Jonny McCambridge: Finding the point where the plates overlap

I have the flu.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 6:00 am
Father and son, we do have some things in common
Father and son, we do have some things in common

This flu is without doubt the worst physical ailment I have suffered in my adult life and I am restricted to bed, unable to summon the strength and the will to force myself upright.

I am lying here now, saliva drooling from my open mouth onto the pillow. My son is with me, gallantly trying to keep my spirits up. A news alert flashes on my phone.

I check the screen and involuntarily emit a noise of shock.

‘What is it daddy?’

‘It’s Shane Warne. Shane Warne has died.’

‘Who’s that daddy?’

‘You know Shane Warne … Shane Warne the cricketer.’

He looks blankly at me. I know that he has no interest in sports and zero knowledge of cricket, but this is Shane Warne. Warne was a cricketing genius and a huge character who transcended sport. I struggle to think that it’s possible to be alive on this planet and not know who Shane Warne is.

Then I have an idea. I type something into my phone.

‘Watch this buddy. You won’t believe your eyes. I saw this happen live on telly and I’ve never forgotten it.’

So, I play him the YouTube clip of Warne’s first delivery in Ashes cricket at Old Trafford in Manchester in 1993. The much famed ‘Ball of the Century’ where he floated a delivery outside Mike Gatting’s leg-stump before the violently spinning ball ripped across the front of the bewildered batsman and clipped the top of the off-stump. The clip shows Gatting walking back to the pavilion, utterly bemused and apparently unable to process the wonder of what had just happened to him.

At the end of the clip, I let the silence linger for a few seconds, just to allow the sense of magic to seep in. I wonder if here, in my sick bed, this could become a precious bonding moment with my son.

Then, I say: ‘What do you think of that buddy? Wasn’t it awesome?’

He looks at me, perhaps with contempt and pity.

‘That’s really, really boring daddy.’

I’m a little stunned and suffer a momentary loss of composure. By the time I have regained equilibrium, it is too late; he is already playing a game on his Nintendo.

It is later in the same day and I am still in bed. I ache everywhere. All of my muscles feel as if they have been pounded with a tiny hammer. My head throbs and I have a raking cough which makes my chest burn angrily. I have both shivers and sweats.

I have achieved nothing productive in the day. I did make an attempt to begin writing my column but aborted the mission because I couldn’t shake the suffocating exhaustion and my eyes felt as if they were on fire within my skull.

And, if I am honest, my pride is a little hurt too from the Shane Warne episode.

My son enters the bedroom once more.

‘Daddy, can I show you my homework? I’ve been working on it with mummy.’

‘Of course, buddy.’

I force myself up to lean against the pillow, readying myself for the books and paper to come. Instead, he produces the iPad. This has been an electronic assignment where the purpose was to create an instructional video explaining how he carries out a simple task.

My son, of course, has made a video about how to play one of his computer games. The video is five minutes long. He insists that we watch it through twice.

I am impressed by the quality of what he has produced. His presence and delivery on screen are both easy and natural. His instructions are clear and precise.

And yet I still struggle to understand some parts of the game on the screen. There are phrases and jargon within it which confuse me, and concepts that I simply cannot grasp. The failure is mine, not his.

At the end of the second viewing, he asks: ‘What do you think of that daddy? Isn’t it awesome?’

I ruffle his hair.

‘It certainly is buddy. It’s absolutely brilliant. You’ve done so well.’

‘Do you think you’d be able to play the game now?’

‘Oh, I’d certainly have a good go.’

‘Shall we watch it again?’

I sink back into the pillow as another explosive coughing fit overcomes me.

‘Yes, let’s do that son.’

It is the evening of the same day and, appalled by the prospect of spending a whole day in bed, I have forced myself up and am slowly descending the stairs in my dressing gown. My head is spinning, and I have to hold onto the wall to steady myself.

I make it to the living room where my son is waiting for me.

‘Just in time for The Simpsons daddy.’

This is our ritual. Every evening before his bedtime we will watch at least one episode of the animated adventures of Homer and family. I’m probably a little bit too old for it, and he’s maybe a little bit too young, but we meet somewhere in the middle.

As he finds his comfortable spot on the sofa, nestled tightly against my side, he asks his mummy for an ice lolly. I decide that an ice lolly might be just the thing to ease some of my symptoms.

We lie there on the sofa, licking our ice lollies while we hum the theme tune to The Simpsons. The episode begins. My boy likes to imagine that he is Bart and I am Homer, so even in my weakened state I have to do the voice and say ‘D’oh!’ quite often.

Perhaps I am in a more contemplative mood than normal this evening because I notice something that hasn’t occurred to me before. There are some parts of the programme which appeal to him, and others which make me smile.

But there are a greater number of segments which amuse us both. When this happens, we both laugh spontaneously. It is not a case of one following the other, rather we both laugh at exactly the same time. More, the sound of his mirth is not dissimilar from my own.

It occurs to me that the tectonic plates of our lives move in their own directions, more often than not in separate directions. Sometimes they bump clumsily against each other. But every now and then they will overlap, and we find that precious, fleeting moment of common interest.

Another episode begins and I tell my son that this is the last one before bed. In truth, I am more in need of the rest than he is, and I am already dreading the ordeal of scaling the stairs.

A character appears on the screen, an animated version of a short English man wearing glasses.

‘Who’s that meant to be daddy?’ he asks.

‘That’s Elton John son.’

He stares at me blankly.

‘Who?’

‘Elton John! Aw come on, you must know who Elton John is …’