''Do I look like Michael Vaughan?" asked my eight-year-old son as I walked into the kitchen one morning this week. "Well," I mused, "you're less than half his size, but you are wearing all white as he often does . . . Why do you ask?" "It's just that a lot of people on the cricket course say I do," he replied.
My son has been doing a cricket course all week, and his brother has been doing tennis. When I was growing up in York, I buggered off into the woods on the first day of the summer holidays and came back on the last. That was essentially how it worked, apart from a week in Blackpool in the middle; but in modern-day north London, every moment of every child's holiday is accounted for by signing them up for improving activity.
My cricketing son has been asking me cricket questions all week. As my wife was unloading the groceries from the car, I found him holding an apple in a strange way, asking: "Is this how you hold a ball when you're bowling spin?" "I don't know," I said. "Is it within the rules to bowl underarm?" he asked. "I'm not sure," I said, "but just don't."
During the five years that I attended my secondary modern school, I think we played one full-dress game of cricket, which occurred, like a stage production, after long days of preparation, and was among the most completely satisfying interludes of my boyhood. I kept wicket, and have thought of myself as a wicket-keeper ever after.
The next occasion on which I took part in a proper game was in the mid-Eighties. A lot of middle-class people who'd somehow ended up in Leytonstone organised a game between (and this sounds scarcely believable I know, and hardly characteristic of the Eighties) poets and prose writers on an expanse of scrub called Wanstead Flats. I was a law student at the time and kept wicket - prosaically, appropriately enough - for the prose writers.
To make up for my ignorance of a game that no amount of "over-the-mooning" and tales of lager drinking from professional cricketers can stop me thinking of as the province of the public schoolboy, I have been taking both my sons out to the park and bowling at them during the evenings of this week. We were there on Wednesday when a neighbour strolled past with his son, whom I'll call Jack.
Jack is privately educated, whereas my sons are not. I asked him if he wanted to join in and he said he did. So with his dad looking on proudly, I put him in to bat and began sending a few balls down to him, asking, as I did so: "You play much cricket at your prep school, Jack?"
"Oh yes," he said, "three times a week."
"And you have all the proper gear, I bet?" He nodded, mystified at this interrogation, and I'm ashamed to say that I began to send the ball down a little bit more searchingly as our conversation about the excellent cricketing facilities at his school progressed.
Now Jack is a game lad, and he flashed me a steely look as I began moving my sons into better catching positions. He knew he had a fight on his hands; what the poor kid didn't know was that he had stumbled into a skirmish in the class war.
Jack acquitted himself cautiously but well at the crease; I then gave my sons their turns at batting and they, too, essayed some plausible-looking defensive strokes, but I noted the contrast between their untutored techniques, and Jack's more polished style. Then Jack's little sister - six years old, I think she is, and educated, unlike her brother, in a state school - asked for a go in bat. I bowled an over at her and she hit me all over the park, as they say.
Well . . . go figure, as they also say.