Finding Nemo…

It’s a handsome fish, the mullet, I mused, as I gawped through the reinforced glass at the Hastings Aquarium. Well proportioned, classic piscine looks, nice even silvery colour. Your sort of quintessential fish, really. There was a fish that had everything going for it, but it had been entirely overshadowed – by a haircut. The world was a confusing and unjust place, I thought, as I propelled a pram full of new born baby boy.

The aquarium usually just made me hungry, but today something was amiss. Fish are supposed to be relaxing, but looking at all that busy seafood, hoovering up gravel and wafting about their tank in urgent circles, I began to feel a strange pang of anxiety. I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass as a turtle paddled by. I looked like a bemused gurnard.

I moved on to the reptiles. It was no better. Looking at the coiled African rock python I could only think of it slithering up my trouser leg, following the musky scent of a succulent, alopecias rodent laying dormant in its frowsty gusset…

“Look! Nemo, Daddy!” said my five year old daughter, pointing excitedly at a clown fish. Now there was a fish with good press. All the kids loved the clown fish. Just because it was gaudy orange and had a swim-on part in a movie. I bet they didn’t even realise they were talking Latin. Stupid kids… Not my five year old, you understand. She did know she was talking Latin. I’d explained at length. She didn’t know what Latin was, but that would come. In time… I said I thought the mullet was better. And less of a show-off. I felt a curious connection with the unassuming mullet…

Where was all this insidious anxiety coming from? Well, I’ll tell you. I blame my son. He’s only 14 days old, but I hold him responsible. Looking at that little feller, I keep wondering whether I’m fit. Not that sort of fit. I’m definitely not fit – I haven’t done any exercise for about two months. No, I mean, you know, fit to be respected, looked up to… What’s he going to think of the old man when he’s older?

I hate to say it, but I didn’t feel this pressure when my daughter was born. Curious really. I mean, I suppose I felt subconsciously that my wife was the prime role model. Saying that out loud makes me wince a bit, but that’s the truth, frankly. Now, suddenly I feel someone’s thrown me the ball… God, why did I use that metaphor? Hang on. That’s the whole bloody problem, isn’t it? I think that’s it. I feel a brooding sense that as the boy grows, I’m going to have to pretend to like sport. And, in particular, bloody football…

Strangely, I did rather like team sports at school. Especially rugby, but that was because I was good at it and could always run off on my own and grab the glory. Or palm people in the face. That was quite nice too. And the shorts. Properly short, with a drawstring and pockets. The perfect trouser, in my opinion. Especially if you have hot legs like I do – not in the Rod Stewart sense. My legs just get really hot. I don’t know why. But I digress…

I don’t mind ‘doing’ sport – especially solitary exercise, like running, where you don’t have to do all that physical bonhomie and roar at each other and ruffle people’s hair and stuff. The thing that I’m really worried about is having to pretend that I actually understand all that inane razzmatazz around football – let alone actually like it.

There’s no chance this side of eternity that I’m going to be able to rouse any credible enthusiasm about some educationally subnormal gang of bladder-kickers. That popularly accepted virtuosity that footballers are imbued with just isn’t really perceptible to me, to be honest. I mean, why not celebrate someone who can do a ’round the world’ with a yo-yo? What about spending years of social interaction droning on about people who can catch a stack of ten pence pieces that they’ve balanced on their elbow? How about devoting whole newspaper supplements to someone who can flip a pile of beermats on the edge of a table? I mean, if you can honestly admire someone who’s good at punting a ball about, you can make a hero out of someone like that too, can’t you?

But there’s the rub… Football’s the lingua franca of bloke-kind. It’s the social grease that lubricates a billion vapid and good natured masculine interactions. If I had a quid for every time I’ve been asked, ‘who do you support?’, I could keep up an enthusiastic bombardment of coins from the terraces for the full ninety minutes. I just can’t do that footy banter. I only know two teams, for God’s sake – Fulchester Rovers and Accrington Stanley. I couldn’t tell you who was winning the league or who plays for what team… It’s just not something I can summon interest in. It’s like the half roll of clingfilm in the kitchen drawer. I know it’s there, but I can’t conceive of an occasion where I’d be moved to talk about it. So, what the hell am I going to chat about with my son?

My son’s going to start coming home from school talking about ‘footy’ and expecting me to take him to watch a match and eat a pie or something. God forbid, he’s going to start asking me who I support. What am I going to say? “You, your sister and your mother”? It’s not going to wash more than once, is it? (And of course, frankly, it’s not even a particularly robust claim, at present… ‘Audacious corporate buccaneering’ etc etc…)

This is the thing about becoming the father to a son. Suddenly, you’re back at school again. It’s all about feats of strength and burping contests. You’ve got to show the kid the ropes, teach him the law of the jungle etc. And when, at 42, you’re still working it out for yourself, it’s a daunting prospect. I wonder if I can hire a tutor? Or maybe I just enlist a suite of God Fathers to school him in the masculine arts? Roger Moore for classes in wit and charm; a bit of instruction from Henry Cooper to deal with the bully in the playground; Sartorial matters? Alan Wicker, obviously; Manly prowess and insouciant swashbuckling, Maj. Digby Tatham Warter (who took on the Waffen SS with a furled umbrella*); bedroom arts and seduction..? Um… I can probably save some fees there – home-schooling: learn from the master, eh?

Big sigh…

Funny isn’t it? When you lay out the curriculum, it’s pretty tough to be a bloke. All those arts and sciences to master, all those heroes to live up to, and so few opportunities to do so… These days there’s never a Hun pillbox to assault when you need to prove yourself. Never a bar to drink dry, nor an arctic expedition to mount. Never a cup final to win – Oh, hang on… Do I suddenly get this football thing?

Men need someone to look up to, a fantasy to project their idealised self upon. All the little fish in the great global pond want to believe that one day they might be the big fish – otherwise, what’s the point, for God’s sake? I suppose football offers the most attainable of all fantasies, because all you need to be able to do in order to potentially live the dream, is propel a ball with your foot. Perhaps it says something about the endearing modesty of most blokes. They don’t idolise nuclear physicists, statesmen and visionaries, because they can’t really sustain the conceit that they could ever realise those fantasies. But with football they can. In a way, I’m slightly embarrassed to say my idols aren’t footballers. I’m afraid they’re closer to the physicists, statesmen and visionaries mentioned above. So what sort of bloody ego-maniac am I? Sweet Jesus…

I realised I’d circumnavigated the aquarium when I found myself staring again at the mullet. I wonder if he dreamed of being Nemo? Are all the little mullets dreaming of being Nemo? The latter’s all I’m ever likely to be – in latin, that is. A nobody. Still, perhaps life’s easier if you can just accept that. If I’m ever going to be a hero, it’s only ever going to be to this little boy. Time to stop dreaming. Perhaps it’s time to start liking football too…

*(http://www.pegasusarchive.org/arnhem/tatham_warter.htm)

Postscript:
To my mind the mullet has trumped the clown fish for all time, since it was once the subject of a Dick Emery verse, that has stuck with me, inexplicably, for at least 30 years. I’ve no idea why. It goes thus:

Tupper’s Fishcakes are the best
They’re filled with cod and mullet
They fill your stomach with delight
As they slip down your gullet.

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3 Responses to Finding Nemo…

  1. richdirector says:

    Merry Xmas – this made me chuckle

  2. Sarah says:

    I think I might go to bed and dream of Nemo now… That naughty fish.

  3. If it soothes your worries I came to live with my partner 7 years ago, bringing with me 2 boys. We’ve since had another 2 boys (we’ve 3 girls too, I’m not entirely surrounded). He tried to like football, but it just didn’t work out, their relationship was too strained. Fortunately none of our children, girl or boy, have taken any liking to football, despite living in Manchester with 6 Premier League clubs well within an hour’s drive of our house 😀

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