Monday, 26 November 2007

"You need indigo to make a rainbow"

This week, Amelie had her first ever 'assembly' at pre-school; basically a small recital put on for the benefit of the other children and to give them an idea of what it is like to perform in front of an audience. She seems very young to be doing this (certainly, when I was three years old, my only public performances were temper tantrums in the aisles of supermarkets) but apparently it's pretty standard, and children simply do a lot more of all kinds of stuff at increasingly early ages these days: I can only look forward to next year, when I assume she'll be dancing 'Swan Lake' in her plimsolls, and then presumably an irrigation project in the Sudan will follow the year after that, if it doesn't clash with her art exhibition...
I complained to Nini that my little girl was being forced to grow up too early for my liking, but she swept my objections aside with all the delicacy of an advancing Panzer division, on the basis that:
a) Seeing as I'm at work all day, I have no real idea just how much incessant stimulation our daughter needs. When I'm the one one facing an afternoon of colouring in, making hot air balloons out of papier mache and pretending to be a princesses' talking horse for the third consecutive day, then I'll feel different about even the slightest distraction that gets offered up.
b) It's not Twelfth Night they're doing, it's a song about colours. Amelies sole job is to deliver a single line "You need indigo to make rainbow". At no point will she be called on to bring a full range of emotional powers to the role, or to 'see the world through the characters eyes': the most she'll have to do is remember six words and join in with the singing...
c) She can't stay a little girl forever. All in all, it's probably best I start gently learning to accept that now - otherwise when she's fifteen and brings home a boyfriend with tattoos and a knowing smirk, it will get ugly (and at the very idea, a spasm of rage crossed my face and my twitching hands made tightly balled fists, so she may have a point)...

So: assembly. Parents were invited to stay and watch after they dropped their children off at the school, so we - myself, Nini, Neve, and my mother, who was visiting - took our seats. My mother was particularly excited.
"Oooh, this takes me back. I remember doing all this with you...."
I made a non-committal noise. The children in the audience were being lined up in ranks on the hall floor, and I had a sudden vivid body memory of just how cold and comfortable school flooring is when you are made to sit quietly on it against your will for a protracted period of time. Parquet flooring and the smell of floor polish: the essence of childhood oppression.
"Do you remember when you were a fish?" asked Mum, all misty eyed for the mid-Seventies.
Sadly, I do: all too clearly. When I was 5 or 6 years old we learnt about the water cycle at school, and were then told that we would be 'doing a play' about it to the other classes. We were all assigned roles, and I was given what seemed then (and frankly still seems now) to be easily the worst role in the whole production: a fish. This was one of only three non-speaking parts in the whole presentation, and furthermore was the least compelling of these 'assorted sea life' roles: the other two were a lobster and a starfish, both clearly far more interesting. My job was to step forward with then when somebody else said "...and water gives life to sea creatures" and to basically stand there, looking like a fish. Such was my disgust at my chosen role that I promptly forgot all about it and completely neglected to tell my parents, remembering only at bedtime the night before, when I suddenly informed my mother she needed to have made a complete fish outfit for me by 8.am the following day. This is how I came to be the only one not in proper costume for the play: both the lobster and the starfish looked excellent, whereas I looked like a slightly tearful boy in his school uniform wearing a crudely drawn fish cut from the back of a cereal packet on a headband. Children were already laughing at me when I first stepped onto the stage, let alone when I had to step forward with my rockpool chums. I also remember my sister being particularly unpleasant and calling me 'fish head' for days afterwards...

I sighed and said to my mother that yes, I remember when I was a fish, please let's not relive that horror all over again. She became slightly huffy, reminding me that back then she had a cleaning job to hold down in the evenings and it was the best she could do at short notice. I was about to say that may well have been the case, but even taking that into account it was an extremely poorly drawn fish, when Amelies class were fortunately led in to take their positions.

Amelie saw us at once. She pulled a face that all parents adore - for a fraction of a second her face split into the widest smile of pride and joy that we were all there to see here, and then she realised that it was a play and that she musn't get distracted so she pulled her serious "It's showtime, people" face: this audience needed educating about rainbows and she was the girl to do it, at least as far as 'indigo' was concerned. She then spoiled the facade by giving us little waves whenever we caught her eye
It was all very sweet. Ami delivered her lines nicely, at the right time (after 'blue', before 'violet') and joined in with the songs and chorus. At one part three children with non-speaking roles were called upon to step forward and wave coloured ribbons while they swayed - clearly the 'fish role' of the rainbow world. They looked a little uncomfortable and my heart went out to them. "Don't worry, swaying rainbow ribbon children", I wanted to say; "I was a particularly shit 'fish' once, and I feel your pain - things will get better..."
At the end the children were allowed to hug their familes goodbye, and Ami leapt into each of our arms in turn, beaming wildly and bursting with pride. My mother found this very emotional - I swear she had to knuckle away a tear...

That night, in bed, Nini and I discussed what we had seen. Strangely, Nini seemed to have changed her mind a little on the scope and importance of what Amelie had done...
"She was the best" she said
"It's not Twelfth night, remember," I chided, "It was six lines in a song about rainbows."
"Even so, she was clearly the best"
"I thought 'Red' was very good as well"
Nini made a desirive snort. "Not as good as Amelie..."
"He was louder. I could hear him better."
"It's not just about volume, though, is it?"
"Ah, I begin to see my error. I thought that in the privacy of our own bedroom, where nobody can hear us, we were going to be objective about it. Clearly not."
"Objective? About our own chidren?"
"Right. Of course not. My mistake. In which case, although 'Red' was louder, he didn't bring the emotional depth to the role that I thought Amelie achieved with 'Indigo'."
"Yes. And 'Indigo' is harder to say when you're three. More syllables."
"Exactly. It's a very tricky colour for anybody to portray..."

1 comment:

Pat said...

Ben's pre-school play this year is 'The Wizard of Oz'. I'm not sure whether we should be insulted that the role chosen for him is the scarecrow, who has only one line:

"I'm a scarecrow, and I haven't got a brain."