AIDA AUSTIN: 'Tomayto, tomato....ongoing search for common ground'

Friday evening, London — and my eldest son is discussing the provisions he has made for our entertainment this weekend.

“I mean basically,” he says, “I drew a blank.”

“We’re easy, love,” my husband and I say in unison, “You know us.” 

“Because to be honest,” my son continues, “you don’t have anything in common. In terms of interests, I mean.” 

“Apart from walking,” my husband says. 

“And eating,” I continue, “and stuff like that.” 

“That’s just called living together,” my son says.

“Well, we both like that,” my husband says, “we’re ok at that.” 

“Oh,” I remind my husband, “you forgot cinema.” 

“We can’t count cinema any more,” my husband says, “not now you’ve taken to walking out of films after five seconds. It might have been before, when you’d occasionally make it to half-way through a film. But not now when you disappear at the faintest whiff of violence, which can even happen during the opening credits.” 

“Weird,” my son says, “how does that work?” 

“I just walk out and read my book in the foyer,” I say. 

“No,” my son says, “I mean how does not having shared interests work — over 30 years?”

“I dunno,” I say, “in good times, I think of it as being an essential sort of… paradox. In bad times, it feels more like we’re a totally ludicrous contradiction. You know, that ‘you say tomayto, I say tomato business.’”

“So how about going for a meal tonight?” my son says, “we can walk to the restaurant — you’ve got walking and eating covered right there.” 

“Lovely,” my husband and I say at the same moment. We look at each other; we are at this moment, immensely proud of our common ground. 

“Great,” my son says, “that’s tonight sorted.” 

“Anything but Italian,” my husband says in the same second as I say, “anything but Thai.” 

“Be honest,” my son says, “you fancy Italian, don’t you, Mum?” 

“Yup,” I say. 

“Dad?” 

“Thai.”

“For tomorrow,” my son says, “I thought about a comedy club. You both like stand-ups, don’t you?” 

“I’d run away with Dylan Moran,” I say,

“Did you like him, Dad?” my son says. 

“Nah,” he says, “so I didn’t go. But I like that Welsh fella.” 

“Perhaps,” I suggest, “you say tomayto, I say tomato isn’t the case at all. Perhaps it’s more a case of, ‘you say tomayto and I say pear.’” 

“No,” my husband says, “not ‘pear.” 

“So then I thought maybe something musical,” my son says, “a gig or something.” 

“Perfect,” my husband says, “as long as it’s not opera.”

“I must be the only person in the world,” I say, “to be named after a famous opera, yet never to have seen it.” 

“Your parents dragged you to all of them when you were young,” my husband says. 

“And then just when I’d finally learned to like it,” I say, “you came along.” 

“Or,” my son says, “we could go to the theatre?’” 

“Same goes for theatre,” my husband says, “I was dragged to the theatre when I was young, then Mum came along.” 

“How about apple then,” I say, “maybe “you say tomayto and I say apple” is more appropriate?” 

“Nope,” my husband says, “not ‘apple’ either.”

2pm. Saturday, My son and I are sitting on a low wall outside a ticket booth in Leicester Square. My husband is up at the counter. 

“GUESS WHAT I’VE JUST GOT TICKETS FOR!” my husband shouts over the crowd, “KINKY BOOTS! I’VE BEEN DYING TO SEE KINKY BOOTS. DONNA SAYS IT’S AMAZING. YOU’LL LOVE IT. DRAG QUEENS DANCING! WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?!” 

“Only a man very comfortable with his masculinity could scream that in front of a hundred strangers,” my son says. 

“What kind of show is Kinky Boots?” I ask my husband as we walk towards Trafalgar Square. 

“Just think,” he says, “if you like it we can put it on the list. Under walking and eating.” 

“Not if it’s a musical, we won’t,” I say.

Saturday 7pm. We are outside the theatre, having seen Kinky Boots. My husband is trying to put musicals on the list. 

“But it had dancing drag queens in it,” he says, “I don’t understand.” 

“Then we’ll put just them on the list,” I say, “by themselves.”

“It’s not ‘you say tomayto and I say apple’ he says, “or pear.” 

“What then?” 

“I dunno,” he says, “but something that’s not all fruit.” 

12pm. We are in my son’s flat, brushing our teeth in front of the bathroom mirror. 

“Lacrosse,” my husband says suddenly. 

“Lacrosse what?” I say. 

“You say tomayto and I say lacrosse,’” he says. 

“How on earth,” I say, “did you come up with lacrosse?” 

“Ask my subconscious,” he says. 

“But what made you think of…” 

“I haven’t a clue,” he says, “but my subconscious knows best.”


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