Home Front Alice Pitman
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.