into the house with only the vaguest idea of what it was, apart from a general sense that anything with Auto in the title was unlikely to be very green. “Theft” doesn’t, at first sight, seem either, but as there had been no evidence of actual shoplifting in Magnus’s (finger-waggle) “real life”, I had to assume this was a useful outlet for urges that might otherwise boil over into terrifying rampages at the all-night petrol station.
And having made the shopping list (lemons: bread: NO more sardines), I realise I have about half an hour to discover whether there was a reason his Dad had to go and buy it for him, and whether all that is true. “So, Magnus – do you feel like showing me round? Not in the jump jet, I don’t expect it’d have a passenger seat – just a little tour in whatever you’re driving right now?”
I can’t very well say, “Because I’ve only just realised we may be incubating a spree-killer in the house” so I mutter something about getting a sense of what it’s like. “You know you always say I don’t take in what you do. Well, here I am, taking an interest.”
After the initial shock, he seems quite pleased at the opportunity of showing off to somebody older than his sister. “So, this is my house. Here’s the upstairs pool and here’s the rooftop pool. And here’s the . And here’s the indoor basketball court, we don’t really use it much cos of course it never rains here, here’s the outdoor one. ”
“Gosh, it’s quite palatial isn’t it? Who are all these people – am I supposed to say hello?”
‘They’re the squad. I keep them here in case I feel like a game. I just need to make this one a bit taller…Okay, now I can get rid of them for now.” Twenty muscle-bound giants dissolve from view. I forget about the joys of a self-watering garden and begin to fantasise about people I’d like to
“Let’s go into the wardrobe, I need to change.” “Wait, is that you? Have you been taking steroids again? You know they’re even worse for you than Diet Coke.” “It’s a game Mum, okay? Diet Coke doesn’t hurt anybody here. D’you like my hair? I might change the colour…” A couple of frantic jerks on the controller, and my dirty-blond teenager is a brunette I begin to add up the money I could save at the hairdresser’s.
“Okay, so let’s get going. Get in – no in fact get out, that Ferrari over there is nicer.” “Doesn’t it belong to somebody? Don’t you need the key? Oh dear, is that the owner, he seems to be rather – really darling, did you have to run him over?”
“He’s fine Mum, look. IT’S A GAME!” Indeed, the rear view mirror shows the enraged ex-Ferrari driver loping down the road behind us, apparently none the worse for being flattened. I begin to list the people I could enjoy mowing down, just to give them a bit of a scare.
It’s only now that I realise we’re driving down the 10 Freeway in Santa Monica. Magnus and his sister have never forgiven me for selling that house. I’ve never forgiven myself either, come to that. Despite the obvious truth that a holiday home six thousand miles away, most of it owned by a bank that probably invented , is not the best green credential, nevertheless since that day in early 2009 when I succumbed to the estate agent’s scaremongering (not thinking for a moment that he might just want a nice lump sum to ride out the recession), all four of us have been, to some extent, in mourning.
So it suddenly makes perfect sense that Magnus should be playing GTA as an excuse to revisit the lost paradise of his youth. It’s all there – at least the public, visible bits (cue cheap joke about Angelenos): the the fairground on the pier, the arcing dolphins – though unaccountably not the scary wino outside the liquor store.
I do notice that his driving is a bit erratic, but that’s hardly surprising; the poor boy’s never had a lesson in his life. Being only sixteen. “Shouldn’t you slow down a bit for this… Isn’t this the pavement we’re… Wasn’t that a red… I’m sure it said ‘No Through Road’ back there…” But he ignores me, heedlessly running red lights, driving over sidewalks, taking wide turns over perfect
After a while, I relax into it. And to my horror, I realise it’s fun! Let’s all run red lights, mow down annoying people who get in our way, swap cars whenever we feel like it, maintain a personal staff that doesn’t demand to be paid and can be summoned or dismissed at will. Let’s raid the liquor store, fly to Cabo for lunch and build a wardrobe of that miraculously turn us into Angelina Jolie, all with no cost or penalty in the real world.
And a very, very modest to boot. Compared to what his peers get up to. Not to mention a lot safer. GTA is, in fact, the greenest lifestyle choice my clever boy could make. Why has it taken me so long to see it this way?
Just to reassure myself, when we’ve stopped to trade the Ferrari for a Veyron I tactfully raise the matter of the game elements where you torture people and chop bits off them. “Oh, I don’t bother with that. It’s pretty boring. D’you fancy a SuperChocShoc Sundae at Ben and Jerry’s?” An enormous chocolate ice cream, entirely free of charge and calories. There’s no arguing with that as the perfect end to the perfect day. I don’t know when I’ve committed so many felonies in one afternoon, and walked off without a stain on my character.
En route to the kitchen, I discover Dolly deep in the latest version of the Sims; the one where you can trade in your spouse for a new one (or four non-smelly, ) any time you like. There’s a thought. And while I’m here, I can make supper in her brand new chef’s kitchen, where the bread and the lemons never run out. This is the (virtual) life!