I used to think I was a bit of a slacker and grew torn between being propelled to achieve, while being consoled with the "it's not the winning but the taking part that counts" ethos. I always found this a particularly difficult circle to square. I could see my father on the touchline of whatever sporting activity I was partaking in urging me to "kill, maim, cripple, disfigure" – and yet, should I exit the sporting battlefield as anything but the ultimate victor, I was chastised for showing any sign of dissatisfaction that Robert Wigram (who, not content with being victorious was also a nasty, sadistic bully) had beaten me to the nefarious prize.
All this background comes to a head when you find that your wife has organised a half-term inter-family skittles match in the local pub. Logic would dictate that this should be a relaxed diversion from the hectic helter-skelter of life and that I should just appreciate the wonderfulness of being united with my family in a shared activity that serves, if nothing else, to create a shared history, a happy memory...
We met at midday in The Swan in Southrop and tension was already high. Parents said "Hey" in a slightly distracted fashion as they viewed the battlefield. Some fondled the uneven wooden bowling balls, weighing them up silently while pretending to engage in idle banter. Others paced the battlefield sipping on slim-line sodas, swatting away suggestions of anything more alcoholic or exciting.
Then battle commenced. Every name was on the chalkboard. Three misses and you were out of the match. At first, things were relatively civilised – a younger member of a rival family downed a pin and there would be an overly appreciative round of applause and a hearty slap on the back from everybody. Then things started to get a bit more serious. Family members would fall like, well, ninepins, and the brave few were left fighting for family honour on this most serious of Cotswold battlefields.
It is an important lesson of fatherhood, having to learn to console a son at his unlucky defeat at the hands of a fluky enemy while simultaneously high-fiving and hugging a victorious daughter on her well-deserved and God-given defeat of the curly-headed geek who keeps looking at you in a really annoying way for an eight-year-old.
Come the end game, families had retreated back into their respective "hoods", barely acknowledging anyone save their remaining warrior, now bowling for family pride and honour. More wine was ordered as losing parties reverted to their default "It's only a game" settings, despite their eyes giving away flashes of hatred and frustrated ambition.
Finally, it was down to one of my progeny and a rival parent. On the surface, everyone was on the right side of combat – enthused but civil. Underneath, however, battles raged as intense as Sicilian Cluedo.
At the last gasp, the Joly family was defeated by an age-old rival. We clapped and cheered the victor but underneath our blood boiled. They fuck you up your mum and dad....
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