Tim Dowling: A trip to the theatre is on the cards. To go or not to go?

I’ve been on a plane and shaken people’s hands but as restrictions lift, I still haven’t been to a pub or to a live show

I am sitting in front of my computer when my wife rings me from a train platform.

“Busy?” she says.

“Very busy,” I say, tapping at the keyboard.

Stiamo lavorando insieme,” says my computer, in a woman’s voice.

“What was that?” my wife says.

“Nothing,” I say. “Gerunds.”

“Do we want to go to the theatre tomorrow?” she says. “Someone’s got spare tickets.”

“Not sure,” I say.

“I know what you mean,” she says. “The play is meant to be brilliant, though.”

“What time does it start?” I say.

“What does that matter?” she says.

“I’m a businessman,” I say.

“Just say yes or no,” she says.

Sto ancora decidendo,” my computer says.

“Yeah, OK,” I say.

As the fog of Covid restrictions lifts, I find it increasingly difficult to make logical choices about risk. I still wear a mask in shops, but I’ve also recently shaken the sweaty hands of strangers. I got on a plane in August, but I still haven’t been inside a pub. Or a theatre.

That night I stay up late watching a film about demons invading an old family house. Paranormal investigators wearing headphones sit before screens at the kitchen table, while anguished wraiths float behind them. It’s meant to be terrifying, but to me it just looks like lockdown.

Hours later I am having an anxious dream about shopping when my wife shakes me awake. It’s still dark outside, but she is already dressed.

“What are you doing?” I say.

“Working,” she says. My wife started a new business from scratch during lockdown, and the hours she keeps are a stark reminder of what is required to be a businessperson.

“What time is it?” I say.

“There are 190 people on my website right now,” she says, handing me my phone. “I need to know why.”

“Someone influential probably recommended you,” I say. “It wasn’t me.”

“I know it wasn’t you,” she says. “Can you find out what’s happened?”

The wifi in the bedroom is patchy, but I track down the mention that is the source of the spike in traffic.

“Thank you,” she says. “You can go back to sleep.”

“No I can’t,” I say. “I’m a businessman – I need to check my emails.”

“You do that,” she says. I have one new email, from the Italian language app I subscribe to. It says: “You’re on fire!”

Later that morning my wife comes out to my office. “So,” she says. “We’ve had 30 orders already today.”

“Oh,” I say. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she says. “But in the circumstances I think I need to go down there.” By “down there” she means the garage in the middle of the countryside that serves as her fulfilment centre.

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“Good idea,” I say. “When?”

“Right now,” she says. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

“But that means …” I say.

“It means you’ve got a spare theatre ticket,” she says.

“What?” I say. “I can’t go by myself!”

“So you take one of them,” she says, pointing back at the house. “That’s what children are for.”

“OK, fine,” I say.

“You could be a little more supportive,” she says.

“I am being supportive,” I say. “I’m accepting my fate.”

“You’re trying to make me feel bad,” she says.

“You need to be more ruthless,” I say. “Screw my feelings – this is business.”

“You’re being weird,” she says.

“I think you’re trying to pick a fight with me because you don’t want to drive to Wiltshire.”

“There may be an element of that,” she says.

The theatre tickets come with a list of requirements: proof of double vaccination or natural immunity, or a negative test. I’ll also need a mask and a contactless payment card – the theatre has stopped taking cash. The evening may prove to be more of a test of my mettle than I’d imagined.

I go inside to find the middle one gazing into a screen at the kitchen table, earphones in, like a ghost hunter awaiting an apparition. He’s the only one awake: first come, first punished.

“You wanna go see this play tonight?” I say.

“What’s it about?” he says, frowning.

“No idea,” I say.

“Sure,” he says, but his darting eyes say: sto ancora decidendo.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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