There is a short story by the American writer Andre Dubus entitled, ‘The Winter Father’, about a man whose divorce has separated him from his two children. In the winter his relationship with them is tetchy and strained: they move from afternoon jazz club to cinema to restaurant, and stare at each other. But in the summer, when they can go to the beach, they get on fine. ‘The long beach and the sea were their lawn; the blanket their home; the ice chest and thermos their kitchen—they lived as a family again.’
Sitcoms and films have long recognized this terrible tyranny of place, and depict men traipsing round parks with fractious kids and a frisbee. But ‘The Winter father’ means a lot to me because it goes further than this: it manages to isolate what is valuable in the relationship between parents and children, and explains simply and precisely why the 200 trips are doomed.
In this country, as far as I know, Bridlington and Minehead are unable to provide the same kind of liberation as the New England beaches in Dubus’s story; but my father and I were about to come up with the perfect English equivalent. Saturday afternoons in North London gave us a context in which we could be together. We could talk when we wanted, the football gave us something to talk about (and anyway the silences weren’t oppressive), and the days had a structure, a routine. The Arsenal pitch was to be our lawn (and, being an English lawn, we would usually peer at it mournfully through driving rain); the Gunner’s Fish bar on Blackstock Road our kitchen; and the West Stand our home. It was a wonderful set-up, and changed our lives just when they needed changing most, but it was also exclusive: Dad and my sister never really found anywhere to live at all.
Source: Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1992), 17-18.
Image: “The Arsenal pitch was to be our lawn …” The Arsenal Stadium until 2006 when the club transferred to the Emirates Stadium.