I went to the cinema the other week for the first time in more than three years. My last visit was to see the Dark Knight with the Duchess just before our son was born. This time I saw another melancholic tale of skulduggery: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I felt guilty that my London work trip meant I could enjoy a night at the flicks (hey kids, this is an ancient word that means the cinema; other such phrases are ‘record shop’ and ‘job centre’), so I was careful to choose a film that the Duchess wouldn’t ever want to see. I also needed to avoid looking like a middle age perv watching young people in their underwear. So that was the Inbetweeners out on both counts.
The film plodded along, delivering no tension or thrills, so I found my eyes drooping half way through. I was in a comfy chair in a dark room after a big meal. I started to regret spending £10 on a posh snooze and I decided I wouldn’t do this again in a hurry. In fact, I realised there are five stages to cinema going for parents and I was clearly in the third one:
1. Romantic: The first stage comes before parenting and is necessary proof that the relationship is solid enough to last. I actually spent an unofficial date with the Duchess at the cinema, several weeks before anything romantic happened. We were work mates, so what was the harm in a friendly trip to see Lord of the Rings 3? Well, I’ll tell you what was wrong with it: she was wearing thick, tweed trousers rather than her occasional fishnets – but I furtively kept an eye or two on her fine legs anyway. That trip broke the ice and once she convinced me to let her go out with me, we came to view the cinema as an affirmation that we were a proper couple with shared interests, such as salted popcorn; if either us has had preferred sweet, I doubt we’d be here now.
2. Domestic: We stopped going to the cinema towards the end of our first pregnancy, following our visit to see the Dark Knight. Instead, we subscribed to LoveFilm and for a while saw most current films, plus a few random ones. But once Boy Wonder settled in and started making his demands, we found we never had the time to devote 90 minutes to anything. We kept trying, wasting money month after month in the hope normalcy would return. Then we got pregnant again and gave up altogether.
3. Indifferent: Occasionally, we have a night out when we could go to the cinema but it seems silly sitting silently in a dark theatre on those rare nights when it’s just the two of us. So, instead we go for a few drinks and talk about the kids! As a result, I’ve kind of lost interest in films. I’ve stopped listening to the Kermode podcast, I no longer read the arts section of the Sundays (tellingly, I read news, business and money if I have time after the sport section), and I eat Haribo, not pick n mix. Instead, I rely on the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky Atlantic to keep providing quality drama series for those couple of free hours once we’ve got the kids to bed, tidied, eaten and completed the regular chores. And we have the delight of watching premieres of films on TV, albeit two years after everyone has stopped talking about them.
4. Hectic: In a few years time, we’ll be returning to the cinema but under duress. Once Boy Wonder feels that he’s too old for birthday parties at play centres and community halls, he’ll no doubt ask us to take him and a rabble of kids to the local multiplex to watch some 3D nonsense about Ninja rabbit droppings saving the world from nasty robots. In the days when I bunked off college or went to the cinema on a weekend afternoon, I’d see poor parents herding a mob of unruly kids around the cinema, while carrying a huge stash of sweets, popcorn and soda drinks. The moment they got everyone sat down, one of the kids would need the loo, then they’d all fancy a trip to the bathroom and the parents would have to make countless apologies to the other cinema goers just to get out of the aisles. Yes, I can’t wait.
5. Geriatric: We’ll return to regular cinema trips once the kids have flown the nest – if they can ever afford to and cinemas aren’t obsolete in the wake of 100 inch screens in every lounge. We’ll probably only ever go on Sunday afternoons or Wednesday evenings, we’ll collect vouchers to get money off a nearby pizza restaurant and we’ll take an hour selecting candies for our pick n’ mix carton. We’ll prefer art films, if they still exist, or really crass comedies; no blockbusters. The Duchess will ask young people to be quiet and I’ll then spend the remainder of the film checking out the nearest exit doors. When I’m not looking at her hopefully fishnet-clad legs.