Glory Days 

(This was first published in Le News 25 September 2014)

‘How much longer do you plan to go on living?’ the seven-year-old asked me the other day, after giving me one of those long, appraising looks that children are so good at.

I like to think that this question had nothing to do with greed for her inheritance (which currently stands at: my wedding ring; a nice pair of earrings; and several drawers full of denim jeans in assorted shapes and sizes).

No. I think she asked because I’m turning forty-four next month and that seems so old to her that she can hardly believe I’m still tottering about on my geriatric legs.

That’s okay. No offence taken. I remember being in my early twenties and thinking there really wasn’t much point in living past thirty because the people I knew in their thirties were incredibly boring. They never went out at night; they just got together at each other’s houses. And they were obsessed with cooking! They’d start planning that night’s dinner sometime in the mid-afternoon, instead of  – thrillingly – waiting to see what might be in the fridge when they got back from work. In my case that was seldom more than a bottle of vodka and several nail polishes, but I had a string of takeaway restaurants on my route home, and absolutely no gastronomic standards. Life was good and forty wasn’t even on the radar.

Then I met someone and … well. Here we are. That’s where fooling around on the first date will get you: married, with two children and a house full of noisy pets.

So now I have all the trappings of adulthood: a lounge suite that sort of matches; a fridge with real food in it; insurances; wrinkles; a compression bandage for my left knee. But deep down inside … I don’t feel like I’ve ever really grown up. The real me is still a twenty-something, skipping around Joburg without a care in the world (except being mugged or hijacked, of course, but you know what I mean. No other cares in the world).

I don’t think I’m alone in this. My mother, now in her seventies, once told me that she’s never felt a day over twenty-five. And I suspect that most people feel this way, to some extent: inside the most buttoned-up of businessmen is the hairy youth they used to be, playing air-guitar like it’s an actual instrument that they actually know how to play; inside the most professional of businesswomen there’s a girl going crazy on the dance floor; buried deep in the most responsible of parents is a younger, wilder version, who once did things that they’ll never tell their children about. Or, maybe they’ll tell their children about these things as cautionary tales, but they’ll never admit how much fun they were.

Anyhow. Back to birthdays. I do believe I’m overdue for a mid-life crisis, which I was intending to have as soon as I could clear my diary. And for it, I was planning to get a really big tattoo, increased surface area being one of the benefits of ageing.

Vraiment?’ asked the seven-year-old (a phrase and teenage tone that she recently picked up from her Furby).

I was just starting to defend myself in a considered, grown-up sort of way (‘Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!’) when the smaller child burst into noisy tears.

‘You can’t be in the middle of your life,’ she sobbed. ‘You have to live forever!’

So there we go. It seems I’m too old for youthful high-jinks and too young for an Indian summer.

Happy birthday to me.

Nobody Messes with the Easter Bunny 

(This was first published in Le News 18 September 2014)

When my children were small, I decided that I would never lie to them. No matter how painful the truth, I would always be the one to tell it to them. (This was before they caught me scoffing the last of the cooking chocolate, and asked me what I was eating. And I said, ‘Broccoli, of course. What else would I be snacking on?’)

Anyway. From the very beginning, I told them the truth about Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. And they were mostly fine with that. Father Christmas is actually Daddy, leaving floury footprints around the lounge to trick us? Fine. The Tooth Fairy is Mommy? Whatever. As long as the cash is where it’s supposed to be.  

But when it came to the Easter Bunny … well. There was no way that my children were not believing in that.

‘Can I come outside with you and hide the eggs?’ the smaller child asked me, one inclement Easter morning. ‘I might see the Easter Bunny.’

‘But … you know the Bunny doesn’t exist, right?’


‘So why do you want to come with me?’

‘Because I might see the Easter Bunny.’

I was reminded of this conversation recently, when I was reading psychologist Drew Westen’s book, The Political Brain. In it, he describes a study in which people with strong political beliefs were presented with two contradictory statements, both made by their party. They didn’t even seem to notice the inconsistencies, let alone be bothered by them (although they definitely saw the contradictions made by the party they didn’t support).

How is this even possible? How could you hear someone say, ‘I would never do X. I think X is a terrible thing to do,’ then actually see them do X, and … I don’t know, somehow … by some mental voodoo … just be fine with it?

I suppose that if you really, really like that person, you’ll find a way to rationalise it. Westen’s study suggests that the subjects didn’t actually spend much time on this part. Instead, their brains ‘seemed to recruit beliefs’ that quickly soothed them back into their happy state of certainty.

But it also seems that, for a brief moment, the clash between what someone in this position wants to believe and what they actually see, makes them uncomfortable. So their brain works really hard to make them feel good again.

As Westen explains, ‘Once partisans had found a way to reason to false conclusions, not only did neural circuits involved in negative emotions turn off, but circuits involved in positive emotions turned on.’

So, people believe what they want to. And the more wrong they are, the better they feel, because their brains reward them for it. For some people, that may mean a nice big dose of dopamine. And for others – some small, animal-loving, sweet-toothed others – the reward for their wholehearted belief in something that they know isn’t true, is the  possibility of a giant cuddly bunny heading their way, carrying a basketful of chocolate.

Who can argue with that?

People Who Need People. And People Who Don’t. 

(This was first published in Le News 10 September 2014)

Sometimes I like to think of my family as a patchwork quilt. Because we’re covered in cat hair and permanently draped over the couch in the TV room. Ha ha. No, but seriously. I think of it as a quilt because, as any quilt-maker can tell you, organising the various pieces of fabric into a whole can be a challenge. The bits might all be lovely on their own, but they need to achieve some sort of harmony if you want a quilt that doesn’t give you a headache every time you look at it.

As with soft furnishings, so with life. Two or more people, with unique characters, different needs and (sometimes horrible) habits are forced to live together in one house for extended periods of time without going completely mad … it may sound like a description of Big Brother, but I’m actually talking about families.

For example. In my family, we have a few differences of opinion around issues such as sleep (my husband and I enjoy it but the children aren’t big fans) and holidays (I’m into Slow Travel while my husband tears through destinations as if the tour bus were being tailgated by Time’s Winged Chariot). But these are minor incompatibilities. Our real area of mismatch – where we just can’t get our pieces of fabric to fit together – is in our attitudes to other people.

My husband is an extrovert, which means that socialising not only makes him happy, but actually gives him energy. He’ll come back from a weekend of sport, brunches, barbecues and parties all fuelled for the week. The bigger child is cut from the same cloth, only hers is a rather bolder pattern: she absolutely lives to socialise. She can’t walk to the postbox and back without making a new friend, and is constantly coming home with someone’s mother’s telephone number scribbled on a piece of paper, which I must then use to cold call and set up play dates. She’s done this at parties, in restaurants and, most recently, on a twenty minute boat ride up the Thames.

I, on the other hand, am an introvert. Socialising makes me tired (most probably because of all the extroverts, sucking out my energy to fuel themselves) and I need a fair bit of time alone to recuperate. The smaller child is like me but more so. Much more so. When we were planning her birthday party, her biggest concern was not the cake, or the decorations, but how we could best keep everyone out of her bedroom. And only last week, on hearing that friends were popping over for a visit, her immediate response was, ‘Oh no! Lock the doors!’

‘But I thought you liked them,’ I said, as she headed off to her Happy Place (a cardboard box under her bed).

‘I love them,’ she agreed. ‘But not in the house.’

I’m not sure yet how we’ll work these disparate needs into a family that is both vaguely socially normal and still respectful of the space that some members need. But I do know what the quilt that represents us should be like: it should be soft and warm, and big enough to wrap around all of us, and whatever friends we want to bring along; a joyfully-coloured, free-motion crazy quilt with plenty of embellishments. And some pins left in.

On the Beach

(This was first published in Le News 4 September 2014)

One morning during our recent summer holiday in England, my husband leaped out of bed, joyfully announcing, ‘It’s a Beach Day today!’

‘Really?’ I asked, peering out of the window at the grey sky and the trees bending horizontally in the wind. ‘Why do you say that?’

‘Because it’s not raining!’

The children and I balked, but my husband, who has spent time in the UK before, reassured us. ‘It’s what everyone does on a day like this. Let’s go.’

So we grabbed our beach gear – fleeces, jeans, umbrellas – and headed off. And he was right. Everyone was doing it. Although they were doing it with metres of stripey windbreaks and flasks of steaming tea, so we really stuck out as sadly underequipped foreigners.

No matter. The family had a wonderful time. My husband went surfing, and the children raced around with buckets, spades and fishing nets, giddy with beach-joy. I watched them for a bit, then retreated behind a rocky outcrop to attempt hibernation. And while I did so, my mind turned to memories of Beaches Past, and how different they have been to one another.

For example, before we left South Africa we spent a bit of time in the Cape and landed up, on New Year’s Day, on the beach in Muizenberg. The sun was blazing, the waves were big, and you could hardly see the sand for all the people: people playing beach sports, people sunbathing, and lots of people in the water, paddling, swimming, bodyboarding, surfing, kayaking …

And every now and then the Shark Spotter, sitting high on an east-facing cliff, would see a dark shape easing along the coast. The spotter would then radio down to a compatriot on the beach, who’d sound the shark siren and raise a white flag, and everyone would get out of the water. Calmly and immediately. There was no Jaws-like panic, no stampede, no screaming. Paddlers, swimmers, surfers … they just walked out of the sea and waited on the beach until the dark shape moved on. When the white flag was replaced by a green one, they trooped back into the water again.

I thought it was all pretty hardcore, so I was very surprised a few months later when we headed down to Lac Léman for our first Swiss swim, and my daughter refused to get in.

The whole lakeside area looked like something out of a fairytale, with a manicured lawn and white swans drifting past us on water as flat and clear as a mirror. There was no one else there, apart from a group of pensioners having a chat in the sun after their morning swim.

‘No way,’ said the small one, sitting back down on her towel. ‘Too dangerous.’

Dangerous?’ I repeated, baffled. ‘Child! You’ve never been anywhere safer!’

In reply, she narrowed her eyes at me, as if she’d just realised I was actually trying to kill her. ‘Mommy. How can you expect me to swim on a beach where there are no shark flags?’

Things That Go Bump in the Night

(This was first published in Le News 28 August 2014)

Every time I read an article about someone who swears they saw the face of Elvis in a piece of toast, I’m reminded of how good we humans are at putting random shapes into patterns, and trying to make sense of them. It’s what makes cloud-watching so much fun; it’s also what gave us the evolutionary edge over animals that peered into prehistoric forests and couldn’t mentally organise the shadows well enough to tell a sabre-toothed tiger from a hole in the ground.

I just wish my children wouldn’t practice their pattern-making late at night, because it’s creepy.

For example, one dark evening when I was alone in our Johannesburg house with my then two-year-old, she looked out of the window and said, ‘Mommy, there’s a man in the garden.’

There are few words that will galvanise a Joburg-dweller into action faster, so, with the  panic button in one hand and the telephone in the other, I turned off all the lights and peered outside.

‘There’s no one out there,’ I said, after a while.

My daughter agreed. ‘No. He’s in here now,’ she told me, pointing to a completely empty corner of the room.

It took several strong cups of tea before I’d let go of that panic button.

Another human skill – although perhaps one with less evolutionary benefit – is the ability to manufacture drama from absolutely nothing. Here, the best example I can think of is a reality TV show I once watched, about ghost hunters. (Yes, I know, but there was nothing else on). The presenter had, for some reason, to walk across a courtyard in the dark while her co-presenter, who was in radio contact with her, kept saying things like, ‘You’re a quarter of the way across and you’ve seen no sign of the terrifying ghost that haunts this hotel? No? Nothing? I hope you make it all the way without meeting the terrifying ghost …’ .

Nothing happened and she made it across safely, but the poor woman had worked herself into such a state that, by the time she reached the other side, she was a gibbering, sobbing wreck.

The reason I mention all of this is that I saw both of these things – pattern-making and drama-mongering – at work last night, in our hotel room, with my children. 

It started when I moved a bag and cast a shadow on the carpet. But the bigger child thought it was something else.

‘I saw something running across the floor,’ she told me. ‘It went under the bed.’

We checked and found nothing, but she was insistent. ‘It looked like a mouse. I thought I saw ears.’

What colour was it?’ asked her little sister, ever supportive.

‘It was whitish brownish blackish.’

By the time the children had finished discussing it, it had grown a puffy tail and whiskers, and was the size of a cat.

‘Mommy!’ the smaller child screamed five minutes later, pointing out the window. ‘I saw it on that tree-branch! It was glowing!’

This went on for some time, until the innocent shadow cast by my bag had taken on the properties of some sort of radioactive tree-dwelling vampire badger. Sleep did not come easily last night, to any of us.

Anyway, I offer this as a cautionary tale to parents: don’t bother planning an action-packed holiday for your children, filled with visits to science museums, boat rides and days on the beach. If your children are anything like mine, it’s very likely that the most memorable part of their trip will be the one thing that they didn’t actually see.

On the Road 

(This was first published in Le News 14 August 2014)

If marriage is a journey (and not a destination, as Jane Austen says), I want mine to be like a car trip: a nice long one, on interesting roads. Although not as interesting as London’s M25 which I was on yesterday and which may have actually taken several years off my life.

There are so many things to love about road trips: all the family is snuggled up together in the car, along with the usual giant toy dinosaurs and monkeys. It’s like being in a big, travelling bird’s nest. The proximity really gives us a chance to appreciate each other fully. For instance, my children really appreciate having a captive audience to perform to. And on this most recent road trip, my husband and I really had a chance to appreciate the children’s sweet voices, as they sang us a seven-hour medley of their two favourite One Direction songs.

Yes, I’ll admit that road trips have their challenges: my husband seems to have developed a permanent twitch in his right eye, probably caused by the children asking, ‘How far to Hamleys?’ every three minutes from the moment we pulled out of our driveway. Also, it must be said, those children have let themselves go, somewhat: the bigger child ‘lost’ her hairbrush somewhere in France and now looks like a thistle, while the smaller one is pink and shiny as a ham, glazed with a happy combination of apple juice and raspberry ice cream.

But … road trips! They’re good! They’re fun! And, very importantly, road trips let me keep an eye on my husband. Because he was born under a wandering star, and he must be corralled. For instance, he will happily sit in an airport departure lounge for ages, doing nothing. But as soon as the boarding gate opens he’ll stand up and announce, ‘I’ll be back in a minute’. Then he goes somewhere and he’s never back in minute. He wasn’t ‘back in a minute’ fourteen years ago in Bangkok International Airport, when he first said those terrible words to me. We’d been first in the boarding queue but by the time he eventually reappeared, we were last and so we had no overhead luggage space at all. I had to fly all the way back to Joburg with five bags of Thai silk, a decorative bamboo ball and three Jenga sets on my lap.

Nor was he ‘back in a minute’ ten years later, when we flew from France to South Africa, with two small children in tow.

‘Please,’ I begged the ground crew, who had not only closed the boarding gate but were switching off the lights. ‘Wait!’

‘Well, where is he?’ they asked, looking down the long empty passage, devoid of husband.

‘I don’t know, ‘ I wailed. ‘But he won’t be long. He said he’d be back in a minute.’

At least once he’s on an aeroplane he can’t get off again. Unlike a train. ‘Back in a minute,’ he’ll say, as the whistle blows and the train starts moving. Apparently that’s the perfect time to hop off and get a sandwich from the platform shop.

No, I definitely prefer road trips. There we are, strapped into our seats and hurtling forward together, for better and for worse: when the children sing and when they wail; when the scenery is good and when the gift packs of French cheese start to fog the atmosphere; when the roads are smooth and easy, and when they’re the M25.

I think it’s a good metaphor for marriage.

The Natural Order 

(A version of this was first published in Le News 31 July 2014)

‘Nasty, brutish and short’, my husband observed the other day, as we sat on the patio in the rain, having sundowners.

‘That’s a bit harsh,’ I said, watching the children smear yoghurt all over the newly washed windows. ‘Brutish, yes, undeniably. And of course they’re short. They’re still young. But nasty? I don’t know … some days they can be quite sweet.’

He gave me a look. ‘I was quoting Thomas Hobbes. And he was describing the life of human beings in their natural state, outside of an organised society.’

My ears glazed over at that point, but it did get me thinking: about organised societies; about the natural state of things; and about who it was that threw down a poo gauntlet in the driveway.

But let me start at the beginning. When we first arrived here, we were immediately struck by the loveliness of the Swiss countryside, with its fields of buttercups, happy cows and complete absence of hand-sized spiders.

‘Isn’t Nature lovely here,’ we rhapsodised. And it was lovely for a while. But soon, things started to happen. Strange things. Things that suggested that perhaps Nature was not as enamoured of us as we were of it.

First, our neighbour’s car was sabotaged by a weasel, which chewed through her brake cable and caused her to almost drive into a fence post. Then – and I cannot help but feel these incidents are connected – some small, nocturnal animal … how shall I put it? … defecated on the head of a Playmobil ballerina that the children had left in the driveway. Right on its head. It’s hard not to read that as an insult of some sort: the culprit walked right past the toy elephant, right past the pile of dinosaurs that always litters our front step, and crapped on the head of the only human-looking toy out there.

And then I started noticing odd little things: the way birds stopped chattering as we passed under their trees in the forest; the filthy look a goat once gave me, when I walked through its field.

Call me paranoid but by the time a slug insinuated itself into my shoe, I’d come to see these things as acts of aggression.

‘Nature, red in tooth and claw*,’ I quoted, extremely grateful that slugs have neither. ‘I think it’s revolting.’

‘Yes,’ my children agreed. ‘Yuck.’

But I didn’t mean that kind of of revolting. I meant, Nature appears to be rising up in some sort of protest. Against us. And honestly, who can blame it?

Yesterday the children found me sitting slumped in front of the computer with a stupefied expression – not an unusual look, for me, I’m sorry to say, but I must have appeared particularly zoned because they remarked on it.

‘What are you doing?’ they asked.

‘Reading the news.’

‘Why is your face so sad?’

‘Because there are so many people in the world who are revolting.’

‘Like the slugs.’

But I didn’t mean that kind of revolting. Not like the slugs and weasels and whatever unburdened itself in the driveway. I meant ‘revolting’ in a uniquely human way: nasty, and brutish and very, very shortsighted.

*’Nature, red in tooth and claw …’ from ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’, by Alfred Tennyson.

So … how about this weather? 

(First published in Le News 17 July 2014)

Funny you should ask. I’ve been thinking about winter a lot, lately. This may seem a strange time, what with all the blue skies and sunflowers, but it’s best to be prepared: what Switzerland lacks in poisonous spiders and man-eating potholes, it more than makes up for with deadly weather. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I really believe the weather has been trying to kill us since we got here.

For example: we were newly arrived from Johannesburg (where winter requires nothing more than an extra coat), when the ice storms of 2012 hit. The temperature dropped to minus twelve, my eyeballs froze solid and someone – a European, obviously – invited me to go snowshoeing. At night! I tried to explain: a person from Africa does not leave the house in minus twelve. That is when a person from Africa climbs into bed, pours libations of vin chaud to Old Man Winter, and begs for mercy. (This of course was immediately disproved by my husband and the bigger child, who raced past me into the snow, joyfully chanting, ‘Ski, ski, ski,’ and making me feel like a wimp.)

Anyway, we survived that and by the time winter came around again, I was ready for it. I’d bought some serious cold-weather kit and was about to knit myself a full-body thermal balaclava … but … no ice storms. Just snow. And snow. And snow. None of my Arctic gear was actually necessary because I kept warm by shovelling the driveway four times a day. I would’ve done better to invest in a team of sled dogs.

With the help of more vin chaud and enormous amounts of Swiss chocolate, we survived that experience and when summer rolled around, I rolled into summer, a good deal more padded and a lot more weather-confident. Because summer I can handle. Come heatwaves, drought or summer floods, no problem. As long as you have sunscreen, a barbecue and a cold drink at hand, you’ll be fine. But then we were attacked from above by hailstones the size of Luxembourg, and my confidence plummeted again. It didn’t help that I had just, seconds before, remarked to my anxious children that Johannesburg had far worse storms, and would they please stop being silly and come out from underneath the couch. No sooner had they completely ignored me, than a bolt of lightning destroyed our electronics and left my credibility in tatters.

So, I give up. I obviously don’t understand Swiss weather at all, and I have absolutely no idea what the seasons will throw down next. My only comfort is that no one else seems to, either. So far, no matter what the Climatic Malfunction, someone in the know has assured me that it’s ‘very unusual’. A three-week summer downpour that stops the trains and washes away half of Switzerland? Very unusual. Snow in May? First snowfall of the year only in January? Last snowfall of the year in early December? All very unusual. No one has actually told me what is usual, so maybe it doesn’t exist. And that’s okay. As this little poem (found on the Internet, author unknown) says:

Whether the weather be fine,
Whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

Up, Up and Away

(First published in Le News 3 July 2014)

I’ve never understood sport. I don’t mean the rules – although, quite honestly, whoever invented cricket must have been insane. No, I mean I’ve never understood the appeal of sport; never understood why supporters go so far out of their way to have their hopes crushed and their hearts broken. Take the current World Cup for example: thirty-two teams competing and only one winner. That makes for a lot of losers, and their devastation is terrible to see. Everywhere you look after a game, you see supporters clutching their heads and crying their painted flags off. How is this fun?

‘Why do you do it to yourself?’ I once asked my husband after South Africa lost a rugby World Cup, and he and his friends spiralled immediately into a depression that they only came out of eight years later.

Of course, your team may win and that’s very nice. But most teams never have and probably never will, and their supporters still go and paint the flags on and cry when they lose.

No. Sport seemed to me to be a pit of despair and I didn’t understand it. Until my five-year-old fell in love with a balloon.

From the minute she handed her pocket money over and took possession of a giant horse-shaped helium balloon, I knew it was going to end in tears. Of course it was. There’s no good end for helium balloons, is there? Either they slip their moorings and float away, or they slowly deflate into some sad thing bobbing around the house, that you can’t believe you paid all that money for.

But as far as the child was concerned, it was the world’s best toy. She played with it all morning – feeding it paper-grass, stroking it and telling it how much she loved it; and of course, taking it outside, to run up and down the driveway with it flying behind her.

It came as a surprise to absolutely no one but the child herself when the balloon eventually slipped from her grasp and floated away. I’ll spare readers a description of the scene that followed but … it was bad. So you’d think that, when the bigger child handed over her cash the next week, for a similar balloon, she would’ve taken every precaution to keep it safe.

‘Let me tie something heavy to it,’ I offered. ‘Then it can’t float away.’

‘No thanks,’  she answered. ‘If it can’t float away … it’s not really a balloon.’

‘Ah ha’, I thought. ‘Perhaps this explains sport.’ No, actually, I didn’t think that at all. What I really thought was, ‘Why the hell does no one in this house ever listen to me?’ But some time later I was musing on what she’d said, and then I thought, perhaps this explains sport. Could it be that the threat of losing a balloon (or football game) isn’t a deterrent at all? Could the threat of losing actually make it all more exciting? Could it sweeten the time spent running up and down the driveway (or painting on flags and cheering from the stands) with a big, beautiful, horse balloon (or a big, beautiful World Cup trophy) floating overhead?

I put the idea to my husband, who was settling in on the couch, beer in hand, for a rugby game: ‘Would you enjoy watching as much if your team always won?’

But strangely, he didn’t feel like philosophising just then. I’ll have to wait until the game is over and he’s stopped crying, and ask again.


Be a Sport

(First published in Le News 26 June 2014)

With all the football fever in the air, my husband has been fantasising about – finally, finally –  getting one of the children interested in sport. He gave up with me just after we met, but with his daughters … well, he might still have someone to watch the rugby with; to go to cricket matches with; maybe even to play golf with, one wonderful day.

His plan has always been to start them young and mould them according to his sporting preferences, and to this end he has showered them with equipment. They’ve had tiny Springbok rugby jerseys since they were babies, little soccer balls, soft rugby balls, plastic golf clubs and a baseball glove (despite the fact that no one in the family has any idea how to play baseball). But the Svengali of Sport suffered a crushing defeat the afternoon he took the five-year-old to a nearby sports ground to teach her how to play football.

Father and daughter kicked a ball around for a while, and everyone had a great time. But then, just when he thought they might start scoring goals, the child decided that the ball was, in fact, a badger.

‘What an imagination,’ chuckled my husband. ‘It’s a badger, is it? How cute. Hello Badger.’ Pat, pat on its round little badger head. ‘Right. Now let’s try to kick the badger through those goalposts.’

The child screamed in horror and delivered a stern lecture to her father about how we treat animals, and they spent the next few minutes engaged in some intense badger-sensitivity training.

Then she said she was bored of that game, and the ball wasn’t an animal anymore.

‘Fabulous,’ he said, taking aim.

Another horrified scream. It seems the badger-ball had turned into an egg-ball. A cheetah egg-ball, to be more precise.

I had to interrupt his story here. ‘Did you explain to her that cheetahs are mammals?’ I mean, talk about a Teachable Moment! But apparently that’s beside the point. The point is that he never got to kick the ball through the goalposts and he had to suffer the indignity of standing in the middle of a sports field, playing Cuddle the Badger with a football.

For a while after that it seemed as if he’d given up on the child-sports thing. But the World Cup has breathed new life into his dream. One day … one day someone might actually use the mini goalposts in the backyard as something other than a jewellery-holder.

I think the seven-year-old may be his answer. She recently got to touch a trophy at her school’s sports day, and is now obsessed with the idea of winning one herself. She’s chosen her favourite sport and she’s willing to put in some hard work to get to the top. Now all she needs is a trainer. I’m not sure how much my husband knows about the 10 metre egg-and-spoon race, but he’d better learn fast.