Ian McMillan: Fruitful lesson of day I turned orange with envy

A LONG time ago, when I wore short trousers and had blond hair and looked like an extra from an amateur production of Swallows and Amazons, I went to the house of a friend of a friend sometime in the first couple of days of the New Year. I'm not sure which year it was, but I guess it was about 1964 or 1965.

When you're a kid it's a funny thing to go to the home of somebody you don't know very well; obviously you're used to your own house, and you're a fairly frequent visitor to your friends' places, but the friend of a friend? We weren't even sure what it meant. Did that mean he was my friend, the first new friend of a new year?

I vividly remember going into a kitchen. I recall a little Christmas tree on a windowsill and some decorations, fancier than ours, hung tastefully from the subtly-coloured ceiling. There was a canary in a cage and the smell of coffee; real coffee, bubbling away in a percolator.

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From the perspective of 2011, it's hard to describe how rare a percolator would have been in that part of South Yorkshire. Rarer than quail egg-cups and samphire toasters, that's for sure.

I can't remember the lad's name but I recall his mam (who, oddly, he called Mummy as though he was a toddler) coming in and saying hello and asking us what out names were. I remember us mumbling and the percolator bubbling and the canary chirruping. It was warm in the kitchen, for some reason, and she offered us a drink of orange juice.

And here's the thing. Here's the thing that I remember most of all. Because it was so warm in that kitchen, compared to the icy chill outside, I suddenly felt a craving for that orange juice.

I wanted that orange juice very much. We went out of the kitchen to another warm place almost entirely made of glass that the friend of a friend called The Sun Loggia, another phrase I'd never heard before. We played for a bit with some toy soldiers and then Mummy came in pushing a trolley.

On the trolley there was a plate of chocolate biscuits and a big jug full of orange juice and half a dozen glasses.

And the most amazing thing about that jug of juice was not simply that the liquid was more orange than anything I'd ever seen before and not that the jug was almost as big as a dustbin; the real shocker was the fact that circles of real orange were floating in the juice like lilies on a pond or orange Frisbees on an orange lawn.

This felt like untold luxury to me, and I must have gazed at that jug like someone finding himself unexpectedly in a room with The Crown Jewels.

When I got home, I told my mam that next time I had juice I wanted it from a jug and I wanted circles of orange in it. My mam said it would be a waste of a good orange and I'm sorry to say I had a tantrum right there in front of the fireplace.

Shouting was involved, there were tears and I dare say a foot was stamped. When I calmed down a little, I went and made my own juice, pouring dilute orange into a gravy jug. We had no oranges to cut up and so I sliced an old ripening banana into the juice. The result looked terrible, like something you might find in a chemistry lab. I poured it down the sink and mashed the banana down the plughole with a fork.

And the real point of the story is this: I was dissatisfied with our boring old orange juice. I didn't want to have a back room, I wanted a Sun Loggia. I didn't want to put my drink on a table top, I wanted to wheel it into the room on a little chariot. I wanted more: the grass was greener on the other side. The side with the floating fruit.

Over the years, I reckon we've all suffered from Other-Side-Greener syndrome, that niggling cocktail of self-doubt and envy that roars in your ears like high blood pressure. He has a better job than me. She has a better house. They, somehow, have a better, shinier life. Their canaries sing more tunefully and their Sun Loggia is, let's face it, sunnier.

Well, I reckon that this year, 2011, isn't going to be like that for me. I'm going to enjoy the grass on my side. I'm going to sit about in my conservatory and banish all thoughts of a Sun Loggia from my mind. And I'm going to pour orange juice into an old mug from a cardboard packet. And the grass on my side is going to be so, so green.

I'll see to that, and who cares how green the other bloke's is!