As a lone male in an otherwise all-female household, I have got used to losing every argument. So when the conversation turned to ways that we might provide ourselves with some festive entertainment the other evening I had little hope that my suggestion of a game of charades would get very far.
OK, it wasn't a terribly original idea. But it would have been the same if it had been, and once my daughters started groaning and my wife came in with a counter-proposal that we watch Mamma Mia! on the DVD that the cat had given her for Christmas, the discussion was swiftly concluded. I barely bothered to fight my corner. Save your energies for more important causes, I told myself.
Christmas had yielded a fair few hours' worth of DVDs. There were box sets of Sex and the City and Prison Break. There was series one of Outnumbered. There was Nadal vs Federer. And there was Mamma Mia!
God knows how any of us were going to find the time to watch all this stuff, but I guessed my daughters would manage somehow. They're pretty good like that. And I could see that there was a case for at least setting out across the foothills of the DVD mountain.
Both my daughters had already seen Mamma Mia!, and the younger one, who's 15, said she reckoned I would only last about 25 minutes. I wondered whether that was the point at which Pierce Brosnan started singing. In all that I'd read and heard about Mamma Mia!, that was what had stayed in my mind.
"You are NOT stopping watching after 25 minutes!" her sister told me firmly. "We are ALL watching Mamma Mia!"
In the end, both my daughters were wrong. I lasted longer than 25 minutes. I lasted just over an hour. At that point tiredness began to overwhelm me. I was losing the will to live. As usual, I'd got the worst seat in the room, a swivel desk chair at a tight angle to the screen. And Pierce Brosnan had just started singing.
All I wanted to do was go upstairs to bed, but not before I'd reassured myself in my judgement by checking out a couple of lacerating reviews of Mamma Mia! online. And since my wife and daughters were enjoying the film so much, doubling up with laughter in their comfortable positions on the sofa, I thought they might not notice me slipping away.
In the morning, my wife and I discussed the Mamma Mia! phenomenon over breakfast. My wife said it was all about showing that women in their fifties could still have a good time. For my part, I likened its appeal to Strictly Come Dancing. Famous people doing something they're not famous for rather badly. Both theses seemed to have merit.
There followed a discussion in which the standard of Meryl Streep's dancing was stoutly defended, but my daughters and I agreed that she irritated the hell out of us. And yes, Pierce Brosnan's singing was appalling. But then that, I said, was the point. If his singing had been any better it would have been a whole lot worse. Pierce Brosnan singing was like John Sergeant dancing.
It was beginning to look as if it had been a satisfactory collective experience after all when my 18-year-old reminded me that I had failed to last the course. "When it's YOUR turn to choose a DVD, why should we watch it all the way through?"
Fair enough. I'm always trying to get her and her sister to watch some old black-and-white classic. Double Indemnity, for example. I've waged a fruitless Double Indemnity campaign for years. It's a tough job, and I'd just made it tougher.
Then I remembered something I'd read in one of the reviews I'd checked out – that in Mamma Mia! they sang all Abba's big hits except "Fernando". Now it just so happened that "Fernando" had figured prominently at a karaoke evening I'd been to recently. (It's not all domestic bliss, you know). It's a great song, and when I discovered that it didn't feature in Mamma Mia!, the film went down even further in my estimation.
"Fernando?" my wife said. "They do sing Fernando!"
"Not according to this review I read," I said.
"Really? Didn't they sing "Fernando?"
"I don't think they did, no," my daughter said.
"Oh right. OK."
Not quite every argument lost then.