Sue Arnold Column: Oh no! Another early morning bombshell

`You've got what?'I said to my husband, trying to keep the hysteria out of my voice
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LIKE most wives, I suspect, I've had my share of marital bombshells. There was the morning, for instance, my first husband announced that he was giving up his job as a stockbroker to run marathons full-time. And then at breakfast last week (bombers seem to favour the early morning attack, when one's resistance is low and one's defences down) my current husband said: "Oh, by the way. I've bought four tickets for the Old Vic, next Wednesday night."

Just as well I was making toast and not chopping courgettes into fine slices with a sharp knife, as Delia Smith is constantly urging us to do, or I would almost certainly have severed a vital artery in my astonishment. My husband loathes the theatre. Over the years, I've tried taking him to interesting productions I've read about, a Pinter here, an Ayckbourn there, one or two avant-garde Shakespeares featuring actors wearing paper bags or roller-skates, but he has never really taken to it.

Every December I have this romantic Mother Earth craving to take the whole family to a pantomime or the National Theatre's Christmas show after which, chattering excitedly about the wonders we've just seen, we pile into the car and drive off to Pizza Express vowing to do this sort of thing more often. In reality it doesn't work like that. The last panto we went to, Cinderella at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford, I think, was depressingly politically correct.

The principal boy was not a girl with shapely legs but a scruffy youth in trainers, and the ugly sisters were not played by Dennis Skinner and Arthur Scargill. They were just two very plain middle-aged actresses from the early episodes of Crossroads.

We did three shows at the National Theatre - Peter Pan, Carousel and the Wind in the Willows. Carousel was much too long. Peter Pan, apart from Ian McKellen as Captain Hook, was dreary: the lost boys were grown men, some really quite old, with stubbly chins.

Halfway through Wind in the Willows my husband said: "Why are we watching a bunch of men in silly clothes pretending to be ferrets?" Because it's fun, I said. In the first interval the six-year-old asked if he could go home and watch the Everton match. All the other children volunteered to take him. That was our last family outing to the theatre.

Culture in our house divides neatly into male and female. The boys go to horror films and football matches; the girls go to feel-good films and designer clothes shops. I brood restlessly at home wondering if its worth schlepping across London to the Barbican to see the exciting new production of Chekhov underwater in Russian and if so, who would come with me.

"You've got what?" I said to my husband last week at breakfast, trying to keep the hysteria out of my voice. If this was his way of saying he was planning to run marathons full time I was heading for a rocky few months and a new husband.

"Don't worry. It isn't a play it's a sort of magic show. Its called Ricky Jay and his Fifty-Two Assistants, and he's supposed to be the best card sharp in the world. The audience sits on the stage, there are only 150 seats, which is why it's so incredibly expensive, and you have to bring a sweater because the temperature has to be cool so that his hands don't sweat."

For man of few words, none before noon, this from my husband was the equivalent of Elizabeth I addressing the troops at Tilbury.

Thinking about it later as I chopped courgettes into fine slices with a sharp knife I realised that, like the marathon bombshell, I could have seen this one coming. At the back of his sock drawer my husband has a plastic bag containing sundry metal rings, plastic tumblers, multi-coloured handkerchiefs, lengths of cord, small plastic balls, playing cards, dice and a wand. When I first met him he used to do tricks and now I come to think of it he was really rather good at it.

Whether this was part of his attraction I cannot say: it was a long time ago. But there's definitely something magnetic about magicians. Coming back from America on a transatlantic liner after a year at the University of Colorado (we're talking pre-Titanic here) I fell madly in love with a man from New York who, among other things, could do amazing card tricks.

What I remember most of all was that he never stopped practising his craft. Wherever he went - at meals, strolling round the deck, watching TV, in the bar, in bed - he always carried a pack of cards, around which his long, white, nervous fingers fluttered constantly like moths.

Ricky Jay must practise in his sleep. He was dazzling. On reflection, being married to a full-time magician wouldn't be so bad. More sociable than marathons anyway.

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