"Father, if you were going to kill someone, how would you do it?" asked the younger Pickwick daughter during lunch some weeks ago.
Mrs Pickwick and I have always felt it important to support our children in the development of their ideas and self expression and to tolerate rebellion. This can backfire though such as in the case of the poem I wrote to celebrate the first hangover of the elder Pickwick daughter entitled "Baby's first Hangover". She greeted it with incredulity when I performed it at the shared swimming pool of the Italian villa where she had worked hard to gain it.
We talked about the relative merits of the hammer versus strangulation (the latter impractical as I have now slight arthritis in my fingers) before concluding after intensive but non violent argument that a gun would be best.
What was shocking was for this whole debate to be initiated by my daughter and to register with the same sickening thwack on the lunch table that Great Aunt Agatha would fall to the floor following a glancing blow with the lead piping in the Ballroom.
The topic of conversation with the younger Pickwick can be explained as we were sitting at a recent family do, a common occasion where thoughts often lead to the contemplation of first degree murder.
I have considered the same issue in private at many such family occasions to wile away the time. The challenge of achieving the perfect crime provides me with the intellectual challenge to keep me alert. Unfortunately, such is the level of alcoholic and calorific intake of most of these occasions that I get as far as method, location and alibi before I find myself singing the chorus of "show me the way to go home" with one of my fellow brothers in law. Achieving the outcome therefore is unlikely as I tend to fall asleep or begin suffering unbearable heartburn which is not conducive to completing an act of homicide.
I have my opportunity to commit the perfect crime at the end of August when I am going with forty two legs owned by members of Mrs Pickwick's family to the South West of France for holiday.
I say forty two legs without checking because after thirty, I stop counting. At one stage, a further four legs were to be added to the party accompanied by a tail. While this could have consisted of Cousin Brian who never travels abroad but may have done so on this occasion and my mother in law, it was in fact the canine representative of eights legs of the party. This was until the Star Chamber of Mrs Pickwick's family decided that four legs were bad and two legs good (with apologies to George Orwell).
Travelling with Mrs Pickwick's family on such holidays is broadly positive although can take on the plot of the film "the Deerhunter" when one of her sisters suggests Russian roulette which she invariably does once the Merlot has been uncorked.
Last year, we had a smaller gathering of Mrs Pickwick's family in France. It took on the key elements of "Lord of the Flies", only faster. If we had been there for a second week, my mother in law would have plastered her normal flawless complexion with woad and my nephew sacrificed in a large wicker man at sunset. Fortunately, we returned home on the busiest Saturday of the year on the French autoroute and assumed the customary position in the 4 hour traffic jam outside of Rouen. This eliminated a considerable burden on the French criminal justice system which would have crystallised if we had remained on holiday.
The last decade has seen a number of holidays made up of Mrs Pickwick's family which tend to assume a certain group dynamic. The first couple of days of the holiday tend to be enjoyable as everyone is glad to be there. After 48 hours, the Group splits into two sections largely defined by the capacity to visit the fridge unaided. A consequence of this is that small nephews get roughed up in a dark corner of the Villa for not delivering cold beers fast enough or refusing to make the tea, the latter viewed as a cardinal sin.
During these holidays, there tends to be long involved monologues delivered by the older members of the family and listened by those who cannot escape in respectful silence. A frequent topic of conversation is the quality of the Tesco Value range. When this occurs, it is finally interrupted by the next generation who comment quietly before the volume develops into a crescendo when consensus moves to the view that Aldi paper goods are in fact better but the fruit and vegetable range needs to be improved.
Mrs Pickwick's mother is normally silent during these monologues owing to a malfunctioning hearing aid that makes her sound like the Robot R2D2 from "Star Wars" if your eyes are closed.
Eventually, she waves her arm to demand silence having realised łthat the distortion has been caused by her own family bickering and she has grown tired of the eulogy to Tescos, which she has heard many times.
"I want to go shopping this afternoon, I need a new bag" she will declare. Other times, it will be a top, a jumper, a scarf or even a ring. There is a unifying theme meaning that she would never declare she wanted a set of spanners or a surgical stocking, even if she needed one.
Decision making in the group tends also to be challenging. They operate in the same way as puppies - they are noisy and messy and a number of members will often by found snoring loudly, playing with a ball by the pool or chewing an old slipper. Thus, when I announce I am going into the nearest village to view the frescoes on the cathedral ceiling, this barely registers with bulk of the group who continue in their chosen activities. It is only when you declare that you are going shopping and then to the beach that there is the same frenzy of yapping and wagging tails around you that would arise from a cat taking a wrong turn into their midst.
To survive a family holiday with Mrs Pickwick's family, one needs the patience of a saint, the thick skin of a rhino, the liver of a young George Best and the determination of Lady Thatcher when she took on the National Union of Mineworkers. Indeed, the survival instinct of Mrs Pickwick's mother in this environment is encapsulated by Lady T's well known line - "the Lady's not for turning". It is not surprising therefore that thoughts of homicide can come to mind.
Having survived many such occasions, I am sure I can survive without venturing down this slippery slope or indeed compelling one of Mrs Pickwick's family down such an incline. I take comfort from the fact that Carrefour hypermarket has announced a sale of garden tools during August. This means that while I do not have the motive yet, I will be able to purchase the means at a very competitive price.