Saturday, 7 November 2015

Tread Softly Because...

   A dream that will need all the love you can give, every day of your life, for as long as you live.  

  Or at least until the caterers lose said WFBL...

  She sang, 'I'm just a no good Tom Cat, Though to look at I'm a beauty, I just can't function in mother nature's duty.'
  She was, let's call her, Trudy Ermin, promoter for Arts East, the Norfolk and Suffolk arm of the National Rural Touring Forum scheme. Wearing a dress the colour of nicotine stained cornicing, skittishly peering over the top of bifocals, she had been looking in cupboards in the village hall kitchen and talking me through the crockery. 
  'As it has that municipal look it can double up as a property coffee service.'  She looked at me briefly with an eyebrow raised.  'Oh, yes, I know to call it property. You're not quite talking to an amateur here.'  I hadn't been allowed to talk at all. 'Treading the boards myself, as I still do.'
  She rearranged some cups at the back of a shelf. 'They'll probably all tell you, so I'd better: I was in the original production of Half a Sixpence, with Miss Marti Webb and Mr Tommy Steele. That's routed you. And I'm still surprised my mother allowed any such thing.'
  I surreptitiously checked my phone so that I could tell Camilla how much time had lapsed since I had been dropped off at the hall. 
  You see, what they had actually said- they being Camilla, who had met me at the station in a stuffing-leaking body warmer, off-road Merc and violet eventing galoshes, was this:
  'Shouldn't tell tales out of school, I know, but it might just have a direct bearing on yourself. Some locals, myself included, are furious with Trudy; and might stay away tonight. Are you relying on ticket sales?  Oh, that's not too bad then. Wait a second, this corner. Christ!  Oh, mustn't give him the finger, he's the vet and I've got a foal coming. But going back to Trudy: who, who gets sacked from doing Talking Newspapers for the Blind after the blind complain that the newspaper when Trudy reads it seems to be full of nothing but shit-minded drivel about herself? Oh, in case you're interested, touristy bits: the church.  Something interesting about where the stone came from.  The place, I mean,' she suddenly snapped at me, 'geographically.'
  All right, keep your galoshes on, I knew we weren't thinking here: from Christmas Cracker, sponge fingers trifle base, central barrier Butlins Skegness Go Karts. 
  'Here we are. Won't come in with you in case I hit her. Possibly see you later. Oh, by the way, we've got a book going on how long it will take Trudy to tell you her main claim to fame. Make a note, will you?'  
  Three minutes and seventeen seconds, I noted. 
  But what had Trudy done, I wondered, that might lead to my double-bill being blacklisted?  Opened someone else's oven door at a Women's Institute bake? Taken back a library book that had been exposed to an infectious disease?  Reinstated the village Post Office?
  Trudy encored the Tom Cat song, doing a little dance this time, wafting at me - now, what was that fragrance? - ah, Lily of the Valley.
  'From our Edinburgh show in nineteen fifty-seven,' she said, shutting the last of the cupboard doors. 'I went there, full of hope, in nineteen fifty-seven; with some of the Cambridge Footlights breakaway troupe. They didn't allow women in the Footlights proper back then.  We performed cabaret at some of the May Balls that year; then somebody wrote a musical that ended up being half of the show we took up with revue songs in the second half. We ran up some posters and flyers, hitched to Edinburgh - took us two days, eating in lorry drivers' cafes - just giving us enough leeway to paint the scenery, camping meanwhile in Leith Hall. One of us did the cooking, we went to the public baths, and performed from the twenty-sixth to the thirty-first. There was no fee to be in a brochure - there was no brochure. This was right at the beginning of the Fringe.  We chose our venue - the Town Hall - by sticking a pin in it. Did a cabaret with coffee at the Town Hall in the morning, then a show in the afternoon, another in the evening. My then boyfriend was business manager and I was press officer; though all I ever did was wander into the offices of the Herald and the Scotsman, ask to speak to the arts' correspondent, fluttered my eyelashes a bit, and was usually lucky. We slept in the venue. I had my sleeping bag above an exit sign. And we managed to keep it quiet.  The Oxford Revue, also a mixed cast, tried to do the same and were found out; the City Fathers had the sexes separated on grounds of immorality. And we had to take care, too, with our content. I remember a dour Edinburgh type asking if there was any immoral content in the show and I told him I could honestly say that there wasn't. He walked out during that Tom Cat number - though that might have been less because of the words and more because of the black leotard I wore to perform it. On the first of August we hitchhiked back again and we'd all made four pounds ten shillings each!  And here I am today, you know, still at it. On the go just now with what was once called tableaux, but is now more likely to be classed as Dramatic Installation Art. Exhausts me, but there we are. We're a slave to this business, aren't we?'
  She was nodding at me, her expression radiant. I felt I should press her hand or something. 
  The were a few seconds of buffeting through doors noise and Camilla came into the kitchen with a woman, searingly red in the face, backcomb clearly curtailed, wool-clad legs seemingly put on upside down. 
  'I heard from the caterers, Trudy,' this woman said, ignoring me.  'They can't find the black bag. A black bag, anyway, what were you thinking of?  I wish I'd stuck to my guns and not lent you my Georgie for your ridiculous party-piece.'
  'Dramatic Installation Art Work, Joanna.'
  Joanna turned to me. 'She sticks leafy twigs in floral foam oasis bricks. She lays out some paper plates with teeny-tiny sandwiches on. She puts far too trusting other people's teddy bears in a clump.  She plays the "Teddy Bear's Picnic" on a ghetto blaster. She makes growling noises and moves one or other bear's paw. And she took the far too trusting other people's heirloom bears to the fete on Saturday in said black bag.'
  'Fastened with daddy's old Akela's woggle, Lesley, so - '
  'She was so long about graciously, exhaustedly accepting her adoring public's adulation after this gruelling epic of world theatre that the caterers packed up from all around, under and beyond her and chucked the black bag away.'
  There was a longish silence.
  Then Camilla, in a Listen with Mother voice, said, 
  'Which just goes to show, children, doesn't it?'

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