“So if you’re OK with that,” I said, “I’ll spend the afternoon watching the cricket.”
“No problem at all.”
My beloved wife smiled sweetly. Too sweetly. After twenty years of marriage I should have realised…
“You know we’re babysitting don’t you?”
Lauren – an angelic seven year old – arrived half an hour later. Just as England started their second innings.
It was ten years since I’d last been in charge of a seven year old. I had a vague recollection that they were hard work. Was that when I started drinking every day?
“I thought you could take her for a walk with the dog,” Jane said. What? When the cricket was on? Besides, I wasn’t sure if Pepper saw eye to eye with Lauren. Last time she’d been at our house she’d been wearing pink wings. The dog doesn’t really ‘do’ pink wings – in much the same way that she doesn’t ‘do’ bicycles, crash helmets, or sunglasses.
I glanced out of the window. “It’s raining,” I said, trying not to put too much relief into my voice.
“I could bake a cake with her,” Jane said. Brilliant idea. And it wasn’t raining at Lords. I settled down to watch England’s successful rearguard action. Adam Lyth was out next ball.
Jane and Lauren turned their attention to a lemon drizzle cake. Meanwhile the England batsmen walked back to the pavilion at regular intervals. “I’m going to get changed,” Jane announced. “And I’m tired. I might have a lie down.”
I was presented with Lauren and a reading book. A perfect antidote to the cricket. Is there a greater joy than curling up with a book and a child who wants to read?
“Come on, sweetheart. What’s your book about?”
“Unicorns and fairies.” So it was. And both of then more believable than England holding out for a draw.
“Am I reading to you or are you going to try and read to me?”
“I’ll read it.” And a fine job she did too. I’m clearly out of touch with reading standards for seven year olds but Lauren seemed to be right up there. “Aud… Aud…” she said. “What’s that word?”
“Audition. It means you’re trying out for something. So all the unicorns are auditioning to see who pulls the king’s coach.”
As I said: life does not offer a greater pleasure.
My wife eventually surfaced and invited Lauren to water the tomatoes. I reluctantly turned my attention back to England. Worse than I’d feared. Much worse. Maybe I could console myself with a slice of lemon drizzle cake?
No, I couldn’t. “Dog turds,” my wife said lovingly. “You’ll have to clear them up before I can take Lauren in the garden.”
Just as well I did. “I’m bored,” Lauren announced after two minutes of watering. “What’s that?” she asked, spotting something worn and well-chewed on the grass.
“It’s a Frisbee. Have you never played Frisbee? Well, you hold it like this…”
Frisbee. Throwing the dog’s ball. More reading. We did it all. Eventually, it was time to go home. Lauren gave me a hug and a kiss. I felt quite sad.
I felt something else as well.
No two ways about it. I deserved a glass of red wine. And half an hour with the cricket. England must have rallied by now. I slumped on the sofa and turned the TV on.
Bowled him! Anderson’s out. Australia have won…
Hopeless. No matter, here was my wife to console me.
“I think you passed,” she said.
She smiled even more sweetly. “To see if you’d make a good Grandad one day…”