I feel that at some point, we all have those moments when we realise we’re slowly turning into our parents. For me it came last week when my Storytelling Friend turned up with free tickets. I was delighted to be included as the Plus One, and proceeded to approach the theatre as The Mom had trained me to.
When we were younger, for reasons best known to themselves, The Mom, and most of our grandparents, along with the local Board of Education, decided it was very important that we learn to attend the theatre properly.
So, before being dragged along to see the local production of whatever Shakespeare, I remember having to read the play in advance, so that I’d know what was going on. And there was also some discussion about appropriate attire, and behaviour once we had taken our seats. There was to be no talking, no coughing, no eating, no squirming. We were to direct our attention to the stage and to the efforts the actors were going through.
I hastily read a Wikipedia entry on The Crucible, which I remembered having studied in school. Witch trials, persecution. McCarthyism. Good. I felt I had a vague handle on the issues at hand. I presented myself at the theatre, and my Storytelling Friend joined me eventually, after struggling for forty-five minutes with hideous traffic and a lack of parking. As she’d not had a chance to eat anything, we queued up for some snacks. Now, I was glad on the one hand, that my friend was able to eat something as the play began because otherwise she’d have surely fainted from hunger. On the other hand, as I watched the audience, after the interval, munch away on bags of potato chips, ice creams, all manner of candies and sweets, along with pints of beer and large glasses of wine, there seemed to be to me something amiss.
It was as though we were at the movies. Where that sort of thing is not only acceptable but de rigeur. But here we were at the theatre, which is, as I understood it, a much classier event. But apparently things had changed when I wasn’t looking.
Now, I’m not much of a theatre-goer. I like the idea of it A Lot, but in the actual event, I get a bit stiff in the seats, and as the room is usually nice and warm, and dark, I get a bit drowsy. But if I need refreshment of any kind, I’m sure to consume it during the interval. I remember trips into Toronto in high school, where you were not allowed to bring your snack back into the threatre. If you couldn’t cram it into your face in the 20-minute interlude, then too bad. You weren’t having it. This was also my first introduction to wine gums, which were the only bit of substinence allowed into the theatre.
Beyond the snacks situation, I felt that a certain level of decorum had not been reached by the audience in their attire. My friend and I looked fine: we were sharply dressed, not wearing nasty jeans,and though by The Mom’s ridiculously high standards we might have been considered to look a bit on the slovenly side (as we were not wearing ball gowns), by comparison to the rest of the audience, we were dressed to the nines. There were a lot of folk in jeans, sweatshirts, and that sort of thing. The Mom had always taught us that the theatre was a treat, and as such an occasion, and therefore it was important to make an effort when getting dressed. Apparently. The Mom has yet to inform the good folk of Bristol about this fact.
The other thing that was driving me nuts, and being quite distracting, was all the coughing. Now, it is that special time of year in the UK when everyone develops some sort of bad, chesty hack. It’s the dampness. Gets into you and there’s nothing much you can do about it. You hear it on busses, in offices, at the movies, it’s everywhere and it spares no one.
However, for me at least, I should think that if one is desperately ill, as in, if you need to bring your Night Nurse, your nasal inhaler, your lozenges, and your handkerchief, I think it’s safe to say that you are too ill to be out of bed. Haste ye back to your own home, and keep your germs to yourself. This idea that one can power through and that there is some pride to be taken in showing the world you are too strong to be taken down by the common cold is ridiculous. Save everyone the bloody agony, and take the day off to rest.
There were several members of the audience who would’ve done well to heed this rule. There was so much coughing. The chap in front of us looked to be quite unwell. Each time he hacked up a lung, I felt I would catch whatever he had, and be dead within a fortnight.
The cough was so bad at this time of year, that even the actors were coughing. Honestly, were it not for the costumes, you’d have been forgiven for thinking we were some overflow unit of the local A&E.
Anyhow, the next time I Skyped The Mom after our trip to the theatre, I started railing on and on about the lack of decorum, and I noticed a wan smile creep over The Mom’s face. There was much nodding on her end and agreement of my assessment of the situation.
It was then that I realised I was saying all the things she used to say to me, and that actually this was perhaps the first in a series of slippery steps down the slope of turning into her myself. Lord save us all.