When our youngest child Jacob was two years old, he fell out of the window of a restaurant 40ft above a beach on Spain's Costa de la Luz. Jacob had been sitting well away from the window, but while we were studying the menus, he somehow manoeuvred his chair over to it. The first thing we saw was a flash of yellow sock and blue sandal as he toppled out, headfirst, towards a rocky ledge far below.
I have written before about this horrible episode, but not since the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Like Kate and Gerry McCann, we were on holiday and carefree. We exercised what we thought was reasonable vigilance over our children, but could doubtless be accused, as the McCanns cruelly have been, of irresponsible parenting. And that's one of the reasons why I sympathise with them so much.
If Jacob had been killed or badly injured in that fall, we would have tormented ourselves forever with the thought that we should have been more careful. As it was, he glanced off the wall on the way down, avoided the rock, and landed on the sand. By the time we had hurtled down the steps to the beach, he was in the arms of a Spanish woman, screaming but basically unhurt. There was a crowd around him. We heard the word "milagro", meaning miracle.
Jacob's fall, like Madeleine's disappearance, had everything to do with being on holiday. On holiday, moreover, in a part of the world where children routinely ride on the backs of mopeds, and stay up until midnight. The Iberian culture discourages excessive vigilance over children, and, in a way, is all the more charming for it. The parents who let their toddler sit unobserved a few feet from an open window in Spain were the same parents who, at home, like most parents of toddlers, had a stair gate and plastic caps over electricity sockets.Even at home, though, all reasonable precautions can be circumvented by an accident-prone child, or simply by an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Which brings me to the same Jacob, now aged nine, who, a couple of weeks ago, began the day by trying out some roller-skates he'd been given for his birthday, and ended it in an operating theatre at Hereford County Hospital.
As Jacob steadied himself on my snooker table, his feet shot out in front of him, and as he fell, he caught his scrotum on one of the hooks where the cues rest. The result was a rip from the bottom of his testicles to the base of his penis. If I might use non-medical language, his little goolies were in tatters.
Jane and I rushed him to Leominster Community Hospital, five miles away. There was some debate there whether he needed to go to Birmingham Children's Hospital, but after a call to a paediatrician, he was dosed up with morphine and put in an ambulance to Hereford. Jane travelled with him and a paramedic, while I followed in the car. On the way, she made up a story about a mouse called Gilbert, which kept him distracted.
I got to the hospital first, and was there when the ambulance door opened on Jane just finishing the story about Gilbert. Jacob was listening intently, but not as intently as the paramedic, who seemed distraught that the journey was over. Jane promised to let him know what happened to Gilbert.
As for what happened to Jacob, once again he was remarkably lucky. His testes were pronounced intact, and under general anaesthetic, administered by positively the nicest anaesthetist in the world, he was stitched back together again by the calmest, most reassuring surgeon imaginable.
I'm sure that a child in his condition would have been dealt with just as efficiently in any London hospital, but as I've written before, there is more time for kindness in the sticks.
Thanks to the second milagro of his young life, Jacob was released from hospital the following morning still in his pyjamas, whereupon we all went for a slap-up brunch at our favourite Hereford caff, Ascari's. Jacob, who hadn't eaten for 24 hours, demolished a huge cooked breakfast, but when we got back into the car, Jane was horrified to see blood on the crotch of his pyjamas. She wondered whether we should go back to the hospital, but was dissuaded by Jacob, who pointed out, after cursory examination, that the blood was actually baked-bean sauce.
A spirit drizzle can't dampen
The annual Docklow fete took place in our garden last month. It was a typical English summer's day of relentless drizzle, yet folk turned out if not in their hundreds, certainly in their dozens. My daughter Eleanor and her friend Aimee operated the Splat the Rat stall, and reported a decent trade.
Splat the Rat, I should add, does not involve the persecution of live animals but a rag rodent dropped down a drainpipe. You win if you are quick enough to bosh it on the head when it shoots out at the bottom.
We borrowed the game from the organisers of the Yarpole fete, which is the mother and father of all village fetes hereabouts. But which, like ours, and doubtless like countless others this summer, was sullied by poor weather. Sullied, but by no means ruined. It might be overstating the case to talk of a Blitz spirit, but the spectacle of doughty women serving cream teas in a damp marquee, and just beyond them a wet vicar splatting the rat, made me feel inordinately proud to be an Englishman.