The park is full of teenagers who are not up to anything dodgy, but still worry me

Romesh Ranganathan

I am working a lot at the moment and so am trying to maximise my time with the family. A late night after recording the first episode of The Ranganation left me feeling a bit sleep-deprived last Saturday morning. We have a television that comes out of the bed in our room that we thought was really cool in the shop but have since realised is a little bit “90s rapper” – we have agreed never to argue about whose idea it was. This TV has the effect of bringing the children into our bedroom from 6am to watch their favourite YouTubers. These mainly consist of either people playing Minecraft and talking annoyingly about it or, worse, Ryan’s Toys Review, a show where a millionaire boy and his family tell your children to buy their merchandise over and over again. I remember the good old days when advertising accompanied programming but thanks to a complete absence of regulation, my children now just watch adverts.

The boys had classes all morning, and I had writing to do, so we decided that as soon as they were back we would head out for a Ranganathan day of fun. We sometimes ask the boys what they want to do for the day and our youngest will say things like “Portugal” or “Universal Studios” and we then explain the logistical issues with his suggestions. It’s unreasonable to get annoyed, as we had asked without stipulating that the suggestions had to be geographically feasible.

The boys returned and, after a series of heated discussions, we headed to the park for a spot of football. Most Saturdays, it’s jam-packed with teenagers who are not up to anything dodgy but still worry me. I used to think that, with my teaching background, I would have no problem walking past a group of young people but I do that really cringey thing of trying to look younger and cooler, maybe adding a little strut to the walk and, worst of all, saying, “All right?” Thankfully, my wife keeps me in check by saying something like, “OK, there’s some teenagers over there, please don’t start acting like Stormzy.”

We set up our goalposts and decided on teams. We were soon having fun and, at 33-31, it was starting to become an exciting match. As we were playing, however, a couple and their son stopped to watch. This immediately weirded me out, but the rest of the family seemed fine with it and I assumed that I was once again being slightly antisocial and unreasonable.

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I should have trusted my instincts. The couple, after watching for a minute or so, sent their son into the game. He ran on as if he had been brought on as a sub. He didn’t ask scores, he didn’t ask teams, he just started playing. I’m right in saying this is totally bananas, aren’t I? The kids were bemused, as was my wife, and I was terrified. As soon as this kid got anywhere near the ball, I basically ran away from him for fear of injuring him. I didn’t fancy this casual game ending up in my arrest for accidentally twatting an eight-year-old. It also very soon became clear why this kid confidently joined in. He was like Lionel Messi’s lovechild. He spent his time with us running rings around every member of the family.

After a few minutes of this, his parents called him back and, as quickly as they had come into our lives, they were gone. We couldn’t believe it. I can only assume that their family time involves wandering round ruining everyone else’s, like a group of fun vampires. The kid was bloody good though.