It was one of those familiar rituals of my childhood, as familiar as the smell of Sunday dinner and the sound of the dog barking to go out.
Every Wednesday night my dad would sit down in the big chair in the lounge and, with his pipe fixed between his teeth and his glasses tipped half way down his nose, he’d set about his deep contemplation of the pools coupon.
To me at the impressionable age of ten this weekly observance was the quintessence of manhood. There was something about the pipesmoke, the arcane poetry of names that meant nothing whatsoever – Port Vale, Leyton Orient, Queen of the South – as well as the pin-point dedication to the tiny grid that, together, seemed to have a tweedily priestly air to it.
Nowhere in this tableau do my mother or my sister feature. The family’s fortune lay entirely in the brown freckled hands of the old man. He’d insist it was a matter of the most acute judgement, requiring considered scrutiny of the sports pages and a deep concentration. It was the sort of concentration that, of necessity, called for an easy chair and a full pipe.
Time passes and things change. The pools have gone. Thirty years on and it’s my wife who buys the Irish national lottery tickets and who picks the same numbers with a faintly familiar ritual consistency. Birthdays, anniversaries and one for your age because you need at least one number over 40…
And whilst she goes about the business of chasing that still elusive family fortune, it’s now me – husband and father – who puts the roast in the oven, and it’s me who walks the dog.
My old man’s not around to see it anymore, but he’d be upset by this arrangement. It would strike him as somehow unmanly – there’s an old fashioned word – not to be steering the big dreams and the big numbers, just as he’d look askew at any man who knew how to turn the oven on.
He was a dab hand with a broken fuel pump or a recalcitrant alternator, but the kitchen was a foreign country to him. He was extraordinarily proud the day he fried an egg. On the one occasion when my mother was not there to cater for him the glow of triumph on his face as he turned from the hob to bring us his masterpiece was lastingly unforgettable.
The hot pan scorched a perfect black circle across the table top.
He copped for a fearsome rollocking when my mother saw the damage he’d done to her table. He took it remarkably calmly for once, simply repairing to the haven of the big old chair in the lounge to draw what little comfort he could from his creaky old pipe.
That was the first time I realised he might be in some way hiding there, behind the smoke, the sports pages and his pools coupon.
By Will Turner
Image: Flickr / JD Hancock