In Take 53Â I flagged up the reality of lifeâ€™s
landmarks and the general passing of time which affects us all,Â no
matter how far we run or how much Botox we inject.
And on this note, this week two things occurred â€“ one that I
expected and one that I didnâ€™t.
What I expectedÂ to happen this week was for Tom to
finish school â€“ and for his GCSEâ€™s to start. Heâ€™s not actually leaving school.
He is continuing on to the sixth form but what I mean, is that he is now free
to leave school, should he choose to.
And he must be tempted I suppose. Even though, our modern times
make school leavingÂ a frightening juncture,Â as a parent I am relievedÂ that Tom is probably as well placed as most kids of his age in terms of finding a path.Â And despite this, I am pleased that he wants to stay on at school. Whatever
happens to him going forward, I figure that heâ€™ll be a wealthier adult for
having these last two years of his childhood than he will be without them â€“ and
I donâ€™t mean monetarily.
And given my woes about my age and place in the world what I
didnâ€™t expect to happen this week or needÂ were any further reminders
of my mortalityÂ â€“ but a very real and painful one arrived
Not entirely unexpected I suppose given that I have not
played football properly for nearly a quarter of a century â€“ andÂ the
5-a-side football craze that is sweepingÂ the nation and netting dads who
should know better â€“ well, it finally caught me recently and just three weeks in,Â it
dumped me firmly on my backside.
The exact injury is disputed but the pain is not.Â It is
definitely the calf muscle but is it ripped, torn, pulled or ruptured? I have
no idea and doctor at A & E doesnâ€™t know either and didnâ€™t seem terribly bothered
either. And fair enough I suppose. It was an accident but it was hardly an
To the incident then – commanding the midfield like a general, I suddenly heard a whipping noise andÂ felt a sharp whack on the back of my calf.Â Immediately I thought
that I’d been hit by a stone or possibly even shot. My first instincts were
to look for my assailant butÂ he had managed to vanish, but because I was stillÂ so convinced that I had beenÂ assaulted, I settled instead for looking on the ground for the rogue ball bearingÂ or bullet. Of course there wasnâ€™t anything to find and I realisedÂ that if I had been assaulted, then it was by God and his message was clear – I am
too old to be playing football.
For my radio 4Â series, The Small Work of Dominic Holland, I wrote a sketch about cavemen and how they might react if one of their clan suffered a similar injuryÂ and how they wouldn’t believe him withÂ no blood, swelling andÂ not even a bruise. SoÂ concludingÂ that he was just a lazy bastard, the savages might even eat the poor bloke because heâ€™s easier to catch than a mammoth.
And so it is now for me. At least a broken leg can be seen.
It shows up on an x ray and gets a cast. But a torn muscle gets nothing more
than Paracetomol and rapidly dwindlingÂ sympathy I’ve discovered. Regular readers of Eclipsed will knowÂ that I usually kick off the day by making my boys their sandwiches â€“ whichÂ I canâ€™t do now â€“ so the Holland day now begins badly. We have a boy worrying
about his GCSEâ€™s, an injured dad (or is he?) and a fed up wife â€“ putting this
blog in doubt because it is indulgent, it takes up too much time and it
generates an income of exactly zero.
For now though, continuing with the theme of physical prowess and youthâ€¦
If Eclipsed is going toÂ appeal and entertain,Â I am mindfulÂ never to appear smug about my clever kid and what he can do. Iâ€™m not an arts critic and nor am I his agent. One of the
strengths of this storyÂ is that the efforts of its â€˜starsâ€™ can be consumed
and judged by my readers for themselves.Â You can
read my novels or watch my stand up. You might have watched Tom play Billy â€“ or
you can see his film The Impossible in due course â€“ and decide for yourselves on
the individual merits of us both.
But I can however big up certain feats that Tom has managed
already in his short action packed life â€“ chiefÂ of which is the fact that he was
a â€˜Billyâ€™ – playing the roleÂ of Billy Elliot in the west end musical for nearly two years â€“something which resonated with me as I hobbled about theÂ house this week and I was reminded of something that was said to me during his days at Billy.
Before I explain what was said, I need to put it in toÂ contextâ€¦
During Tomâ€™s time in the show, the question I was most frequently
asked was – what it is like to see my sonÂ play such a role? And it is predominantly pride of course but also a decentÂ heap of worry and discomfort thrown in as well.
I say this because the role is like no other. Somersaults,
back flips and running up walls not to mention a dance to close Act 1 called angry dance that is so exhausting, whenÂ the show first opened, the boys playing Billy would regularly vomit in theÂ wings from exhaustion. A problemÂ with two possible solutions; toÂ tone the show down or to increase the boyâ€™s fitness?
They went forÂ fitness.
DamienÂ Jackson is a key member of theÂ BillyÂ Elliot team. HeÂ was a professional ballet dancer himself and Tom remembers himÂ with great affection as do I. Watching Tom being put through his routines inÂ training one day, the fact that TomÂ was already established in the role didn’tÂ mean that training eased at all and Damien was running Tom particularly hard.
HeÂ was wet through with sweat and typically concentrated, TomÂ did all that was asked
of him â€“ and it didn’t make veryÂ comfortable watching for me at all. ItÂ isnâ€™t
easy to see your kid in pain â€“Â something any parents of children
involved in competitive sport, will appreciate.
Such sessions are normally closed off to parents but somehow
I was there and maybe sensing my unease, Damien felt the need to put my mind at
rest and he told me something I have never forgotten.
Firstly, he told me that the role of Billy could only be
played by a child. That an adult dancer would not be able to run so many dances
so closely together plusÂ act and sing as well.
And then he went on to sayâ€¦
â€˜The boys playingÂ Billy are the fittest kids in Britain. There might be kids as fit. Perhaps the kidsÂ who swim for their country but they wonâ€™t be any fitter. The kids playing Billy
are simply as fit as it is possible to be.â€™
I donâ€™t know why this resonated quite so much with me â€“ but I
know why I was reminded ofÂ it this week.
Because three years on, Tom is much less fitÂ and so am I – I can’t even walk.
At Dance Works this week in London, the dance studios where
Tom spent years being trained for Billy, Tom was being seen by a choreographerÂ for a small part in a film shooting this summer.Â To his delight, two other Billyâ€™s were thereÂ also and Tom was excited to see them both.
The choreographer started his session by asking â€“ â€˜Okay â€“
who was a Billy?â€™ Three hands went up which I expect might have worried theÂ other boysÂ but this is not my point.
What struck me was the amazing bond that Tom will have with
boys he shared a stage with in this extraordinary role.
Stand-up comics share a special bond, given the nature of
what we do and becauseÂ weâ€™ve all died on our arses one night and been a hero the
next. Comics are jealous sods in my experience. TheyÂ enjoy other comics failures
much more than theirÂ successes but nonetheless they do share a bond. Recently I have been in touch with Paul Boross who was one half of The Calypso Twins with AinslieÂ Harriet no less. I didnâ€™t know Paul very well on the circuit as we only shared few bills togther. But no matter, theÂ fact that we have gigged is all that matters – and a bond exists.
SoÂ I can’t imagine then the bond between the boys lucky enough to have been Billy. The size of the show, their role and their youth.Â Being a stand-up comic is certainly nothingÂ like the role ofÂ Billy. And this is my point. There are lots of ropey standâ€“up comics but there
is no such thing as a ropey Billy Elliot.
And whether or not these kids continue to dance or stay in
the business, they will always have amazing memories plus the knowledge that at
one point in their life, they were as fit as can humanly be â€“ which is not a
claim any comedian could ever make â€“ not one that I know of anyway.