Subjudice has been going to acting classes, and the house is like a theatre dressing room as a result. She’s projecting her voice all over the place and screwing up her face while huffing out “aeiou” in a stage whisper, and you can’t get her to walk anywhere. She’ll either limp there or pretend she’s in a wheelchair, or that she’s a marathon runner flailing about on the last 100 yards. All the friends she dragooned into going with her spend their evenings with us, clapping madly and asking if we can see their pain.
I trudge along after her, picking up the bits of costume she’s discarded and dreading the upcoming production of the group’s improvised piece, How Will the World End? Why is it that when you ask kids to do anything creative, they always write about death, and the long-drawn-out sort at that? I can see a good three hours of children pretending to be poisoned lakes and gagging moorhens in front of me.
“What’s she doing?” asked Deminimus at the weekend, as he watched Subjudice being a struggling water vole swept away by a flooded river running between the living room and the kitchen. “She’s emoting!” said her friend Tabitha, breathlessly being a swaying reed at the side. From the kitchen came the sound of the water vole floundering into the table and knocking the bowl of fruit flying.
The Lawyer ordered Subbie to go on to emote control as a result, and she stomped off with Marlon Brando’s autobiography, which her tutor had lent her. Now, if children obsess about death, then men obsess about Marlon Brando in his various guises, and pretty soon the Lawyer was tickling Subbie into a fit of helpless giggles so he could take the book off her. It was mere minutes before he was on the sofa with Deminimus, running through the “I could have been a contender” speech from On the Waterfront, with Deminimus playing Rod Steiger. It’s quite appropriate really, because it looks like the department is going to be broken up after all and the Lawyer needs to practise his “unwittingly betrayed yet still noble” look for when he has to walk into the staff canteen. He even put on one of my tighter T-shirts to emphasise his chest, but I told him he was aiming for the wrong Brando film, and if he wanted to come out of the mess with any chance of advancement, he’d have to drop the loser act. Half an hour later the whole family was walking around with their cheeks stuffed with cotton wool and I had a request for spaghetti bolognese for dinner.
I felt, however, that the Corleone clan did not give a great example of family life, and asked Liability what she’d like us to play instead.
And so we spent the evening acting out Little House on the Prairie, which made absolutely no difference to my life, although I made a strong case for Ma using washing machines and dishwashers if she had had them in late 19th century Dakota. Deminimus rather seemed to enjoy being dressed in Subbie’s old school uniform as Mary, and Subbie played Laura with mumps until we persuaded her to take the cotton wool out of her cheeks. It was good to see the Lawyer chopping wood, although he didn’t realise until it was too late that he was smashing up a self-assembly bookcase he’d given up on in the summer. He surveyed the wreckage, aghast. “Never mind Daddy,” said Subjudice, putting her arms around him. “I think you’re still a contender.”