Holland. Schiphol Airport.
Time to leave Rotterdam after four days of our stunning hotel, its rainfall showers, breakfast buffets that stretched to Belgium and – in my wife’s case – a rather too close encounter with a raw herring.
But not for a while. Having finally triumphed in our battle with the world’s most cantankerous adversary – the KLM automated check-in machine – there was the small matter of two hours to kill.
Time to relax, I thought. Maybe get the laptop out. See if I could remember how to write…
“Come on, dad,” Ben said. “Time to rehearse.”
Ah. Yes. I’d forgotten. That is I hadn’t forgotten but I’d shuffled it to the back of my memory.
Tomorrow rehearsals for Mack & Mabel moved into the theatre. The first performance was five days away. And I didn’t know my lines.
Maybe volunteering to play Charles Bauman when the real actor fell ill hadn’t been such a good idea…
“OK, dad. You’ve mastered your first line?”
“Where’s the writers?” I demanded.
“Good. Three words learnt. That’s a start…”
And something of a role reversal as well. When Ben was seven we’d snuggled up on the bed and learned his lines for The Grumpy Innkeeper.
Three years later he was Scrooge. Last year it was public speaking.
Let me say quite simply that rehearsing with my youngest son has given me some of the happiest moments of my life.
But now the boot was on the other foot. And Ben seemed quite prepared to use it.
“I could do with a coffee…”
“You can have a coffee when you’ve got Act One right. OK? Well, sir. Are you with us or not?”
My cue. But this next bit was tricky. “It’s not a simple as that, Sennett. There are pros and cons to be considered - ”
“Factors to be taken into account. Shortcomings to be weighed.”
“Those two lines are the wrong way round.”
“And imponderables. No, intangibles. To be pondered. There. Pretty good.”
“Pretty hopeless. I hope you’re not thirsty…”
We carried on. And on. Jane disappeared to the duty free shop. A couple of cleaners paused to watch the famous director haranguing the useless actor.
But gradually we seemed to be making progress…
“OK, dad. Stand up and do it. Pretend you’re on stage.”
“What? You want me to act? We’re in the middle of an airport.”
“Look on the bright side, dad. There might be a reality TV crew wandering round. You could be famous. Only on Dutch TV, obviously.”
I stood up and confidently rattled off a large slice of script. “Sennett, what’s wrong? Where’s Mabel…”
“Good. Much better. But you need to act as well. Walk backwards as you deliver the last line. Because it says here the curtain comes down. Wouldn’tlook too good if it hit you on the head, dad.”
“So who’s gonna be up there on that screen?” I said, walking confidently backwards, my arms aloft as I gestured at an imaginary silver screen.
I suddenly felt something very hard hit me in the back.
“Not that far back, dad!”
I’d forgotten we were on the first floor. I tuned round and looked over the guard rail. A group of Japanese tourists were staring up in amazement. I waved to them. ‘Famous actor,’ I mouthed. They made no move for their cameras.
“Everything alright?” Jane said, looking remarkably cheerful.
“Dad’s just had a near-death experience. Otherwise we’re fine.”
My wife smiled at me. “Seeing as you’re still alive you could go to the duty free. Bombay Sapphire’s on special offer.” But for once I had an excuse. “Sorry,” I said. “The director won’t give me any time off…”