Testosterone is a wonderful thing. In the right hands that is. And, let's face it, the right hands are definitely not those of a 15 year old boy. Never has there been any group of human beings less well equipped emotionally to withstand the ravages of the hormonal maelstrom of adolescence than Alex and his friends. So bewildered are they by the internally imposed changes and the speed of their progression that, for the large part, they are powerless to swim against the tide.
And nothing is more confusing than Alex's voice. In the space of a few weeks he has gone from Madonna to Barry White. Mercifully he doesn't even know what Motown was or we would be opening a whole new can of worms. Telephone callers cannot be persuaded that they have the correct number, so persuasive is the vocal evidence to the contrary. Mind you, the grunting doesn't help.
In animal terms, he has transformed himself. A few months ago, he was a three-toed sloth, unable to rouse himself from his bed for any reason short of the house burning down or macaroni cheese for tea. Now, all of a sudden, he's a young gorilla, keen to assert his new-found physicality with a series of rather trying challenges to his father. I'm reminded of Attenborough sitting amongst the silver backs in Kenya I think. Spear tackling his father seems to be the primary recreational challenge. Oh and arm wrestling. And table tennis. And I'm sure that if the average whoop of gorillas had been able to master table tennis, they would have done so.
Alex greets each victory at table tennis with what he fancies is a meaningful nod in my direction to suggest the baton has been passed to him. That he is now the hunter and I a mere gatherer. I gently draw his attention to the fact that defeating an overweight 55-year-old with Parkinson's is probably not the absolute zenith of sporting achievement in table tennis. Canadian fishermen clubbing baby harp seals to death is, in sporting terms, a more finely balanced contest.
Evidently Alex, or more accurately his hormones, has concluded that it is time there was a new alpha male in the house. He seems genuinely surprised that I have reached an entirely different conclusion -- that I continue to be the alpha male in this household. Although, as any long-married men will tell you, the alpha male is rarely the one wearing trousers. Still, that's another story.
But the gamma male is having none of it. In his eyes, each victory is significant. Meaningful. The diminution of my powers and the blossoming of his. And arm wrestling. Who actually arm wrestles except pubescents? Or people with pubescent brains.
I remember adolescence myself. Well, dimly. But what I remember mostly was being confused a lot of the time. What seemed to me to be unambiguous signals from the opposite sex turned out to be nothing of the sort. And even on those (rare) occasions when a girl expressed an interest in me, I somehow contrived to be impervious. Like I said, confused. And let's face it, boarding school is not a place for confusion. The sooner you get all your ducks in a row the better.
Leaves more time for arm wrestling...