It is often said that behind every great man there is an even greater woman. Take the genders aside, there is a lot of truth in that statement, nobody can be great without the support of others. In fact, it often takes more effort and self restraint to be the supporting act than the front man (or woman), whereas the Best Actress/Actors are often in the roles in the first place because they are the big name money pullers, it is the support acts whose job it is to make them shine like the stars they are. And of course, nowhere more is this exemplified than in Strictly Come Dancing, where the professionals are forced to take the supporting role – often when there is simply no hope (apologies to Anne W, Russell G and John S on this one).
If you are a parent, you will understand all too well the nature of the supporting role… whether it is hovering around in the background as your child marches in full costume up to strangers doors at Halloween, or shouting encouragingly from the sidelines at their soccer/rugby/athletics (substitute what you will) matches, or trying hopelessly to join in on words of songs for the next panto rehearsal. No matter what your child throws at you, you enable it to happen to the best of your ability, and often without so much of a backward glance until that well earned grubby and sweaty little hug at the end of the adventure.
The silly season starts with Halloween and then reaches a crescendo with Christmas and New Year. For those of you who do not have the additional minefield of pantomime performances, you may still have that nightmare of every parent – the School Nativity… This has traditionally filled me with dread – from the emergency stop at Tesco after the realization that my old and stained tea towels would simply disgrace the head of my little shepherd, to the waiting with baited breath at the actual performance – knowing that one of the actors would fall off the stage, need the toilet, or yawn – and praying that it wouldn’t be yours. For a couple of years we watched one son who was a shepherd (he got bored and started to punch his lamb’s head in), one son as a Wise Man (who at the crucial moment forgot what his gift was), and one son suddenly announced that he was Joseph. Luckily he did not have a lot of words, but we still watched anxiously. We needn’t have worried as Mary was a sturdy young lass who with enormous delight grabbed him by the arm, whisked him up the aisle, marched him over to the stable door, negotiated loudly with the landlord and gave birth with a ruthless efficiency. But it does of course depend very much on whether the main act wants to be the centre of attention – I know of one Nativity in which Joseph refused point blank at the last minute to go on stage, and so his Mary suddenly became a single mum in a dodgy old barn and the story took on a whole new angle.
And sometimes being a supporting act takes on an unexpected role. Eldest Son came in the other day and being, in the main, a Sports Jock, he looked a little uncomfortable. He had been sequestered into his inter house debating team, with less than 24 hours to go and no seconder, and had to argue against the Motion which was ‘The Police Force in the UK should carry Weapons’. It was, he said grimly, useless, because all the police in other countries carried guns, the opposition was a boy /girl team who had had days to prepare, and he couldn’t see the argument for his side. I worked with him on a couple of pointers, tried to dissuade him from his predilection for announcing solemnly ‘This House believes…’, and stuck him on the school bus with the usual ‘Good Luck’ and sage advice ‘Try and find someone to second you…’ He came back full of the joys of autumn and said that his team had won. Not only had he found someone to second him, but the other team had fallen apart by arguing amongst themselves.
I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring you. You may have to arrange your office Christmas party and watch your boss take all the praise. Or slave over Christmas dinner only to have your mother in law commend your husband on his carving. Or wrap up countless presents and write millions of cards which will not be gratefully received. Or have lots of people invade your house and eat your food and not offer you a cup of tea. Or even scurry around blindly in the darkness back stage as your little actor takes to the floorboards.
But one thing I do know – behind every great individual, there is an even greater one, rolling their eyes…