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22 December 2016

How do I know that my father loved me? One night at the ballet was all the proof I needed

"Nutcracker", he said, looking back over his shoulder and winking at me.

By Julie Burchill

My late father was an accidental feminist. He left school at 14 and became a communist trade union organiser, most at home in a world where men gathered in smoky pubs to figure out the best way to work over the bosses, and he never knowingly uttered the word “intersectionality”.

However, he wouldn’t let my mother into the kitchen (“Women can’t cook – too emotional!”) and, even though he worked punishing night shifts at a distillery, he also made himself responsible for my pre-teen social life, given that I was an only child who was prone to hiding behind the sofa and pretending to be out when schoolmates came to call. Unfortunately for him, the only thing I liked up until my teens was ballet. (I enjoyed shoplifting and masturbation, too, but I wasn’t about to let the fam in on those.)

From Mixed Infants onwards, he took me to my ballet lessons three evenings a week, dodging out to play snooker and swooping down to take me home and bring me up to speed on the latest achievements of his beloved Soviet Union while he cooked the tea.

It was proof of his love that he would take me to a dancing school, as my fearless, sunny-tempered, super-sociable father had one phobia: though I never heard him utter a homophobic word, he hated to see men dancing. No matter how inclement the weather, whenever Lionel Blair, or Danny Kaye, or the hapless hunks of the Young Generation insinuated their way across the TV screen, he’d be on his feet and out of the door with the dog. Luckily, there were no Bristolian Billy Elliots at my ballet class, or he’d have blown a gasket.

Which makes it all the more beautiful that I came home from school one December day, when I was 12, and my father looked me straight in the face and said sternly: “Bolshoi. Hippodrome. Next week.”

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I eyed him warily: “Ballet?

He sighed heavily and attached the lead to the dog’s collar. “No – Bolshoi ruddy Bristol Rovers. Nutcracker!” He looked back over his shoulder and winked at me. “Box – arm and a leg. Tell your mum it was the cheap seats!”

In the splendid isolation of our box, as I sat enraptured by some of the greatest Russian dancers of the second half of the 20th century, my dad read the Morning Star, then the Pink ’Un, then took out a pack of cards and played solitaire until the curtain came down. It was the best night of my life so far.

Shortly afterwards, I shot up to 5ft 9in and grew splendid tits overnight, putting myself out of the ballet racket and avoiding a lot of self-denial and crippling injury. The moral of this story is that you never know what life has in store for you – but if you have someone at your back who’ll subject themself to two hours of tinsel and testicles when they’d prefer beer and billiards, it won’t matter too much anyway.

This article appears in the 13 Dec 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2016