In my childhood, the High Holydays involved a couple of days off school shortly after the start of a new academic year (three if you were Orthodox, two if you were Progressive, though the latter was an unknown quantity in my family), the obligation to dress in smart clothes and to join fellow Jews in this annual pilgrimage to their synagogue – or to whatever location had temporarily become their synagogue, as the establishment in which regular worship took place was not large enough to contain these two or three day a year Jews.

For my family the location of this annual encounter was the rather gloomy surroundings of a social hall a mile or so from the synagogue we rarely attended. My mother and sister were obliged to look down on proceedings from a balcony; my father and I were on the ground floor, surrounded by a combination of earnest worshippers frantically chanting in Hebrew and mystified, bored boys being chastised by their equally mystified, bored fathers. 

This annual ritual, for which no satisfactory explanation was ever offered, either by my father or by anyone involved in it, soon became a source of resentment. In my early teens, I was occasionally permitted to visit other synagogues with my friends (and we invariably ended up in the local park), but my father seemed to prefer me to be with him, so I obliged with all the good grace one would expect from a teenage boy.

It all came to a head on Rosh ha-Shanah in 1975. It was a Saturday, the day of the final of the Gillette Cup, a cricket competition in which our beloved local team, whom we had watched on many occasions together, were competing. The game was being broadcast live on television. I wanted to watch it. I was pretty certain he wanted to watch it too. I guess he was also aware of the fact that I would be thinking that – and so on. 

I debated whether or not to raise the subject the evening before but decided it could wait until the morning. I had rehearsed the various arguments I would advance in such a conversation, citing my doubts about the existence of a divine power, the question of the possibility of the Torah really being a divinely produced document to be adhered to for all time and so on. When the morning came, my courage deserted me, and I remained hidden in my bedroom, feigning sleep until after I heard the front door close. At that point I emerged from my room and went to the bathroom. I was brushing my teeth when suddenly my father appeared behind me. He had, I subsequently realised, closed the front door from within to lure me from my concealment.

He was dressed in his suit, ready to drive to synagogue and was clearly annoyed and agitated. For my part, I clutched my toothbrush and felt the courage drain out of me. “Are you coming to shul?” he asked. “No,” I replied, seeing my wise thoughts pass unspoken before my mind’s eye. “And why’s that?” he challenged. I thought of my theological arguments. I wanted to point out in a reasoned tone that surely he would rather watch the cricket. Perhaps my mouth opened and closed like a goldfish at each of these thoughts – at least I like to imagine it that way. In the end, I finally managed my stammered response. 

“Because I don’t want to.” All those years of religious and secular education poured into one about to head off to university and that was the best I could muster – accompanied, I presume, by a sheepish grin. 

“Well it’s good to know that you think you have all the answers at such an early age,” was his sarcastic, grim-faced response, following which he turned, went downstairs and left the house. At least he managed to get his line out properly.

Less than three hours later he was back, and we watched the cricket together in an awkward silence. Middlesex were resoundingly thrashed by Lancashire; their performance as inadequate as mine that morning. Losers in sporting events usually console one another by looking forward to the next year; for my father and me it was not clear what future Jewish New Years would hold. Neither of us would have begun to imagine where I would find myself on Rosh ha-Shanah a decade or so later – but that is another story.