"What are conkers?" she asked me.
Not know what conkers are? I felt I'd failed as a parent, and launched into a recuperative description of the horse chestnut we used to have in our garden (which almost fell on my brother when it eventually came down in a storm, marking the end of childhood much like that lightning-struck pine in Tom's Midnight Garden); how for a few weeks each autumn it made me strangely popular with the boys in my class, who would come and throw sticks at it to knock down the choicest fruits; the wonderful lustre of the newly-hatched conker; the disappointment one felt at finding them double or misshapen; the strategems for toughening them up with baking and vinegar (the very same technique we used for making ordinary paper look like pirates' parchments); the delicate art of skewering an almost spherical object in the absence of a vice; the dubious birthday gift of a ball of string I once gave my Libran mother, because she'd run out and I needed it for my own conker-related purposes; the denominational disputes about whether a winning conker "inherited" the victories of its victim, so that a tenner defeating a fiver would leap at once into the realm of the sixteener (if you've seen Highlander you'll understand the principle).
"It was only a casual question," she said. "Would you like to play billiards on the Wii?"
Each childhood has its pleasures. She has never drunk so much as a gill of ginger beer, either, let alone a lashing.