Near the top of my 'to be read' pile of books is 'Rodham' by Curtis Sittenfield, which asks, 'What if Hilary hadn't married Bill,' and I remember reading Robert Harris's 'Fatherland' when it was first published many years ago and being blown away by the premise: what if the Germans had won WWII? Stories are all about 'what if' but these counterfactual or alternate history stories ask it on a grand scale. On a smaller scale, I wonder how many of us have a counterfactual version of our own running in real time this year, a sort of ghost diary that's highlighted by computerised calendar alerts, reminding us what we should have been doing in a parallel life - 'what if the pandemic had never happened?'
Today, my daughter and I should have been taking our seats at the Royal Albert Hall in an hour, to see the matinee of the English National Ballet's 'Swan Lake in the Round.' I booked the tickets a year ago, as a treat for Kezia to celebrate the end of her GCSE's and my birthday, tomorrow. Not only is the performance cancelled, of course, but also the GCSE's themselves. At the start of January I made a list in my 2020 diary of all the things that were supposed to happen this year. It was to have been a big year for my family. My youngest son's A' levels and 18th birthday celebrations (he's been looking forward to going clubbing for years!), my eldest's graduation, and middle son's 21st birthday which he'd planned to celebrate with his girlfriend in Paris in spring. My new book, also being sent out to publishers this year, is inspired by the music of folk singer Sam Lee and I was looking forward to joining him by a woodland campfire for the magical 'Singing with Nightingales'. My daughter had been accepted onto the Rambert Summer School and was so excited about spending a week dancing in London. I've noticed that this event is still written on next month's page of the lovely Landmark Trust calendar that hangs in our kitchen. No delete button on old-fashioned calendars, so I either cross it out, or leave it there to taunt us all month!
Writer Tor Udall described these cancelled plans perfectly on an Instagram post at the beginning of lockdown: 'This weekend we're supposed to be on holiday by the sea. I know it's NOTHING in the scheme of things, but they're like a thousand paper cuts, these little griefs.'
There are consolations though. Thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of my daughter's dance teacher, Beccy, instead of watching Swan Lake she is right now upstairs in my bedroom doing a dance lesson with a top choreographer.
She's fifteen and her ambition is to be a professional dancer, and I just hope the theatres and dance companies survive, for all our sakes. So hats off to Andrew Lloyd-Webber for experimenting with ways to enable theatres to reopen in the not too distant future. There were three entries in my 2020 diary that did actually happen and they all involved live performance. In January my daughter and I went to see Matthew Bourne's 'The Red Shoes' at Sadler's Wells and in February my son went on a school trip to New York, taking in a Broadway musical. That last normal month, I also went to see Sam Lee touring his beautiful new album, 'Old Wow'. Two concerts, one in the small and intimate Glee Club in Birmingham with my son, and again at the more grander Colston Hall in Bristol with my literary agent, Broo and her husband.
I hope the government finds a way to properly support musicians, dancers and actors because only now my dairy has been emptied of these events do I realise just how much I love them and how vital they are for our wellbeing and happiness. Photo: Laurent Liotardo