It was a depressing moment. And Jim was fully aware that trying to solve things always had the potential to depress.
Some years back, he had been tasked with taking his five-year-old niece, Amanda, by car to Birmingham. It was a long journey, so to pass the time, they played I-Spy.
It all went well, until Amanda said, “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘Ch’.
Jim went straight for the easy ones. ‘Child? No; Chest? No; Chin? No; Cheek? No; Cheekbones? No; Child-proof locks? It’s only one word and No.’
He looked outside. ‘Church? No; Chapel? No; Churchyard? No; Churchgoers? No; Chaplain? Like Charlie Chaplin? Funny Uncle Jim, No; Chimneys? No.’
Maybe she had some food on her. ‘Chicken? No; Cheese? No; Chips? No; Cheeseburger? No; Chocolate? No; Cherries? No; Chutney? No; Chapattis? No.’
‘You’re getting nearer.’
‘No, not really, I just said that to cheer you up.’
Maybe she had a toy animal in her bag. Jim tried, ‘Chimpanzee, Chinchilla,
Chipmunks, Chinese Paradise Fish?’ All No.
‘Do you want a clue?’
‘No thank you,’ said Jim, through clenched teeth, ‘I’ll get it soon.’
‘You can have a clue if you really, really want.'
‘I said no thank you, Amanda, I’m going to get this one, fair and square.’
Jim stared ahead at the road. Effectively, he had a stream of consciousness. He guessed randomly, without waiting for an answer.
‘Chains, chairs, chainsaws, cheerleaders, chalk, chickenpox, chess piece, chisels, chariots, Choo-choo trains, charladies, chest of drawers, charcoal, Charterhouse, chequebooks, chamberpots, Checkpoint Charlie.’
Amanda kept incanting, ‘No, no, no, no, no’ in a dull, unrelated monotone.
He paused for breath or, possibly, it might have been a minor stroke.
‘Do you want to give up, Uncle Jim? It’s alright if you do.’
‘OK,’ he snarled, ‘I give up. I give up. What is it?’
Amanda sat up straight in her child seat and, after an irritating pause, announced, ‘I spy with my little eye - Chrees. Look! There’s lots of them growing next to the road.’
For the first and only time in his life, Jim was glad to see the outskirts of Birmingham.