Watch and Learn. And Visit A&E…

Just ordered a skateboard for a (nearly) six year old, tweeted a virtual pal of mine. This isn’t going to end well…

It’ll be fine, I reassuringly tweeted back. Unless, of course, your OH jumps on it and says, ‘Watch and learn…’

Says the voice of experience, she replied.

Sadly, she’s right. And I have the scars – and the stamps on my A&E loyalty card – to prove it.

Twenty or so years ago – the years when I didn’t fall lovingly on every pair of trousers with an ‘athletic’ waist – I played squash.

Jane and I had been living together for four days when they phoned from the sports centre. “He’s crashed his head into the wall. We think he may need to go to A&E.”

As that was my fourth visit to A&E in one season – broken rib, ball in the eye and something I’ve mercifully forgotten – I reasoned that it was probably time for my squash racquet to gather dust in the hall.

Time to do something far less dangerous. Something that couldn’t possibly injure me.

Become a Dad…

“Right,” I said to Tom eight or nine years later. “Watch and learn. I’m going to put the football between my feet. Then I’ll flick it up behind me. While it’s still in the air I’m going to turn and volley it into the goal. Or through the apple tree in our case.”

“Mum said we weren’t supposed to play football in the garden…”

“Well Mum’s not watching is she? Besides, football is what gardens are for.”

“Are you sure, Dad?”

“Just watch, son. I could have turned professional…”

“Thierry Henry,” my wife muttered sarcastically when the receptionist in A&E asked my name. “And in answer to your next question, a lot older than he thinks he is.”

Ruptured ankle ligaments. Six weeks wearing a shoe that was three sizes too big for me…

But two years later it was all forgotten. I was fit, lean and ready to race. So what if Jessica had won the area cross-country the day before we came on holiday? She’d be no match for her Dad.

We stood on the beach in Norfolk. The sand dunes were what… a hundred yards away?

“Come on, Jessica. Race you to the top of the sand dunes. The one with the ice-cream van at the top.”

“Don’t be stupid, Dad, I’ll win easily.”

“Don’t be stupid,” my wife said. “It’s the first day of the holiday.”

“I’m not being stupid. I’m just being – ”

“A man,” she sighed. “A man who needs to show off to his children.”

We lined up. Jane said ‘go.’ We’d gone twenty yards when someone shot me in the back of the left leg.

Torn hamstring. A week limping round Norfolk with an ice pack inside my trousers. A lifetime’s derision from my family.

I slowly retreated from the sports field. A few gentle games of squash to teach Jessica, but that was it.

Besides, who needs sport when you can put your back out emptying the dishwasher?

The problem is, the competitive spirit doesn’t die. And Jessica’s home from university in a few days. She phoned last week: says she’s been playing squash this term. Says she’s quite good.

And there’s still a dusty squash racquet in the hall…

Challenge accepted!

“I’ve booked a squash court for when Jessica comes home.”

“That’s kind of you. I didn’t know her friends here played squash.”

“They don’t. I’m playing her.”

“Ha, ha, darling. Yes, of course you are…”

“I’m serious.”

My wife still doesn’t believe me. She probably won’t. Not until she gets a phone call on Christmas Eve…

A note for American readers of ‘Best Dad.’ A&E is Accident and Emergency – what you’d call the Emergency Room


  1. This made me laugh out rather too loud. I’ve become increasingly aware over the past couple of years that my six-pack (I never really had one but let’s run with that particular fantasy for the purposes of this) is now more one of those huge behemoths that come shrink-wrapped on pallets. And that my 8-year-old-son is already faster over 100 metres than I now am. (To be fair, I don’t really get any further than 20 metres before pulling up clutching my dodgy knee.)

    • Ah, Tim, I empathise with your comments in so many ways. Sadly “rippling six pack” is also absent from my own CV: I used to be able to run a bit (hence ridiculous over confidence re Jessica) but she seems to have inherited some genes previously not evident in my family. Although university social life may be blunting her speed a little… And yes, dodgy knee and dodgy most other parts of me as well. Sitting at a PC tapping away all day is hardly conducive to a manly physique. But I can make a woman laugh…

  2. This really made me smile. My husband hasn’t ended up in A&E, but I can picture the exact football move you were demonstrating as he’s done that one with my son. They were shooting between the apple trees too.
    And I’m pleased to say not a single member of my family can yet come near me on a 5k run! Yep, mums can be competitive too…

    • Yep, flicked the ball up behind me. Lost it as I spun round. Landed on the ball. Lay on the floor howling “Get your mother.” Who wasn’t sympathetic…
      And good for you re the 5k – hope you’re in training for a 10k and then a half-marathon?

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