We can remember those halcyon days of February 2020 in all their ‘old normal’ glory, but with a rather nasty COVID-shaped cloud bubbling up on the horizon and heading our way irresistibly.

That February was also the month of my 70th birthday, with a trip planned to Paris for day itself, even though there were an increasing number of worried looks cast towards the horizon throughout the month, as that nasty bubbling cloud grew larger.

A couple of weeks before Paris, we had booked an overnight stay in London, due to a natural desire to see my brother (shortly to be 75) and his wife for lunch. We live 300 miles apart, and get-togethers are infrequent. The lunch was excellent, partaken in an eatery adjacent to Covent Garden.

As brothers, we seemed to miss each other for large chunks of our younger lives. When I was 8 he went away to school. When I was 12 he came back and started work, and I went away to school. At 18, I came back, and brother by then had left home to work over the Pennines in Stoke-on-Trent, then Manchester. Many years missed, but as the years went by, and my job took me around the UK, I enjoyed regular overnight stays with him in Berkshire, as well as shared but intermittent family get-togethers. Do we know each other well? Well enough, I suppose, but whilst we share views on many things, for some reason which I could never understand, he voted for Brexit, whereas I (being the sensible one), didn’t. Anyway, we both had our reasons and it hasn’t interrupted normal service between us, and we speak most weeks, which, as I understand from other friends with brothers, is exceptionally frequent. Some don’t speak from one year to the next.

Anyway, back to the title. Tickets had been booked for Sue and I to see the stage play of Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre, being fans of the TV programme and of Ben Elton’s writing. The play had opened only a few days before, and was still going through its settling-in process, but was getting rave reviews already.

I managed to secure seats only a few rows back from the front, and quite near the side aisle. Curtain up time was fast approaching, and I looked across to Sue on my left, and my attention was shifted by a slight hubbub in the row behind. I whispered to Sue “Don’t look behind you now, but Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber have just taken their seats”. Of course, she turned quickly under some pretext, and nodded her agreement with a knowing smile.

Come the interval, the Lloyd Webbers beat a hasty retreat to privacy, before the motley could make fawning comments, and came back just before curtain up for the second half….only this time, accompanied by Ben Elton. I whispered to Sue “Don’t look behind you now, but Ben Elton is sitting next to Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber”. Sue agreed that he was indeed. At the end of the fine production, after the standing ovation for the actors, led by David Mitchell, and just before their eminences in the row behind beat a hasty retreat, Sue said something nice to Ben Elton, who was kind enough to thank her for her comment.

‘Live’ theatre seems a lifetime ago as I write this in January 2021 – even the always-brilliant pantomime at the Customs House in South Shields fell victim – but at least memory retains the joys and laughter of that night in the West End, and the lunch with my brother and his wife, just before that bubbling cloud enveloped us all and the world as we knew it was put on hold.

At least we managed to fly to an eerily empty Paris for three days, just days before lockdown in France. Never in my lifetime could I have imagined sharing the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, with only a handful of other people. Here’s Sue proving the point….