Normally I write my blog in the peace of our quiet Sunday mornings: Izzy burbling and chortling to herself as she plays in her pen, Jo writing emails to distant Californians, the cat and the dogs snoozing together on the rug by the Aga.
Not today. Tiny feet race up and down stairs, and outside screams of laughter cut through the frosty air. Poncho is hiding under the sofa in despair. For this half term we’ve been inundated by a succession of friends from the South, all with large families. We have, quite literally, a houseful. And, apart from the cat, we all absolutely love it.
There’s nothing more reassuring than the sound of children laughing as they hide and seek in the garden. Last night, when the last game of charades was over and the maelstrom finally settled down for bed, Jo and I took a deep breath and said, almost simultaneously, how much happier our house felt when it was full and how empty it’s going to seem tomorrow.
Then we looked at each other and paused. Neither of us needed to articulate what we were both thinking. I finally broke the ice: did we really want Izzy to grow up an only child? Her four siblings live down South. Sam, who’s 12, comes up every holiday and she absolutely worships him: she sits with her big eyes staring up at him and copies everything he does. But by the time Izzy is at preschool Sam may have morphed into a sullen teenager, ignoring his little sister. Maybe by then she’ll need a little sister of her own.
It’s ludicrous, of course: Jo is still in her thirties, but I’m 58, and already have five children. Yet just 20 miles away, in Newcastle’s Life Centre, lie 6 frozen embryos, all conceived at the same moment as Izzy. Another baby is just a phone call away. Why don’t we just…?
It’s not as simple as that. On Saturday morning, walking with Jo and Izzy down our field to the swollen Wansbeck below, I had a strange moment of déjà vu. I was carried back 26 years to another field near my first wife’s home in Devon, with our son Ben on my back. I remembered my feeling of contentment with that perfect circle of husband, wife and child. Then I remembered the panic – that utterly irrational male sensation of helplessness – when my wife and I first discussed having another child.
There’s no doubt that the introduction of a second baby fundamentally changes the relationship between husband and wife. Is this why so many men get stressed at the very thought of it? Perhaps they feel threatened, fearing the perfect circle will be distorted by the presence of another human being. It's illogical, of course - my second child Rocca is absolutely the most wonderful daughter a father could want and I love her to death. However it's certainly true that a great proportion of marriages begin to feel the strain soon after the birth of the second child - perhaps those same male insecurities lead ultimately to a forlorn quest for reassurance and youth which so often manifests itself in relationships outside the marriage.
I certainly know that I’ve never been happier in my life than I am right now, and I want nothing to jeopardise this feeling. Don't misunderstand these observations: my relationship with Jo gets stronger every day. In fact, it's the very strength of our feelings right now which are making both of us feel we should just leave things as they are and grow our life together. Besides, as Jo says, nobody would invite us round if we had two kids: at the moment Izzy is a delight, even in company.
But maybe it’s out of our hands. After all, my life has taken some pretty weird twists of fate recently. Yet nothing has been entirely unexpected. Some time after my second child was born, I was invited to dinner by Tessa Dahl (Roald’s daughter and Sophie’s mother). She was a delightfully bonkers hostess, populating her soirees with eccentrics and oddities - I must have appeared so dull by comparison. I was seated opposite a celebrity clairvoyant – that is, a fortune-teller to the stars. Halfway through our starter she leaned forward, looked into my eyes and whispered “You’re going to end up marrying an American, you know”, adding conspiratorially: “And you’ll have six children.”
I dismissed her as a mad old woman. But now I’m wondering if she knew more than she should.