We go to a friend’s for dinner on Friday night. The next day, early, it’s my daughter’s end of term performance. My wife and I spend so long reminding each other not to drink too much that we end up drinking all night. Consequently we are both slightly dazed on Saturday morning. In the car on the way there my daughter suddenly breaks into our conversation to say “I’m a bit nervous”. We both hesitate. We tell her she’ll be fine. We tell her not to be nervous. We tell her everybody gets nervous. As ever we tell her a lot of stuff. She considers our advice for a few seconds and it seems to do the trick.
At the theatre, cars are double and treble parked and everyone is smarter than me. I’ve selected a t-shirt with a surfing motif and my usual jeans and trainers. While my daughter shakes the head’s hand enthusiastically I cringe a little and try to move through the door as rapidly as possible. I hate school. Even someone else’s. I recently remembered how I used to tick the days off, literally, when I was young. I still have the school diaries with neat little biro marks. When I left school I started to tick less, but then I started working and the ticking started again in earnest, accompanied by new little sums, indicating how much time I needed to continue before I could stop. As I worked longer the sums got more complex, until seventeen years after starting work and thirty five years after starting school I finally started out on my own.
We say hello to a few people. It makes me feel ill seeing all these weektime people at the weekend in chinos and jackets. I meet the Japanese expat’s husband, who shakes my hand formally. He seems to be wearing a suit made entirely from chino. To fit in, I suppose. I look at his wife smiling uncertainly and wish I was somewhere else. I remember a story she told me at the farm park. She said she wasn’t looking forward to going back to Tokyo in a year’s time. I asked her why. “Because here my husband comes home from work at 10pm.” Perhaps she doesn’t like her husband, I thought. Seeing my confusion she added “In Japan he sleeps in the office. On a couch. He doesn’t come home during the week.” I look at her husband and wonder whether I dislike him or feel sorry for him.
The curtain goes up. We are sitting way up near the back, where I like it. But I realize now that we can’t see my daughter. And she can’t see us either. The little row of children, of whom my daughter is one, scan the audience desperately trying to locate their parents. We wave but we’re too far away. The spotlight is on them. For a moment I think my daughter is going to struggle to her feet and burst into tears. And perhaps stick her finger up her nostril for good measure too. But she doesn’t. She calmly takes the hand of the girl next to her, mutters something soothing to her and they all clamber to their feet like 50 stone men, the way the young do. There is a pause for the music to start, then they execute a word perfect rendition of their song. Flashes burst around us. A thousand different versions play on LCD screens. I was prepared to be proud of a nose-picker, but what I’ve just seen makes me even more proud.