Home Front Alice Pit­man

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

One of the ex­as­per­at­ing things about Mr Home Front is his com­pet­i­tive streak. Many years ago, BC (be­fore chil­dren), we some­times used to play foot­ball on Shep­herd’s Bush Green. I was ac­tu­ally quite an ac­com­plished player in my youth, though noth­ing ever came of it. In fact, I still har­bour an un­healthy grudge against my pri­mary school teacher for not al­low­ing me in the foot­ball team in 1976 be­cause I was a girl. This, de­spite a pe­ti­tion signed by all the boys ask­ing for my in­clu­sion in the squad against a ri­val school. I still have it some­where, the pen­cilled sig­na­tures faded with time: Dar­ren, Trevor, Mark, Si­mon.

By the time I met Mr HF in my mid-twen­ties, my for­mer ball mas­tery was start­ing to wane due to adult on­set asthma and a weak­ness for the odd Silk Cut. But I was still a bet­ter player than him, drib­bling rings round him as he tried to keep his bal­ance, much as I imag­ine portly ship’s ste­ward John Prescott might have done dur­ing a storm at sea. Mr HF would even­tu­ally get fed up with this and push me over, be­fore stomp­ing off with the ball.

He was just as bad when it came to the only other game we played to­gether – pool. We wasted most of the early 1990s in var­i­ous pubs in west Lon­don snook­er­ing one an­other, and pre­tend­ing to the other that each fluke pot had been ef­fort­lessly in­ten­tional. To be fair on Mr HF, he was a very good player. But then af­ter much prac­tice, I was able to match him. My great­est vic­tory came two days be­fore I gave birth to Fred in April 1994. Nine months’ preg­nancy seemed to have given me an un­canny ball sense and I won five games in a row be­fore he an­nounced that a pub was ‘not a fit place for a woman in your con­di­tion’ and shoved me out of the door.

These days, the sole field of con­flict is on the sofa in front of Univer­sity

Chal­lenge. His worst habit is at­tempt­ing to an­swer the ques­tion half­way through Jeremy Pax­man’s de­liv­ery.

He is usu­ally pretty good on cur­rent affairs, lit­er­a­ture and his­tory (each cor­rect an­swer ac­com­pa­nied by an in­suf­fer­able Andy Mur­ray vic­tory pump). Yet any­thing to do with maths, clas­si­cal mu­sic or art is just a wild guess: ‘Seven’, ‘Rim­sky-ko­r­sakov’ and ‘Monet’ are all shouted out with smug cer­tainty at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals like some un­di­ag­nosed form of Tourette’s. It took me quite a long time to work out that the in­ter­rup­tions were in fact a tac­ti­cal ploy to make me and the chil­dren feel so un­sure about our an­swers that we with­hold them for fear of look­ing stupid.

On those oc­ca­sions that I man­age to get a ques­tion right, he will con­grat­u­late me in the pa­tro­n­is­ing tone of a par­ent speak­ing to a small child who has man­aged to spell her name cor­rectly for the first time. Get more than half a dozen right, though, and he starts to hold it against you. Dur­ing one won­der­fully un­for­get­table episode recorded over the Christ­mas pe­riod, I man­aged to cor­rectly an­swer twice as many ques­tions as he did. In­stead of con­grat­u­lat­ing me on this ad­mit­tedly freak­ish achieve­ment, he won­dered out loud if I had watched it be­fore­hand.

Since Univer­sity Chal­lenge came to an end, he has trans­ferred all his com­pet­i­tive en­er­gies into film trivia, much of his knowl­edge gar­nered via shifty for­ays into Wikipedia. Re­cently, we had the great trivia play-off while watch­ing the 1971 film Vil­lain, in which Richard Burton plays a sadis­tic, mother-ob­sessed ho­mo­sex­ual gang­ster called Vic Dakin.

He: ‘Writ­ten by Dick Cle­ment and Ian La Fre­nais ... Likely Lads, Por­ridge, etc. Me (quite ir­ri­tated): Right. He: And also writ­ten by Al Let­tieri … know who he was? Me (very ir­ri­tated): No. He: He played Vir­gil Sol­lozzo in The God­fa­ther.

Me (tri­umphant): Oh look, it’s Cath­leen Nes­bitt play­ing Vic Dakin’s old mum – fancy that!

He (dis­mis­sive): Richard Burton kisses Ian Mc­shane in this film. He told Ian Mc­shane he didn’t re­ally mind as he re­minded him of El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor.

Me: Funny to think she was Ru­pert Brooke’s fi­ancée.

He (peer­ing over his lap­top): Who was?

Me: Vic Dakin’s mum – Cath­leen Nes­bitt. Ru­pert Brooke used to com­pose love son­nets to her.

Mr HF, un­usu­ally impressed by this nugget, closed his lap­top and con­ceded de­feat. We watched as Dakin took his old cock­ney mum on a run down to Brighton. As the pair of them sat chew­ing through a tub of whelks on the pier, I won­dered vaguely what Ru­pert Brooke would have made of it all.

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