Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

IRETURNED to the fish­mon­ger, at long last. He’s happy when the sun’s out, be­cause busi­ness picks up. ‘Doesn’t mat­ter what’s on TV or how much Broad­church we get, it’s what’s up there that makes the dif­fer­ence,’ he likes to say, point­ing to the ceil­ing.

‘We’re buy­ing fish again,’ I ex­plained. ‘The boys are back, so the fish-averse child isn’t call­ing all the shots.’

It’s not re­ally about fish, of course. I mean that nor­mal ser­vice has been re­sumed. After a per­fect storm of GCSES, A lev­els and fi­nals, the sun is in his heaven, the black­bird’s on the lawn and ev­ery­one has come home. The kitchen is full of break­fasts in the morn­ing and the gar­den full of laugh­ter in the evening.

Hi­laire Bel­loc wrote that there are cer­tain pri­mal things that move us: among them a wind­ing track, a tower on a hill and voices at night in the road out­side. Home­com­ing is an­other of those pri­mal things: Odysseus mak­ing his way back to Pene­lope, the joy­ous re­turn of the Prodi­gal Son, that scene in The Rail­way Chil­dren when Fa­ther emerges on the plat­form through the steam.

The pri­mary pri­mal thing with the boys is to keep the fridge topped up. It’s not all fish, but it’s cer­tainly about food and the fridge is like a dud phone bat­tery with a ten­dency to drain in­ex­pli­ca­bly overnight. A truckle of cheese is pared away to noth­ing. Salami dis­ap­pears.

It re­minds me of that pe­riod in the 1970s, after the Oil Shock and the Three Day Week, when TV ad­verts tapped into the pop­u­lar fear of short­age and ran on the pos­si­bil­ity that a crea­ture called Humphrey was com­ing to steal your milk or that your fa­ther was raid­ing the fridge at night be­cause, un­likely and per­haps tact­less as it may now sound, he had turned into a ‘se­cret lemon­ade drinker’.

I peer through the kitchen win­dow and see the chil­dren sprawled on the tram­po­line, where they like to con­gre­gate for a bounce and a chat. The cro­quet hoops are out, mal­lets strewn across the lawn. Gone are the days when I de­lib­er­ately fluffed a shot to keep the bal­ance —and the peace.

Their for­ays into the wider world have com­pletely re­con­fig­ured my un­der­stand­ing of the rules of cro­quet. The boys can get through all the hoops in a sin­gle turn and they dis­dain to cheat. They in­sist that nudg­ing the ball with a foot is not reg­u­la­tion play for Hurling­ham, a fact I can scarcely credit.

That young man who only the other day had hair as long as a tiny Tarzan and spoke in husky whis­pers is through with school. His fi­nal duty as Head Boy—did I men­tion that?— will be to wel­come us to the Leavers’ Ball, yet, in my mind’s eye, he’s reclining on the rug, one py­jama’d knee raised, sur­rounded by scuffed Match­box cars and minia­ture lor­ries, each open­ing up to him their own se­cret per­son­al­ity. Now, he’s 6ft some­thing and driv­ing.

An­other goes off to work. In an ear­lier life, we ran a shop to­gether, made from a card­board box and staffed by knit­ted mice. The wash­ing-up is be­ing done by a hulk­ing fel­low who, mo­ments ago it seems, knelt on a chair at the kitchen ta­ble, reach­ing for pas­tels in a box: a pint-sized Jasper Johns.

Kate takes Anna into school, to look at the work hang­ing in the Art Show. In two years, she’ll fol­low Harry and be out of school her­self and the first part of the en­ter­prise will be over, just as it should be, ba­tons passed, hori­zons widen­ing, Hurling­ham rules.

In an ear­lier life, we ran a shop, made from card­board and staffed by knit­ted mice

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