Later that day, I go home and watch the Bray airshow. My parents live near the top of the steepest hill in town; from our station on the garage roof, the planes seem lost in the huge tank of the sky. There is something very nineteen-fifties about the whole spectacle; you feel that the display is supposed to be saucy, like a burlesque performed by technology. Each plane has its ten minutes alone in the sky; it wriggles, swoops, teases, rises, falls. Mostly rises and falls, to be honest. The only relief arrives when four jets fly across the town in tight formation. These aren’t exactly the Red Arrows. Not all the planes are the same colour, for a start, and they don’t really stay aligned all that well. Every so often one will slow down, or speed up precipitously, or veer in dangerously towards its fellows. But they try to keep it together, and you appreciate the effort. Everybody gives each other space. Of all the planes today, they alone seem lifted out of the 1950s and placed in a world where virtuosity counts for little, where the best you can do is look out for those around you and not fuck up. They alone seem like our contemporaries.
Then a jaunty, waspish plane arrives on the scene, and I go apeshit.
"That’s a fucking Spitfire," I say.
“Are you sure?” my dad says.
“Positive,” I say. Actually, I have never seen a Spitfire before, but this plane feels like one, and it suddenly seems enormously important that this little dancer is in fact an old fighter, that the nifty spirals and twists it executes are drawn from the most crucial hour of a country’s history, that we are standing on our roof and watching a true story about how grace kept the world safe, at least for a little while. Plus, it lets us pity the fools on the roof across the road, who are watching a small plane going up, then going down again.
The night before the show, I met up with an old friend and her new flame. It’s a routine everyone has gone through, and everyone knows the drill. You face off with the new boyfriend in the disciplines of politeness, generosity, arch humour and general knowledge. There’s payoffs for both of you. You get to demonstrate your crucial, planetary importance in the girl's life; he gets to go home with her. It's a win-win situation, you could say. Only this time it was different. This time was comfortable. Sure, it was sometimes a little achy, but in a bittersweet, dad waiting outside the disco kind of way. Everyone gave each other space. It helped a lot that the new guy was likeable- easy and confident and funny- and that the two of them seemed pretty good together. We met up again, much later that night, and it was a little more sloppy, everyone trying too hard for intimacy, all reaching at the afternoon’s wisecracks but never getting a hold on the punchlines, but this was cool as well, cool enough for rock and roll, and in the end we all shook hands and went our adult ways. There was more I wanted to say- and would have too, when I was younger, and thought that emotion came in packages like songs in the musicals, that nothing counted until you opened up your throat and just let go- but in the end I left it. You probably know the feeling too. You board the night bus and sit upstairs at the front, and all the way back to Bray you felt like the dad driving home through the sleeping streets, with your grown up children half asleep too in the back, Late Date with Maxi playing on the car stereo and a thousand questions racing through your mind, questions you could probably get answered too, if you asked them straight away; but as it turns out you like the calm too much, and the quiet comfort in each other’s company, and anyway, to tell the truth, it's really not your business anymore.