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“Do you remember when we used to do this all the time?” asked Joe last night. He was sitting across a restaurant table from me, we were having an early meal before our concert.

“Twenty years ago, before the children.”

For a moment both of us shared the same astonishing thought: that one day the children might move on.

It was a wonderful night out. It was the hottest night of the year, which brought it home that it was almost exactly a year since we’d had our last evening out – on the hottest night of last year.

Last year we needed a friend to come in and look after Julie, who at the time could not be left alone. This year she looked after herself, cooked her own dinner, put herself to bed. What a change.

We could go out all the time now. We’re just out of practice – it takes such a lot of effort to arrange and we have got used to our evenings at home in front of the TV. Once a year is not very good: we must practice!

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My wonderful husband, Joe, has bought us tickets for the Royal Opera House in London next month. I am so excited. It was incredibly thoughtful of him – I love opera and we haven’t been out together in nearly four years. Not only did he buy the tickets, but he also secretly contacted a good friend of the family to step in and look after our daughter Julie (who can’t be left alone for long periods of time). Both of the children had to be in on the secret too: in our house, mum and dad can’t just disappear without warning, changes to routine have to be managed.

It was supposed to be a secret, but Joe can’t keep secrets. He managed about three days before going on the computer and shyly composing an “invitation” to the opera that he gave to me later that evening. I was bowled over! I’m not too crazy on surprises anyway.

Joe has never been to a proper opera theatre before, and is not that familiar with opera of any sort. He only began to listen to much classical music comparatively recently. I have been lucky enough to see quite a lot of opera when I was younger, but I don’t know this one at all: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi. So we decided to buy a recording and find a libretto and swot up before we go. Impossible to concentrate while our teenagers are about, so we sit up late into the night, listening, reading and hammering out the plot.

Just as well we have plenty of time because Simon Boccanegra turns out to be one of the most convoluted plots in opera (some achievement). Poor Joe, not that familiar with opera at the best of times, is often hopelessly lost: “But why is he called Fiesco on this page and Andrea on that one?”, “So if she’s really his girlfriend how come he doesn’t recognise… oh no, hang on, she’s his daughter?” Our translation is flowery: “What is the refulgence of the angels?” Joe asks me plaintively. But we’ve now got the basic hang of the plot, and become acquainted with some stunningly beautiful arias. Most of the time we know roughly who is on stage even if we’re not quite sure what they’re singing about at any given time. Could be love, could be pizza: not quite sure.

“We’re in luck,” I tell Joe, “At least there’s no cross dressing in this one, and you don’t have to try to convince yourself that the stout woman singing on stage is really a boy pretending to be dressed as a woman.” That really does warp the imagination.

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