This weekend I went to see my parents. Life has always been hairy around my dad, not least because until recently he’s been fairly hairy anyway. But he’s one of those old-old Labour types who lapse into quasi-Tory authoritarian Tebbitness far too often, and go on about people who aren’t white because he had such a miserable time in miserable Blackburn for so long. I understand all that, but my own sense of humour is normally dry enough for such sniping little sparks to set everything on fire very quickly.
But we had a wonderful weekend, K, my parents and I. We managed to lay down more happy times to cement the cracks that arose from having a moody, attention-seeking misfit of a son bounce back from his hoity-toity life down south every few months to sulk upstairs, wander round the hills of Mellor and Billinge Woods, or go out drinking with mates till the wee small.
Why were we able to enjoy ourselves without arguments? What was different about this weekend that meant we could set aside our politics and our bickering to just be able to enjoy each other’s company? Well, we’ve found a common ground we can share, you see; a place free of grubby real-world considerations; a happy, happy without any of us feeling cramped or left out. And what, you no doubt are hollering into the gaps between your keyboard keys as you read this, is this panacea to all of our familial ills?
We experimented with Scrabble, which worked for a few holidays together, although K. never likes scoring points for words so much as building a communal crossword worthy of Araucaria, and shies away from any literary competitiveness. My parents, as unwitting consumers of an almost entirely visual culture, have tried in the past to bring in DVDs and TV programmes, which as you might expect fell on the stoniest-ground ground of wholemeal stony grounds. Even when we watch TV, by which I mean stomach an episode of Harry Hill’s TV Burp, we get up at the end specifically to avoid Strictly Come Icing or whatever’s on after it. K. and I have managed to pipe Beatles songs through the iTrip to each radio in the house in turn, which went down reasonably well, but armed with only the LRB and opinionated conversation we had no followup.
A card game fills that space admirably, though. It’s sufficiently silly in some ways—although you’d never dare say that to my mum—that it attracts less sharp-tongued gamesmanship than longer, more cerebral boardgames. You also can’t sit for ten minutes perusing the dictionary during a Cribbage game (yes, yes, I know; but it’s family doing it); well, you can, but it won’t help much. And, most of all, the board and pegs, and the complex patois of counting scores—fifteen-two, fifteen-four, five-six-seven-eight, a pair’s ten and one for his nob—keeps my dad amused and stops him saying something to make steam come out of my ears. Perfect.