Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'I love the idea of fathers and sons doing intrepid bonding activities. I left the Scout manual as bait'
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The Independent Online

In anticipation of the school holidays I bought a copy of the bestselling Dangerous Book for Boys. I love the idea of sons being encouraged to do intrepid, bonding activities with their fathers and perhaps in my enthusiasm I'd forgotten that the father, in our case, is Matthew. I have never seen him up a tree with Louis, or in a canoe, or building a den but, I thought, perhaps if I bought the book I could entice them both away from the PlayStation for the summer. So I left it along with a copy of Scouting for Boys, a recent reprint of the original Baden-Powell handbook, lying around the house as bait - bait that was initially resisted.

Matthew says that his objections to teaching Louis to make his own catapults, climb trees and white-water raft, fall into four categories. The first is sexism. "I cannot believe," he harangued disingenuously, "that you would endorse such retrograde gender stereotyping. It is pure sexism and I will have no part of it."

The second objection was so predictable that the only shock was that it wasn't the first. "Intrepidness," Matthew argued, "is not for Jewish people. We're the most trepid race on earth." Despite me telling him that there was no such word as trepid, and it certainly wasn't the opposite of intrepid, he continued with the argument until I pointed out to him that Louis is only half Jewish. "That doesn't matter" he countered. "The trepidity gene is dominant. A boy will always inherit it from his Jewish parent. It says so in the Talmud."

The third objection was specifically targeted at the Baden-Powell book. "If you've set your heart on delivering our son into the hands of paedophiles," he said, on finding Scouting for Boys - a title he regards as a fully fledged double entendre - "we might as well convert to Catholicism and get him into a choir at the first opportunity."

As for the fourth objection, this revolves around our particular part of London being quite dangerous enough as things are. He said there was no need to hunt out extra perils and if I was that determined to expose Louis to risks, why didn't I just take him for an evening stroll down the Uxbridge Road.

But then we met up with some friends for lunch and they enthused infectiously about how much happier their children are doing outdoorsy things in the countryside. Matthew was pensive on the way home and barely spoke for two hours. Finally, as we pulled up outside the house, he found his voice. "Alright, you win," he said, "It begins tomorrow." Strangely, I am not as delighted as I thought I'd be. In fact, I'm anything but.

* Matthew and Louis were in the garden for seven minutes and 29 seconds, according to the digital clock on the microwave, before the first screams were heard. Louis effortlessly clambered up towards the top of the tree and then down again like a squirrel. On the way down he nimbly avoided a large, stationary obstacle - Matthew. Wearing a cycling helmet, knee-pads and a pair of Marigold washing-up gloves, he had somehow marooned himself 10ft from the ground and was clinging to a large branch while he waited for help.

Louis came in saying that his father was asking for a mattress to facilitate a safe landing, or, if that was too difficult, would I mind calling the fire brigade. The mattress was, of course, much too heavy for Louis and me to drag down the stairs so instead we rounded up all the cushions in the house and arrayed them at the bottom of the tree to soften the fall. One hour and 25 minutes later, from the determined expression on Matthew's face, it looked as if he might well be nearly ready to jump.

He would have been up there much longer, had a wasp not taken such a close interest in him. His terror of anaphylactic shock outranks his vertigo, so in the end he shut his eyes and relaxed his grip on the tree. Physically he was unscathed (although one of the Marigolds somehow got torn on the way down), and psychologically he also seemed unharmed. However, he did declare the garden a no-go zone, officially because of the extreme heat, and announced his intention to teach Louis the finer points of cricket indoors, ordering him into the sitting-room for his first tutorial.

I could hear the scraping and banging on the floorboards above me, and the frequent cries of "howzat!" and "good shot!" They seemed to be having an excellent time.

In response to a piercing scream from Louis, I raced upstairs, but was not allowed into the sitting-room. An armchair had been pushed in front of the door. "Leave us alone, please," said Matthew tartly, when I started rattling the door handle. "It's no good coming over the hysterical mother the minute he gets hit in the chest by a ball that reared up off a good length. He'll be alright in a bit."

Remembering that it was possible to gain access to the sitting room via the verandah, and after 10 minutes spent searching for the key to the verandah door, I finally burst in on them. Louis seemed to have calmed down a great deal. In fact, they were both silent, and all I could hear were the gentle clicks as they manoeuvred their thumbs around their PlayStation consoles. The game they were playing was called Brian Lara Cricket.

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