The long game

I found myself in the streets of Bloomsbury on a frosty late-Sunday afternoon, wondering, if I’m honest, what on earth I was doing. Increasingly, with a full-time job and other high-octane commitments, Sundays have been for family and for the essential recharging of batteries.

I struggled not to feel old and frumpy as I tried to work out which bloody bit of RADA I was supposed to be at for a show organised by a student with whom I parted ways ten years ago. It was a fund-raising event. The flyer said something about a play he’d written. A few other former students said they were going. I said yes, left a tantrumming 7 year-old declaring, ‘we never see  you!’ (oh, the children and the buttons they press).

I struggled against a self-consciousness I thought I’d left behind years ago as I entered a place full of beautiful and stylish people, most of them, I thought, at least 20 years my junior. I styled it out –  thank goodness for mobile phones and their ability to make us look busy – for all of two minutes, before the mother of the playwright himself appeared. She had I had bonded over crazy school trips and children with such muddled-up, exciting and bewildering potential. She told me it was all my fault – that I’d told him he could be anything. She told me how nervous she was – every time he took to the stage. Now I’d love to sit back and take the plaudits for this, but I have to admit that I don’t have a dramatically creative bone in my body (unless Year 11 write ‘it makes the reader want to read on,’ in which case I turn into an impressive Basil Fawlty), and that I taught him French, by which he was really rather uninspired.

I was his form tutor, though. He did once convince me he was a secret pyromanic, after which he cackled hysterically at having wound me up (time will tell, young man). He also came on the trips to Europe – the annual ones, before I had children, when children from Camden fell of banana boats, ordered French ice creams, wandered wide-eyed around concentration camps, asked the most hilariously, brilliantly unexpected questions, interviewed disconcerted strangers in market places, and broke boundary after boundary, in the best possible way.

And then I was surrounded a load of you – I’d done the maths on the way, so managed not to collapse in a greying heap when you reminded me you were 26 and 27. and I remembered you all; your names, your idiosyncrasies, your fears and foibles, your numerous hilarious,  kind, brilliant and glorious moments. Of course, with some, my memory has been regularly refreshed, with references for jobs (and- ahem – court cases) and a particularly spectacular surprise appearance at my 40th birthday party three years ago.

And, to me, you are still twelve. Which is handy, because my instinct when two of you asked me, ‘Miss, can we use the toilet?’ in the middle of the performance, I didn’t hesitate to ask you to leave quietly and return as quickly as you could. And yet, you’re not – you are engineers and project managers and editors and musicians and actors. Some of you are too together for words, with mortgages and engagements, whilst others will never, I suspect, stop being twelve.

And then the absent friends – the ones with new babies and new countries to live in. The ones who got lost – either literally or metaphorically. You were there too. In our thoughts and in our conversations.

And then we went in. My most recent memories were dominated by endearing and occasionally excruciating stage-appearances at school, with dramas behind the curtain to easily upstage anything happening in front of it. And yet I was gobsmacked – by the poise and elegance and sheer bloody talent of Igor, who opened the show (I’ve been practising the East-European man gesture, but suspect you’ll have to film it for me to have any chance of doing it justice). I heard mind-blowing operatic voices, heard shocking and searing spoken word poetry and monologues, and actually cried with laughter at the improv. brigade at the end. The best possible come-back for the cocky 12-year old who honed his heckling skills in Year 7 French.

You have confirmed something I wrote recently: some people truly are indelible. To the mind-blowingly successful to the terminally immature, to the fiercely ambitious and those who caught the travel bug and did more with it than I have ever managed to do. To the quietly humble and hard-working, to the still-finding-their-way. I’m so proud of you, I am here for you, and I consider myself very lucky to be part of your lives, until you have as many grey hairs as I do now, and more.