We reconnected last summer after 30 years and have arranged to meet this afternoon at the National Gallery. Afterwards, he’s taking me to dinner and then on to the opera.
It might be a Mills and Boon, but for the fact that James is gay. Proper gay, that is, not Betsy both-ways and even when he might have been a tiny weeny bit Betsy both-ways all those years ago, we didn’t fancy each other anyway.
“Nevertheless,” I think, walking down to Trafalgar Square, “it’s still a delightful story about two people getting to know each other again after 30 years, except this time round as convincing grown-ups.”
Walking up the front steps of the National Gallery, I think, “I wish I was a convincing grown-up.”
Finding a seat just inside the entrance, I think, “if I was one, I wouldn’t have done a handstand just for the fun of it yesterday and broken my neck.”
I’m striving to find a way of holding up my neck - and therefore my head - with my hands without looking as if I’m trying to throttle myself.
There isn’t one.
“I mean, you can’t cancel a precious reunion like this just because of extreme agony,” I think, popping more Neurofen.
James arrives, smiling broadly. He is terribly excited; I make a promise to myself to suffer in silence.
We are looking at paintings. I cannot identify which ones; my eyes are crossed in different directions, what with all the Neurofen but there are lots of Jesuses on crosses. Perhaps we are looking at early religious paintings?
We are still looking at Jesuses. It’s odd looking at paintings when you can’t exactly see.
“Oh my god, look at the frames,” James says.
The frames are nice and shiny. I can see the frames.
“Lovely,” I say.
“Just look at the incredible detail,” he says.
“Chance would be a fine thing,” I think.
We leave the National Gallery.
“That was lovely,” says James, “don’t you think?”
“If you ask me,” I think: Jesus’s pain hasn’t got a PATCH on mine.
We’re walking towards the restaurant. I mustn’t think about sitting down. If I start thinking about sitting down this early on in the evening, I will spoil everything. After all, I can sit down at the opera.
“Do you like Indonesian?” James says, looking at the menu in the window. I gaze inside the restaurant. I see chairs.
“I like Indonesian chairs,” I think, “especially ones with backs.”
I am trying to hold up my own head in a casual fashion on a chair with no back. It is difficult but not as difficult as suffering in silence. James confesses he’s an opera maniac.
“Fine by me,” I say, “I grew up in a house of opera maniacs. Where do you think I got the name “Aida” from?”
“So have you been to the opera much over the years?” he says.
“Not since I left home,” I say, “the theme tune to Match of the Day has been my soundtrack for the past 30 years. That and Radio Five Live. All quite against my will.”
“I wouldn’t be able to go so often if they hadn’t introduced the 10 euro standing tickets,” he says, “that’s all I could get tonight. Hope you don’t mind.”
At Il Trovatore, getting into standing position. I notice there’s a high ledge in front.
Perhaps if I rest my elbows on ledge it might be easier to hold up my head? It’s worth a try.
Not using ledge again. Standing it is.
“You’re putting me to shame,” James whispers, “standing so still - you’re not fidgeting at all.”
“Oh to be able to fidget,” I think.
I’m at my son’s flat. He’s insisting on giving up his bed for me.
“No,” I say, and he knows when he’s beaten.
“What was the opera like?”
“An unbelievably exquisite agony,” I say, sinking to my knees on the parquet floor and crawling onto the blow-up mattress.
“And this,” I say, “is an unbelievably exquisite relief.”
The blow-up mattress makes a funny sound.
“I mean nothing could be more agonising than what I’ve just been through,” I say, just as the mattress suddenly pops.
“Apart,” I whimper, face-planted on the parquet floor, “from this.”