Graham lives a few doors down from me. He is often outside his house, loading things up into his Land Rover which has a roof rack, or preparing a trailer with camping gear. Graham and Georgina have three children. They are real outdoor types, always going off on trips and very keen on physical exercise.
I remember Georgie, as she is known, once talking about how, in the 1950’s, they had discovered that American children had very poor muscular development compared with European children because they were just starting to be driven to school, not walking any more. She said that now in England there were two groups, one that took exercise properly and the other who were couch potatoes, who were not only likely to become obese but would develop back problems and become a burden on the state in their old age. She is a physiotherapist.
I often meet Graham as I walk by and we have short conversations. Over time I have learned quite a lot about the family.
The oldest child, a boy, is 15 now. He is called Matthew. Like so many kids of his age, he is into computer games and has started World of Warcraft, which Graham also plays. Matthew is obviously pretty clever, but he is shy, and does not say much when I meet him with his Dad. He just stands there, looking away and jiggles around a bit.
Of course, all parents grimace in a sort of amused way when talking about fifteen year olds. “Matt is crazy about Tupac Shakur, an American rap singer who got murdered” says Graham. “He has a huge poster of Shakur on his wall from a photograph taken a few minutes before he was shot, and he collects documentaries made about him which he downloads from YouTube”.
Graham spreads his hands and shrugs as if to say: “I just don’t get it”. He and Georgie hate that rap music. They say it is insistent and overbearing and tuneless. “I hardly noticed Shakur when I was in my twenties”, says Graham.
One of the things the family love to do together is take food and hike into the countryside and hunt for geocaches. A geocache is a container carefully hidden at a given GPS reference, which is the clue. In it there may be an object, and always a log book in which you enter your name and the date. I didn’t know this before but they are all over the place. You can go on the Internet and find the caches nearest to you.
“Yesterday”, said Graham, “we found a cache and opened it up, but there was nothing in it except a slip of paper that said: “FUCK YOU NERD”.
Graham pursed his lips and looked away. “Matt went very quiet. When he got home he went to his room and played Shakur very loudly”, he said. “Now he says we should get Kinect Controller for the Xbox 360 and a game called Fighters Uncaged. That is a motion fighting game, which he says will teach James and Jessica to defend themselves.”
I used the word “idyll” in the title of this post, but then I realised I did not really know precisely what an idyll was. Now I have found out that an idyll is a short poem describing the pleasures of a pastoral life, of man, animal and nature in harmony. I believe one Theocritus of Syracuse created this form round about 300BC. We have our own idylls, I guess. Myself, I think of picnics when I was 35 or 40 or so, beside a stream with friends and a bottle of Sancerre, cooled in the running water.