Episode 10: cannons and a child’s anger

THE case is empty. Nelson’s delicate Trafalgar coat has been removed for conservation. I remember it vividly, with its four orders of chivalry and with the entry hole of the fatal musket ball, fired by a sniper from high in the rigging of the French ship Redoubtable, just beneath the left epaulette of the vice admiral’s undress uniform.

Noel drags me away. “Come on dad, there’s a games place.” That’s new. But then it has been more than 20 years.

Emma’s begun an ante-natal yoga class and has next term’s lesson plans to prepare. I’ve taken a couple of days’ leave and am occupying Noel. Supposedly.

Today I thought we’d do “educational”; something beyond how to hit a delicate pass with the outside of the foot. And armed with just an ancient mobile phone from the back of a drawer, I’m un-contactable by either Rupert Carmichael or Sandy. Only Emma has the number.

In the interactive gallery Noel tires of loading cargo into the hold of a merchant ship and is soon aiming and firing a cannon. I stand at his shoulder, resisting the temptation to offer suggestions. Or commands. Well, Nelson’s gunners were disciplined but also trusted.

“Good shot” I offer, as Noel finds his range. He is unmoved, steadfast and immediately aims and fires again. He finds his target once more. I’m impressed. Perhaps he’s found his métier.

“That was the twins” he mutters.

“What? The… oh. Noel…” I place a hand on his shoulder. Noel jerks it away and as he does so, a further round splashes harmlessly in the sea. He stands, turns and faces me, belligerently. “What?”

“You can’t fire a cannon at the twins Noel.”

“Don’t be stupid dad. They’re not even born yet.”

“No but…Well, war is terrible.”

“Then why are you always telling mummy about fighting battles at work.”

“That’s different.” Fortunately Noel interrupts me, for I have nowhere else to retreat to. “Anyway, if I hate the twins can we recycle them?” he asks, pressing home his advantage and brilliantly trapping me in a pincer movement between militarism and environmentalism. I stagger backwards, as if slammed by the recoil of the cannon. I look down at my beautiful son. The gallery is buzzing. This strategic moment goes unseen.

The mobile phone beeps. I reach into my pocket, punch-drunk. “How are my two favourite men? Missing you both. Hope you’re home soon. Exx”.

City Dad will be continued on 10 May. See past City Dad columns at www.cityam.com.