6-9th November: (In)appropriate dressing gowns


(Mark Sampson) #1

My wife is one of these modern women who check their smart phones before swaddling themselves in a duvet last thing at night. There was a text or an e-mail from her best friend in London. She wrote to say that she had spent the day lazing around in her dressing gown, because it was one of those Sundays in the metropolis.


Funnily enough... it was one of those Sundays in the heart of the country, too. Outside it was like a damp but colourful sponge. The last soggy leaves were still clinging on regardless. All three of us decided to stay in our dressing gowns through breakfast – of American pancakes, maple syrup and copious coffee – and beyond. The Daughter, unsurprisingly, and her mother, rather more surprisingly, made it right through to bedtime. Debs hasn't achieved that feat for ten years, not since the treacherous winter of 2004-5 when she broke her shoulder.


I cracked soon after lunch. This annoyed my daughter, who believes that I can't relax. 'Oh daaaad, lighten up,' she moans at regular intervals. It's true that I generally like to be doing things and I'm not inclined to lounge in bed, but she doesn't reckon on the hours I spend watching films, when I can truly lose myself. The fact of the matter was, though, that I had to get dressed to fetch some more wood for the fire. While it's acceptable to venture forth in your dressing gown before nine, it certainly doesn't do after two. What if someone were to see me? What if it were a man with a chainsaw? How could I ever hold my head up around these parts again?


Once out of your dressing gown, there's no point at all in getting back into it later on, even though it would have been entirely appropriate for the film we chose to accompany our evening stir-fry. Shooting Fish, with the lovely Kate Beckinsale, was charming, sweet, rather funny and ultimately I suppose fairly forgettable. It was like a kind of minor Ealing comedy for more cynical times. It will go back in the shelves and probably stay there forever and ever, amen.


I didn't dare suggest that we watch the first two episodes of the epic Great War documentary series that I remember from my childhood. Narrated with much portent by Sir Michael Redgrave. Come to think of it, what were my parents thinking of, encouraging a young boy – already given to take his responsibilities as oldest of four siblings seriously – to watch something quite so disturbing as that epic of carnage and suffering? I suppose I would have seen those haunting images soon enough in some other context, but that series had a profound impact. Apart from my mother's fairly frequent references to Belsen, it was my first real brush with the reality of war. Back then, I might have watched some of those 26 or however many episodes it was in a dressing gown, but I suspect I was attired more suitably for something of such moment.


Saturday night's all right for fighting, but I prefer to dine with friends. Me and the missus put on our best clobber for a visit to The Mill, as it has become known. We met up with our friends (and Alf the dog's surrogate godparents), Thompson & Thompson, in a car park on the edge of Martel. Headlights in the fog. It could have been a scene from a spy drama by John Le Carré. The truth was more mundane. Our generous friends proposed that we go in one car. They've got a new generation Peugeot, with one of those all-dancing digital dashboards that looks like a mixing desk in a modern-day recording studio.


During the ever perilous descent down the rocky track that leads to the magical water mill at the edge of the river Ouysse, the half-pumpkin from them to us bounced around in the boot of the car like the head of Alfredo Garcia. There's always a sense of being protagonists in a film when we go to visit Fi and Giles. The steep-sided valley reminds me of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang's mythical hideout, and I'm convinced that one day I'm going to spot the letters AS carved in a tree somewhere down that vertiginous track. Arne Saknussemm, whose initials led the party of Professor Lidenbrock down the volcanic passageway in Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Nick and I recalled with affection the crass cartoon version that we watched on telly as kids in the 60s.


It was another in a whole series of memorable evenings that goes back about a dozen years now. Their little boy, the spitting image of his dad, is ten already and he was preparing for his birthday party the following day. No chance of Sunday dressing gowns, then, in that particular household. One more year of primary school and their personable child will be going to collège. Like our Tilley, he'll almost certainly go through the whole standard education system. Like her, too, I discovered interestingly, he considers himself very much British and he has similar ambitions of finishing his education somewhere in the UK.


Fi started adult life as a talented tennis player, then went into films before coming to France, finding the mill – and a lifetime's project – and getting married et cetera. It's a strange phenomenon, talent. She mighta bin a contender, had she chosen that path. I also watched a profile of Jimmy White, the snooker player, during the weekend: perhaps the most naturally talented sportsman I have ever seen. It came as no surprise to learn that Jimmy never had a moment's coaching in his life. Nor was it much surprise that his kids seem to love him as much as his adoring public did and do. Unlike Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, there isn't a mean bone in his rather overweight body.


Moreover, Jimmy admitted that the fact that he never won the world championship was entirely his own fault. He has a reckless, self-destructive side to his personality that often got the better of him. Quite apart from the gambling and the drugs, he would wander about between sessions during all the finals he appeared in at The Crucible, knocking back halves of lager here and halves of lager there. You just can't do that kind of thing in modern sport. It's like smoking footballers: part of a long-lost era of flat caps and rattles.


Although he insisted that he didn't regret what he did, touchingly he still believes that he can win the world championship that he should have done by talent and by right. I have this silly fantasy that maybe next time he'll keep it all together and meet Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final. The two most talented players of all time together at last! And, aaah... without making it at all obvious, Ronnie the Rocket will ease up in the final frame at 17 all to let Jimmy the Whirlwind fulfil his dream.


In your dressing gown, mate!


(Caroline Morris) #2

Gentlemen in waistcoats and pale green complexions. They are an unhealthy looking lot.


(Mark Sampson) #3

Caroline, I'm so sorry, I forgot to get back to you to thank you for your kind comment. I don't like Windows Live Mail. Once e-mails slip down the list, they get lost. I think the fact that you know nothing about snooker suggests that you didn't misspend your youth. Nevertheless, it's a fine sport - if you like green baize and multi-coloured balls and gentlemen in waistcoats.


(Caroline Morris) #4

Despite knowing nothing about snooker… excellent as always.


(Mark Sampson) #5

Thank you, Jeremy! How very kind - and much appreciated. I'll keep at it for a bit longer then...


(Jeremy Mitchell) #6

Talking of talent...there is a tiny tiddly tad there in your fingertips Mark...a certain touch with the written word and perhaps, if you haven't already, a separate blog somewhere would be worthy of it.