Sunday 19 December 1999
Barnaby selected the same venue for his party that every other five-year- old in the area always picks: an indoor play centre under the Westway. It is a children's paradise, full of slides and ladders and webbed-rope walkways, and consequently a kind of parent's hell, and one which smells strongly of feet. The place makes very little concession to adults. One is made to feel like a vegetarian in a steak house. Sitting in a sticky chair, making small talk with other parents, I resisted the urge to apologise. The place is a great leveller, I decided, as I watched fund-managing Supermum Nicola Horlick settle into another sticky chair across the room.
During the party, I tried to tell my Alexander Technique instructor, whose son was among the revellers, the amusing story of how I got the gash across the bridge of my nose, how I was strolling up Portobello Road in the dark, looking at my feet, and walked into a market stall. "Why were you looking at your feet?" he asked. I felt my neck muscles turn to stone.
"You can't just stand there," hissed my wife, when she later caught me ostentatiously exhibiting good posture. "You're the father." I opted to feed the baby sullenly in a corner. Barnaby, for his part, enjoyed himself so much that he was sick on his trousers. That's what I call a party.
Next up came the school nativity play, in which Barnaby was once again the centre of attention, in his role as Narrator #2. I suddenly realised that I was the only Dad in the world without a video camera. The last time I looked, video cameras were naff and obtrusive, and a discreet gun- metal grey stills camera was the only thing to have. Now everybody has a discreet gun-metal grey video camera. The same thing happened to me with mobile phones a couple of years back. I need to get out more.
From the moment Barnaby stepped on to the stage I began to cry. Well, almost. I don't personally count it as crying unless the tears actually roll down the face. So long as you blink them away before that, it's just being overwhelmingly proud. It's a matter of keeping on top of it: blink, smile, look away, blink, look up, blink, smile, blink. It was a long play.
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