Monday, 30 November 2015

Thou Shalt Not Steal Other Performers' Material!

  Relieved to hear that a certain international showgirl is refusing to go abroad this Friday. I can keep swinging my ageing legs right up to the moment I go onstage in Denmark, and not have to stand with my ear to the auditorium wall to hear which of my lines she uses before I do go on. 
  Though, as it says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun, the archaic subject matter I have chosen to lampoon in my interactive drag ballet routine has given rise to some originality.  But certainly not enough to spare.  As TV producer Piers Torday once quipped to mentalist Chris Cox:
  'Don't worry that your new show's taking this long to write, love. Madame Galina has written one new line every eighteen months for thirty years and that's done her!' 
  And she doesn't want others using any of those forty-five lines.
  Yes, I know, it's easy for me not to have to steal from others - again, the archaic premise of my act has seen to that. And I actually feel guilty interrupting my opening ballet solo to curtsey to a punter who has wolf-whistled perhaps, or applauded a gag, or tried to put a fiver down the front of my tutu - because I got that from 19th century Prima Donna Adelina Patti.  
  Actually, not the fiver down the tutu bit... 
  Patti was appearing at Covent Garden in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. On the night of her arranged wedding in Lammermuir Castle, north-east Scotland, the insane Lucy murders her husband Arthur with his own sword, leaving him in their nuptial bed looking like a used pomegranate and cranberry infusion. She then goes back to her wedding feast, deluded that she is now getting married to her true love, Edgar. Patti came right out of character during this "Mad Scene" one night and walked simpering down to the footlights to curtsey to a baronet, who had called out something admiring. 
  Actually, he'd dropped his jewelled snuff box on his ankle and sworn. 
  It was Patti, furthermore - or maybe Tetrazzini? - who thought that the sporran was 'indelicate' and, as Lucia, wore her kilt back to front.  
  Making stuffing that fiver in it even more of a challenge. 
  Anyway, be all that as it may: don't steal other people's material. 


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Thank you Marie and Pedro - technical marvels at the Cafe de Paris

  Reminiscing about the making of Black Narcissus Kathleen Tynon said that the lighting team had created all the atmosphere she needed to play her role. Marie Kearney has done the same for the Stage at Cafe de Paris Christmas shows. And Andrea Biondo, aka Pedro, noise-boy, knocked me up a garage version of the Sugar Plum Fairy to dance to. Performing last night in a dreamlike atmosphere of singing pinks and hushed blues took the taste away of the truncated Christmas ballet performance I gave at Asprey's of Bond Street. 
  Playing the Queen of Hearts in an Alice in Wonderland installation, I was already on notice for terrifying children with my bellows of 'Off with his/her head!" And for telling them, when they asked, that the Cheshire Cat (for some reason not featured in the installation) was at the vet's.  At the Mad Hatter's Tea Party I was doing the Croquet Calypso with the Six of Hearts and the string quartet sped up unasked. 
  'Too fucking fast for the fouettes!' I shouted.
  Mr Asprey himself had me walked off the shop floor. 

Saturday, 28 November 2015


 A poet, a cellist and I were asked on radio at the Hay-on-Wye Festival to quote our favourite lines of poetry.  The poet's was, Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. The cellist's: For god's sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.  MIne: Buy one, get one free.
  In the Aldeburgh Pumphouse I took part in a round-table discussion of great masterpieces that are in some way flawed. A musicologist in sandals and an egg-stained smock put forward the Joy is drunk by every creature section of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, saying it was unapproachable music, more so in the joyous and immediate light of what had gone before. A unpublished writer wearing Laura Ashley and Lily of the Valley sighed over the clunky exposure of Mr. Elliot by Mrs. Smith in Austen's Persuasion. I, in my Sue Ryder jeans and Primark black v-neck, thought that the Bend and Snap scene should have been cut from Legally Blonde
  I haven't been asked to contribute clever since

Friday, 27 November 2015

If You're not Wearing the White Coat, then you're not the Doctor. Or Mr Whippy

  Zinka Milanov said that a performer must know his or her limits. 'If you are a cat, then you are a cat; no matter how much you may hanker to be a dog.'

  We've all done it - for whatever reason gone up for things we can't manage. 
  I once took on a performance of Haydn's Creation when my voice was misfiring in the no-man's land between high baritone and high baritone with a cold. I certainly didn't have the low notes for By Heavy Beasts the Ground is Trod.  
  But If I didn't sing on the day before the performance, I told myself, my voice would be not so much sweet and low as cold and low and I might just get away with it. 
  We rehearsed all afternoon. By the time I went on my voice was hot.
  I was bothered. And bribed two basses in the choir. 
  'When my part dips below this note,' I said, pointing at the score, 'put your copies in front of your faces, please, and join in.  Beers on me after.' 
  The review in the local paper said that though I seemed at first to lack the heft required in my lower range, during the Heavy Beasts section my bottom notes sounded like the rumbling of approaching District Line trains.
  But, still, I oughtn't. 

  And neither ought Silly Willy.

  Remember from The Tinworth House Witch blog how to enter the Llangollen International Eisteddfod I pretended to be a Welsh speaker and the druid committee banished me from the field to help my aunty Sophia in the farmers' catering tent? Well, fast forward fifteen years and I'm back at the Eisteddfod. This time, preen preen, being chauffeur driven to and from my double bill at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, performing a pair of Madame Galina sets on Family Day, for a fee of five months' rent. 
  I was in the green room warming up for my second set. A Ukrainian male folk dance troupe lined up in front of me to bow with their hands on their hearts. Then a semi-druidic steward hurtled up. 
  'You must come now, please, there's been an emergency just before you in the amphitheatre and people are leaving!'
  Holding my tutu skirt against my belly in the approved manner I trotted back across the field with him. Families were scrambling up the sides of the amphitheatre.  I went into character as Madame Galina and cajoled them into coming back. I was like an acidulous, frou-frou and Swarowski covered, pink-knickered sheep dog, apparently. Once I had them seated, I went into my routine. 
  At fouettes end I asked a St John's Ambulance volunteer what had happened before I went on.
  'What did you say, love?'  She was squat, with silver hair curling over the front of her hat. 'Sorry, I was day-dreaming standing here.'  
  Of one red-letter day having to use a defibrillator, of skull fractures protruding through scalps or an outbreak of the Black Death. 
  'What happened before I went on, why were they leaving?'
  She pointed like the Sibyl at a performer standing sheepishly to one side. 'He did it!'
  'Silly Willy?' I knew Silly Willy from the later-night, shall we say, cabaret circuit. 'He was in the Family Day venue, with the children?'
  'The organisers assumed they'd booked a children's entertainer. Except they hadn't.'
  'No, look how pale people still are.'
  Silly Willy plays a children's entertainer. Who's alcoholic, has a potty mouth, and a fake penis hanging out of his trousers with a sign above it offering Free Sex Here for the Kiddies! 
  The St John's volunteer said, 'But really, how could the organisers not have known?'
  I shook my head. 'The point is - Silly Willy himself would have known.' 



Thursday, 26 November 2015

How to...Appreciate Country and Western

    As I often have need to remind people: It Wasn't God who Made the Honky-Tonk Angels!

 Terry Edwards, Country singer, rough edit...

  I made my Country debut with a troupe of all-singing, all dancing animal puppets, featuring an emu that belted out "Anything You can do I can do Better" while a giraffe behind it took its knickers off...

  The night I made my debut as dad's gimmick, he didn't forewarn, he simply took me down to the Ponderosa in Portsmouth and brought me onstage. 
  'I thought you'd get nervous beforehand and wouldn't be able to go through with it,' he explained. 
  I had one caveat: being carried centre stage on his shoulders.  I was four and felt that this was undignified. Yes, for ten months I had carefully hidden from him and mum that I could walk, I said, but I was openly walking now and could get myself onstage, thanks. 
  Oh, but it looked cute my being carried, apparently.  
  At the next two shows he put me on his shoulders and carried me onstage. I almost couldn't yodel for seething. Then back by popular demand at the Ponderosa I pissed down the back of his neck.
  That larned him.

  Dad had made his own debut last minute. He was in a concert party in Bargoed called the Magnificent Seven.  One, not very imaginative; two, there were nine of them.  He sang tenor in the opening and closing numbers until the night in Merthyr. He told me,
  'Florrie Evans, the soprano. was no Isobel Baillie to begin with. She was doing the "Miserere" from Il Trovatore with Bernard, the tenor from Ystrad, straight after Neddy the comic. "Shared a single bed with my eight brothers and sisters. Four of them wet the bed. My mother would ask which end I wanted for top and tailing. I'd ask for the shallow end." Bernard was singing his opening lines coming from the back of the club, all for effect. Through the people sitting at tables with candles stuck in bottles - keeping a close eye on those, of course. Not the fire risk or anything, just because there was a couple of bob to be had back on them down the shop. And Bernard was singing: Roseate morn on mountain/Love through me like a fountain. And Florrie, flatter than the testicle caught in the mangle, sang back to him: I am assailed/By a horrible voice.  That started them off, shouting: "You're not to only one being assailed by a horrible voice, love, how about you bugger off back to Bargoed?" Florrie had to be helped hyperventilating from the stage by her sister Gwen at the piano.  I was nearest to be pushed on instead. My couple of songs went down tidy. Was asked to do a spot in my own right at the next tour date. RAF St Athens.  Cancelled, as it turned out, because the camp mascot, a billy goat called Bryn, was refusing to get out of the bath again.'

  You'd want not to be forewarned about any of this sort of thing, wouldn't you?
  Aged four, at my debut I was backstage in the Ponderosa, a Portsmouth municipal hall rechristened for the night.  There may or may not have been swinging cafe saloon doors set up in the entrance lobby; that would have depended on the amount of accident coverage insurance taken out for the event. 

  Enjoy a full range of swinging cafe saloon doors

  In a spangly suit, stetson and shoelace tie I was watching the audience through a chink in the curtains. 
  Kelvin, in time and motion studies at the Ford Dagenham plant, got up as a hussar-jacketed, ringleted General Custer; Pam from the typing pool in buckskin, moccasins, beads and moulting feather headdress as Chief Squaw Pretty Plume
  Kelvin was saying that he 'came in the covered wagon'. AKA his Ford Escort.  Pam on 'the stage coach'. The X9 bus. If either or both of them had come by rail that would be the 'mule train', shouted loudly on an upward inflection followed by a smack over the head with a decorative drinks tray.  
  Kelvin goes to the bar in peace to buy liquor. 
  'Howdy, saloon keeper,' he says. 
  The saloon keeper is Ben, nineteen, at uni, clearly wishing he'd got that job at Argos. 
  'How do.'
  'I'd like me some of that there liquor, my boy,' says Kelvin, prodding the Carlsberg tap.  'And my little lady would like her some of that liquor yonder,' pointing behind Ben at the Gordon's Gin optic. 
  He adds that the little lady would like her liquor festooned with fragments of the High Mountain God's counterpane and fruit the colour of corn ripened in the Sun Goddess's smile.  
  It takes Ben a squint, pout and aborted face palm to translate this as ice and a slice. 
  'And some of those there pork n' beans, saloon keeper, will do mighty fine.'
  'Cheese and onion, plain or prawn cocktail?'
  When the Carlsberg is poured Kelvin goes to stand a few feet down the bar and indicates that Ben should slide the glass down to him. Ben demurs, but is finally persuaded. The lager snags on a gap between trestle tables and tips onto the floor. 
  'Darned varmint!' Kelvin shouts. 'I'm about to have my last stand at any time!'
  And who wants to die with their Carlsberg-stained socks on?

  Dad is behind me playing with the confederate pistol and holster he got mail order from Kansas. it's time. He goes onstage and opens his set with 'Casting my Lasso.' 
  He delivers his patter in a deep south drawl. South of the Mississippi State Line, rather than south of the Cardiff dockyards facelift, just to be clear.
  The repertoire he sings was analysed in 1997 by New York music journalist, John Davies. 
  'Country and Western is the music of the people.  Each song is a three-minute soap opera. The subject matter is work on the ranch, across the prairies and down the mines. Then there's the drink; failed crops, failed marriages; and the supernatural.'
  He was forgetting the one about an attempted murder by your son, who you walked out on in the cradle, having helpfully christened Susan so he would grow up tough through having to fight all the time. Only girls bite, mate, I always want to heckle the father character in A Boy Named Sue... 

Go on, fill your snakeskin boots!

  'The music is a fusion of Dixie land jazz, blues and hymn tunes.  Welsh hymn tunes, specifically. The Welsh moved into the Southern States in great numbers after the civil war and took their hymns with them.'
  Try this experiment: in your cleanest winceyette nightie, with a photograph of Brando up on your screen, get the deep southern accent going with: I have often had to rely upon the kindness of strangers:

  Arr hev ah-fn haired ter rer-lah er-porn tha car-ernd-nurse ahv stre-een-jurz

  Now belt out "Guide me oh Thou Great Jehovah!" at quarter speed. 
  See?  Patsy Cline's blue eyes will never stop crying in the rain all the way to the altar now... 

  'The purely vocal effect of the yodelling is to the cowboy what "Come by!" is to the Yorkshire farmer with attendant sheepdog. A vital working tool.  That it was seriously misappropriated by Rodgers and Hammerstein as a novelty song about a randy goatherd should not detract from its historical and cultural relevance.'

  Oh, and you lest we forget, it Wasn't God Who Made the Honky-Tonk Angels. 
  At a strategic point in his set, dad collects me from the wings, carries me centre stage on his shoulders and sets me down to sing. 
  My song, by Hank Locklin, is "Please, Help me!"







Wednesday, 25 November 2015

How to...Self-Assessment Tax

  As we near the end of the year a performer's thoughts will turn to the dreaded self assessment tax return.  Eight years ago I made a pact with myself never again to put myself through those two days of surfing receipts; forging official contracts for looking after Lady Carter's pug Mr Timothy; wondering if I would get away with claiming for two pints of Fullers Honeydew, bought to silence a city boy smoking outside the Rising Sun in Cloth Fair, after he saw me help myself to some of the festive flora on the railings of St Barts church to arrange in my hair having forgotten my tiara for a Christmas gig at Club Kabaret
  I now do a mini-tax return each month when my bank statements come, and simply tot up the running total on April 6th when I submit my HMRC self-assessment return. 
  Of all the self-employed professions, performers and cab drivers most frequently underpay tax; ergo they are the two professions most likely to be audited by HMRC

  My advice on this is the Chinese proverb that says: Don't listen to them, go see.

  Don't listen to them saying this sort of thing:
  'I claim for all my rent because I so often stay up late sewing costumes.'
  There are the hours when you're asleep that you shouldn't be claiming for, let alone that I doubt you wander sewing from room to room.
  'I had my teeth whitened to make me more employable for television and film.'
  Your teeth are now whiter all the time, not just for a role that requires teeth of that specific degree of whitening.
 'I'm the direct medium transmitting the performance and need to be in good physical health, so I claim for weekends at Champney's, including the full range of spa treatments.'
  Just ringing the tax fraud hotline number... 
  Go see this, HMRC's own guidelines:

  We never had this in my day...

  Keep all your receipts, your contracts and diaries going back at least seven years. 
  I've kept a Doings and Gubbins diary since 1999.  It has my profit and loss entries for tax purposes and, on the same pages, thoughts about performances. 
  For example:

15/12  Hours at desk writing blog: 6.22
16/12  Hours as desk sewing ballet ribbons: 0.36
16/12 Profit: £1,018 box office split Bath Rondo Theatre
15/12  Profit: £121 for eleven days house and pug-sitting for Lady Carter
16/12  Loss: £22.50 train fare to Liverpool Street
16/12  Loss: £2.49 Foundation
16/12  Loss: £2.49 Lipstick
16/12  Loss: £9.99 Ballet tights
16/12  Loss: £4.99 Talcum Powder
16/12  Loss: £4.99 Mauve knickers
16/12  Loss: £5.80 Two pints of Fuller's Honeydew 

  Note from Pamela Bowling, singing teacher: 
  How many more times? I don't know how many other ways to write it in the score: different coloured pencils, underlinings, asterisks, drawing a pair of glasses with "Look!"? Perhaps I'll tape a miniature bottle of gin to the relevant page so you'll be pulled up short? Or sit in the front row of one of your recitals with a specially extended cattle-prod? Whatever, if you don't breathe after that first Panis Angelicus, then either you'll asphyxiate yourself or I, Pamela, bloody will!  And Samson has just been blinded, must you sound like you're chirpily holding forth at an Aldeburgh Golf Club reception with a glass of plonk in one hand and a vegan chickeneque vol-au-vent in the other?  And watch that arch, sexualised tone you use in Down by the Sally Gardens. It's just a flibberty-gibbert of a girl being described walking around in her bare feet, there's nothing muckily Freudian going on.. 
  Note on Giselle, rising from the grave:
  She would be cold and clammy and the earth would fall away in clods as she came up. 
  Notes on looking after Mr Timothy, the pug:
 7am Likes to be sung to. Something uplifting, apparently, like "Oh What a Beautiful Morning". Then has a walk to the tennis courts and back.
  No, Iestyn, not on his own.
  7.15 Gets fed.  Likes his food to be served with one of his special spoons.  Great Writers from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. There are seven of these special spoons in his special drawer and they are to be rotated over the course of a week, obviously. If he had his way, you would favour Margery Allingham every day.  You mustn't let him have his own way over this.  
  Resist gently, however. 
  A sense of there being something for him to look forward to must be inspired by jaunty phrases being said in an enthusiastic tone: 'Num num num num, dens' or 'Scoffy-scoffy for little boysy!' or 'Rum pum fummy, what's going in Mr Timothy's tummy?
  NB: the above mustn't be taken so far that it over-excites him.
  If he is rendered over-excited, then it calms him to watch the hot tap running.  He is to be lifted with wrists beneath his too-tums back legs and palms under his proudikins little shoulders - who's a stoutly man, then, yes, you are, yes, you are! - and placed gently within view of the hot tap, which is then to be turned carefully on - so that there are no splash-backs onto our precious little gentleman.  No, he doesn't want that, does he, does he? He will look repeatedly between the hot tap and the window with the view of the bird table because he once saw a pigeon fly into the window, bloodily killing itself, and is hoping to see such a funny thing happen again. 
  On his main morning walk around the marshes he will bite a certain black labrador. The labrador will jump into an inlet to avoid this but Mr Timothy will simply wait for him to come out again. No, we don't just drag Mr Timothy away onward and let the poor labrador have his walk in peace, we let this ritual of nature run its course.  The owner of the labrador is philosophical.
  Mr Timothy must not watch daytime television.
  Mr Timothy must not be left home alone for longer than two hours. If he is, he will block reentry to the house by being slumping in desolation against the front door, will have dug away quite an impressive amount of seagrass and staged a dirty-protest. 
  Mr Timothy likes to watch low-impact television programmes such as Songs of Praise, Antiques Roadshow and Columbo.
  When it is Mr Timothy's bedtime, he likes to be sung upstairs with Brahms's "Wiegenlied". Please, as he is such an erudite little man, isn't he, den? isn't he, den?, quite the canine brainbox, is our Mr Timothy, he must be sung it in the original German. 

  If and when HMRC sends you the first letter expressing their unhealthy interest in your tax affairs, include photocopies of similar diary pages with your reply to let them know just what they're dealing with here. If they visit you to perform an audit-proper, answer the door wearing antlers, a yellow maternity smock and fly-fishing waders. Run around and scream Gather (then make yourself as small as possible) and Give (jump upright and throw lilac petals.) Groom the HMRC inspector's scalp for lice. Ask questions such as, 'Was it your poor child bricked up in the chimney?'
  That sort of thing. 
  And If things do go ill for you, just blame Jesus.  He didn't stop at prostitutes and lepers, but gave kudos to tax collectors by consorting with Matthew of Galilee.



Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Champain Garden in Autumn

                    Champain Landscapes on Instagram


  'I know Carl's not old,' Lady Waring said to me. 'But his wife's been having things to do with one of her drivers at the catering firm, which has really got to Carl and his gardening's slipping. And you would stay so well in with Lady Draven when she gets back if you've done some edging and planting.  Just some of the simple work.  You are living there rent-free.'

  Leaving my full-time singing teaching job at the Guildford School of Acting in 1995, I moved into Lady Draven's house in Thorpeness. Just for her and her family to have the comfort of somebody being there at the top of the house if need be, and really only for the summer till I got myself fixed. 
  I stayed on into the autumn because, truth be told, I had nowhere else to go. I would never have stayed otherwise. Before I moved in Lady Draven was all footling laugh, dry-witted Manhattan, warning me to look round discreetly at the congregation in church for the Aldeburgh Festival Service, as these women had clearly all failed trying to be opera singers, or wives, or schizophrenics. She turned out to be banshee-shrieking, neurotic Bostonian, banging on the ceiling with her walking frame at five in the morning because people were coming for drinks in the evening and there were no lemons in the fruit bowl.
 In late autumn, against doctor's orders - her leg ulcers looked like below-knee black death - Lady Draven flew to see her daughter in LA.  She was carried off the plane in a screaming delirium and a flesh-eating disease was diagnosed; luckily contained in a small area behind her left knee. 
  I looked after her house in her five-month absence.  Which seemed to really impress her friends Lady Waring and Lady Carter. There were a cleaner and two gardeners: Lawrence, who had been with Lady Draven man and boy, and Carl, whose wife was having things to do with one of her drivers. All I was doing was writing, practising ballet and singing and making good use of the account Lady Davies had opened for me at the Thorpeness Village Stores. 
  Lady Waring would call in.  
  'Here we are now,' she said, without preamble the first time, her six pelican chins breaking into their quaking routine. ''I was up this morning at six.  Out in the garden saying hello to my flowers - they do miss one in the night. I don't get down to any serious weeding at that time, of course.  I know that Dreenagh Forestier-Walker does.  And Maimy.  Even Boo has been known to bend then on occasion. I need to be fortified with copious amounts of tea and muesli before I start on anything so shin-punishing as all that.'
  Smiling, I waited for her to get to the point or a punchline?
  She talked me through her lettuce blight.
  I smiled on.  Surely...?
  And problems with something called her prickly acacia
  What oozing, pustulent horror might that be?  
  Still, I smiled on.
  She left. Finally. To tell Lady Carter that from the way I had stood among the honeysuckle gormlessly smiling at her, while she engaged me in lovely, encouraging chat, she thought I had to be autistic - or whatever one was allowed to call 'slow' these days.
 In early January, calling in for the third time in a week, she said, 
 'With all that Lady Draven has been through, I couldn't bear to see her suffer the added horror of coming back to no marmalade in her outside larder. You must make some.' 
  Must I?
  I must.  Maybe Lady Waring would leave me alone...
  I armed myself with a recipe book that had been consulted to the point of resembling decayed mummy's bandages and made a shopping list. 
  The marmalade took two days. On day one I quartered the fruit and put it to soak in a bucket of water. On day two I sliced the fruit very finely, put the pith and pips in a pair of my old ballet tights, hung from the side of a gargantuan copper-bottomed pan. Then I watched for the water, sugar and ballet-tight clad doings to reach a rolling boil. 
  Actually, what was a rolling boil?
  Oh, look, it was when the simmering mixture didn't bubble so much as roll
  After three or so prods at a blob of marmalade on a saucer chilled from the fridge I got the promised wrinkle, just like an octogenarian's foreskin. (I know, thank you for asking, because my mate Lincoln does Skype shows and has some clients with protected rent flats in Dolphin Square) I filled my fourteen aga-sterilised jars, attached the film discs with hair bands and went to bed. 
  I hardly slept. 
  Next morning, before even Dreenagh, Maimy or Boo would have been hoeing their phlox paniculata, I went down to the kitchen.  I tilted one of the jars.  No liquid ran into the lid. I felt like elves and shoemaker in one. 

  'Oh, you have looked after Lady Draven's house so well,' Lady Waring commented, putting yet another of the jars of marmalade into her basket to take away with her - no wonder she had the heart seizure in Lady Carter's pool and they needed the livestock winch to fish her out. 'And next, we all think, you should really help out in the garden.'
  'But Lawrence is coming today.'
  'Yes, and have you seen how old he is?  When he stoops it's like a Cracker Jack firework going off.'
  'Carl's not old.  He's in on Monday.'
  Lady Waring then made the comment about Carl's wife and her driver. 
  I helped out in the garden. Edging and turning over soil. I got a bit carried away with the soil-turning and started on another bed without asking Lawrence. I pulled up some onions. They were daffodil bulbs. Lawrence said we'd pot them for the house and say it had been planned all along.

  Some twenty years later Lady Waring, Lady Davies and Lawrence are dead, Lady Carter is housebound, Carl's wife is with somebody retired from the packaging department and the garden where I pulled up the daffodil bulbs is a Louis Champain.

  'My parents have a big garden, in Reydon, near Southwold, and mum's an avid gardener.' Taking notes during Louis's interview, I was trying not to let it get to me that he probably wasn't even born when I turned soil in Lady Draven's garden. 'Actually, I'd say that mum's obsessed.  She goes to show gardens and always talks her way into getting cuttings. Even at Chelsea.'
  Like Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park coming back from Sotherton - I stood out as long as I could, till the tears almost came into her eyes - with cuttings, four pheasants eggs and a cream cheese. 
  'My folks' garden is what I'd call a traditional English garden: big herbaceous borders, fruit and veg and an orchard. Mum's quite scatty so the garden's wild.' He grins. 'It's by no means a well regimented garden. At first I just helped out, mucking about, really, but then when I got serious - I would have been about fifteen or sixteen by now - mum taught me a hell of a lot. The complete basics. What to prune at certain times. Actually, it was how to plant a plant. Really that basic. Different types of soils. Plant identification.'  
  Daffodil bulbs and onions are impossible to tell apart, he tells me. 
  I'm lying. 
  'GCSE's would have been happening around the time I got serious about gardening. I didn't think I'd do it as a job at the time. I was doing design.'

  'I had a place at Brunel. Then I took a year out, went travelling, pissed around. Needed some money so I started doing bits and pieces of gardening. That turned into me deferring my place at Brunel to make more money.  I did garden maintenance at first. Then step by step I took on bigger things, as people asked. Small fencing jobs or paving - not designing as yet, but pushing into the design aspect. Then I started advising clients on ideas for their gardens, and set up Champain Landscapes when I was eighteen.  I know what I like and push people to have the more high-end contemporary stuff. I still get my hands dirty, though I two people working for me, but I'm concentrating more and more on the design aspect.  I give clients two plans for their gardens - one sensible and one more high-end and interesting. Nine times out of ten they go for the cheaper option. Very annoying when people have their sensible hats on and you want to do something amazing, but it's their money.'

  In the late Lady Draven's garden he has laid slate paving stones, reclaimed railway sleepers and installed Champain bespoke garden furniture. 

  'Just now I'm putting the gardens to bed for the winter. Amazingly stuff is till growing this late, but it's coming to an end now. In terms of maintenance, you do all those things you simply can't do earlier in the year - enriching soil and planning your design features. Autumn has to be my favourite season. The rush has passed by now and it's really the time for the gardener to be methodical. You can get into your workshop and sort your tools out. I'm currently extending my workshop so I can fit another vehicle in there and store aggregates, sleepers and paving stones in bulk. Not forgetting, of course, that you have to get out there into the garden and cut stuff back and put properly rotted compost in the gaps.  People so often forget to do that. It'll help the plants already in there, and it's prep for new additions. I tell clients: be methodical.  But, then, I'm a bit OCD anyway.'

  'People panic about stuff dying and then any hope of them being methodical goes right out of the [] window. I tell them: you have to do something really bad to completely ruin a garden. Which certain of my clients seem to take as a direct challenge. Not watering. Not enriching the soil. Trotting off to gardening centres and bulk-buying a load of plants that have pretty flowers but that are totally the wrong plants for their garden's aspect.'

 'I suppose I'm focussed on playing this percentage game with finding my niche just now. Hoping for those clients who are really interested in their garden looking the very best it can and not just being purely functional. I need to see a Champain show-garden pushed on through all four seasons. Get more of a handle on what are fantastic plants but that are also a pain in the arse to grow. The problem with round here, Suffolk, is that so many of the homes are second homes, so the owners are not that interested in making an amazing garden. I'd need to do what some other local traders are doing and make London contacts.'

  Louis plans, keeps his tools and shifts aggregates during the season he loves most for its weather and colours. 

  ...and in heaven it is always autumn.

Champain Landscape's Instagram

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Expected Effects of Desert Conditions on a Lemon Drizzle Cake

  'Don't blurt about the police caution again...don't blurt about the police caution again...'   The woman on passport control at Trondheim airport was blandly staring at my passport. And I was having a word with myself, not wanting a repeat of the Kandahar Military Airport incident with Sergeant Asil on the ongoing transfers desk...

  Asil was powerful in the chest, with black gelled hair and a slightly slow left eye. When the Combined Services Entertainment tour approached check in for the flight to Camp Bastion he was dealing with a bald, late-teen. 
  'But Asil, how can it have not got here by now?' the teen was asking.
  'You know I don't control how quickly stuff gets here from the UK, Farnsey. I don't put anything personal on any kind of priority, either.'
  'But it got sent two weeks ago.  What's in those sacks over there?'
  'Maybe your parcel, for all we know.  But we can't go rooting through it all to find out. You know this.  It's the system.  You just have to wait.'
  They had reached an impasse.  Asil with his palms raised, Farnsey with his shoulders sunk. Farnsey sighed heavily and walked out of the holding bay.
  Asil watched him leave and waved me forward. 
  'Passport, please.'
  'I'm not very pretty in the picture.'
  He looked. 'No, you're not, are you?'
  'It was taken at Woolworth's,' I said defensively.
  'No wonder they went under.  It's quite a mugshot. Let's check your criminal record for shits and giggles, shall we?'
  Oh, no. He typed for a few seconds, eyes flicking between my passport and a computer screen.  He stared at the screen. He frowned. Oh, no.  His eyes widened slightly and he blew out air. Oh, no!
  I panicked and blurted out:
  'My mother told me to make those nuisance calls.  You see, I was renting from that woman, Diana Chadwick, on her small holding in Guildford. I'd left it late to find a room to rent when I started teaching full-time at the Guildford School of Acting and hers was all there was. She had to rent it because she was so strapped for cash.  It was her son's room.  He was away at public school.  During half term she made him stay at a friend's in Winchester. And then she had to buy a new horse for her daughter; on hire purchase, but she had to put a couple of hundred down.  She didn't even have that. Her daughter was whiny and whey-faced and threatened to stop her periods again if she didn't get the horse. Diana she got so desperate I paid her a month's rent in advance, rather than week to week as we were doing.  Then the son, Sam, get expelled because deadline after deadline for the payment of arrears in his school fees had come and gone, so I was out. And Diana told me I couldn't have my rent back just then because she had such a cash-flow problem, it wasn't true.  Totally struggling to make ends meet. They were going without some essentials with Sam back and eating her out of house and home, that's how bad it was. I said, er, but you've just bought a horse? She said, yes, but that was for her daughter, and, actually, it was only a pony.  She would try and get the money back to me at some point.  Meanwhile, I had to move to Farnham. One of the ballet teachers at college had a cottage there and took in lodgers. For the next six months I rang Diana on and off to get my rent back, and every time she sounded like how dare I, and how unreasonable, and how did I expect her to just conjure it up? So my mother told me to chalk it up to experience - get a lease next time, all down on paper - let it go.  And then get my two month's worth of rent back from that Diana woman in annoyance.  She got up early to feed the horse, right?  Well, I should ring her in the middle of the night whenever it occurred to me. I did that for about a year. Drunk back from a night out, usually. PC Dellowes left me a note on my door in Aldeburgh asking me to go down to the station. There was a woman police woman in the room with him. Maybe they thought I was hermaphrodite? And tea and biscuits.  The room smelled of Ammonia. PC Dellowes accounted for all the calls I'd made to Diana; and then made it clear,eyebrow raised, that, no, withholding my number wouldn't have worked once the police had set a trace. Oops. Then he asked if I'd said anything during the nuisance calls or just hung up?  He was reading his notes and he said he thought I might have said something on one occasion, you see. I said I couldn't remember.  He said it would be good if I could remember. I said i couldn't. He said might it have been something along these lines: "As the rent I ever so kindly paid out in advance helped buy that pony-upgrade for your fucking daughter - who might be pale, but certainly isn't interesting - I own a forelock of it at least. I hope it ends up as glue. And that your daughter ends up pregnant in a bus-shelter in Woking by someone who works in McDonalds and doesn't have any stars. You'e a stupid arse-like-the-Mona-Lisa's-smile in those drainpipe jeans, smelling of apples, horse-fiddler!"? I told PC Dellowes that, yes, I might have said that. I got a police caution, no more, because of course I was owed the money; it was about the nuisance I had caused. But, Asil, surely you can't send me home from Afghanistan for being a security breach over some nuisance calls?' 
  I stopped.  Asil was looking over the computer screen at me. 
  'Mate, chill.  How could that count as a threat to security out here?  I'm actually still waiting for the page to load so I could check on you. Internet's so slow today it's meeting itself coming back. But tell you what: there's the ban on using your mobile out here because enemy sympathisers have been locking onto signals from calls made from on base and then threatening whoever's receiving the calls in the UK with beheading?  None of the threats have been carried out as yet. But how about I look the other way and you ring your old landlady in her stables? Oh, here we go, Farnsey again...'
  'Asil, I just messaged my mum and she said she definitely sent it two weeks ago.'
  'What was it?'
  'Another cake.'
  'Farnsey, we talked about that!  Your mother mustn't send you any more chocolate cakes out here. It's forty-one degrees today. She just puts the cake in foil and in a parcel envelope. It'll get here again looking like someone sleeping rough's shat their cardboard box again in the night.' 
 Farnsey shook his head, witheringly. 'For your information, Asil, I told her about that. This time she's made it a Lemon Drizzle.'


Thursday, 19 November 2015

How to...House Sit

  You know when your internet provider, trying to embarrass you, asks what you've been trying to download that may be leading to these slow speeds?
  I always answer:
  'An album of Peruvian Nose Flute favourites beamed indirect from the server up the left peak of the Nevado Huascaran.' 
  'The complete collection of Joan Hickson as Miss Marple - minus the Four Fifty From Paddington because of the mistake with the plot - dubbed into Seychellois Creole for me to learn the lingo. I'm off to perform for the Saudi Prince on the Baie Lazare Mahe Island again and only ever want to pray in the cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in the native language.'  
  'Pissage, Fistage and Bummage Volume Six: Beechy Head Volleyball Man Slags.'
  I've been able to vary this last example since meeting the hoorahly fun Topco Toyz reps at SexpoUK. I know fully well that the woman in the holiday let next door is making that one-part moan to two-parts giddy singing noise at her dog, but I told the smarmy onsite Wifi engineer this morning that, as we all share the internet here, and I saw the woman from next door with a Topco Toyz bag on Sunday, it must be the remote control app component of her Twerking Butt toy that's currently using up all the Wifi and curtailing my enjoyment of Songs of Praise.
  'My i-player keeps freezing in the middle of Aled Jones reading the usual letter from Margery Grimeyfrontdoorstep from Wigan, writing that her poor neighbour Barmy Helen thinks that the twin red lights on the immersion heater are the eyes of Satan looking out at her, and can someone recommend a cardinal or failing that an archbishop to come and exorcise Helen's airing cupboard? And, now, here's "Onward, Christian Soldiers" with close ups of people who look like total twats when they sing.'
  Sorry, my point was: the woman feeding her dog: making extra cash from house and/or pet sitting.  Which I started doing through word of mouth. From Lady Davies, to Lady Ward, to Lady Cave, I got passed around Aldeburgh like house sitter herpes. Then I registered with Mrs Parksley's Home Care and House Sitter Agency.

  'Oh, no, dear,' Mrs Parksley said in strong lancashire. 'I don't just take details over a telephone. Yes, I know I've seen you in the recital you did for Joanna Robinson at Leiston Abbey in aid of NADFAS - and I suspect we even pressed the flesh over a plate of finger food with a glass of Sauvignon clipped to the side - but I need to get whatever professional whiff there may be to get off you in person. And I'll be needing your feet to be beneath my desk to that.  Please bring anything you have to show you're viable vis-a-vis security and at least one reference from a past client. Yes, tomorrow lateish afternoon would be fine. Coming by coach?  I don't know how anyone can manage with those stood-up coffin loos they have on National Express...'
  Walking frames, crepe bandages and commodes were encroaching on Mrs Parksley's office. Her bun was severe, her eyes tired but kindly, slightly watery from (I suspected) such shrill notes of Deep Heat. She seemed intent, during our interview, on showing off as much as possible of her midnight blue knitted stomach, and from all angles. 
  I handed Mrs Parksley the thank you letter I had received from the security minister for my after dinner sing in the presence of Her Majesty, proof that I had recently passed stringent security checks, and the references from Lady Cave and a Dutch archivist which made me sound like the lovechild of an east facing Buddha and Mrs Beeton. She warned me that most of the paper work she got across the desk for her agency went straight into her OMDB file - Over My Dead Body, as she gleefully clarified.  
  'Right, first off. I neither expect nor quite like a paragon. I had someone considered themselves a past expert in the house sitting line register with me last year.  Fuller-figured woman in a red Goofy sweatshirt under dungarees and what we used to call bovver boots. She said how she would ensure the house owner got back to the beds being made up with hospital corners to the sheets - never liked those, myself: like sliding your weary lower limbs into cotton calipers - and to various items of nursery-supper food in the freezer ready. And vases of flowers. I thought before I stopped her as - I told her - time was marching, she'd be telling me next how she reglazed the conservatory, repointed chimneys and laid under-carpet heating. I mean, really, it's house sitting. Keep abreast of the security, pet and cleanliness requirements, don't pry, plump cushions prior to owners' return. Not a paragon, please, just conscientious.'
  She took a typewritten sheet of paper from her desk drawer and consulted it.
  'You go round with the owner and a pen and paper or whatever new-fangled typing apparatus you may favour and you get the lowdown. Which parts of the house you're permitted to use, which not. Which windows you can open, which you keep closed. Same goes for doors. If you're successful today and sharp as you walk round, I won't say who this is, you'll notice one of my regular clients has her indoor wisteria blue-tac'd onto that atrium it isn't actually training itself up it.'
  She did a vaudevillian double-take at me across the desk.
  'And next you get them to give you the security system lowdown. Make them, if need be. Warn them that white vans have been seen parked in the vicinity. Frighten the buggers! They'll often say how they wouldn't put you to the trouble of setting the burglar alarm for everywhere at night;  or if you were only going down to the chip shop or the recycling or the end of the road to the half of Welsh dresser the Wilkinsons put out with an honesty box: stuff for sale they've grown, or bric a brac, eggs they've risked life and limb scooping out from under that psychotic chicken they've got. Please reassure my clients always that you won't, thank you, render their home insurance null and void by being lax.'  She was waving her stomach at me.  'For the sake of getting these things as they should be, you can be standing for all I care on the patch of carpet in front of the grandfather clock where the sensor can't find you, with the Pekinese in your arms, gibbering to yourself 'As much as that?' because you've seen items galore from all over the house on that night's Antiques Roadshow!' 
  She gave me a 'think on' upward glancing point of the finger.
  'And talking now of your clutching that Peke - pets. Some of my old ladies in particular have a routine with their pets that's like the Kama Sutra got at by the Amish. Complicated, involved but without base muckiness.  Whatever time it gets up with its owner, it gets up with you. Whatever time it gets fed, watered, walked, fussed, stroked, whatever, it gets whatever it may be with you. If it has a special spoon for serving its food, then you use its special spoon for said special food. A Dorothy L Sayers spoon for Arden Grange Adult Dog Pork and Rice is what Sarah Parke's labrador has, for one of many examples. And you give it any drugs. And, of late, grated carrot.  It's the new black for a pooch's innards. Mrs Fry read about it. And they've all now got the grater attachment for the Magimix from the back of the kitchen cupboard; and I've noticed a number of the dogs' doings along Church Walk have a bizarre orange street-lamp tinge to them of late. We are, of course, mainly talking dogs, cats; it's that kind of a catchment; less frequently rabbits or chickens. There has been a horse. Which had to be watched for mange forming under its blanket. And Margaret Temple's youngest tried a snake.  It headed down the toilet, into the brass pipes, and never came back up again. Oh, talking of pipes - the question of musical instruments. It's an addendum to my notes here, look!'
  She showed me, too briefly.
  'There might in one or two houses I can think of be some ivories you might have a tinkle on. You never know, you see, you might be lucky and get music.  And tinkle away if you have permission. Or bow. Or pluck.  But I'd say for hygiene's sake not to get involved with a tongue in a mouthpiece scenario, whatever permission you may or may not get direct.'
  She looked at me, sideways on, mouth a disgusted moue.
  'And, talking specifically, that lovely singing training you've had you might feel going to be waste if you get a booking for Mrs Fry. She'll expect you to sing "Oh, what a Beautiful Morning" as an upper and Brahms's "Lullaby" as a downer to Martin, her dachshund.'
  Her forbearing smile slipped into that disgusted moue again. 
  'Oh, to forewarn, if your top notes meet with the dachshund's approval,you'll get a flash of Maybelline Peach Glow lipstick willy.'
  She nodded briskly at me. 
  'So, think on!'





Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A Blog for NKN - Why we never, ever shout at our techies!

  'Suzie with the LED crystal light nipple tassels is number twenty-two,' I told Squirrel, techie on last Friday's SexpoUK cabaret show. 'You mean Howard, who's modelling the jewel encrusted vintage gas masks vamped for breathing play.'
  You know what I said about always being ready to perform?  
  With just enough time to take off my XXXL pyjamas from over my XXL tutu, last Friday I was thrown on to narrate the lingerie catwalk show on the main stage at SexpoUK. The last time I took over something so last minute when I was eleven and Nigel Godfrey, singing solo next to me at Southwark Cathedral, fainted midway through Wash me Throughly.  
  'Ladies and gentlemen, we have La Carissa now.  If she carries on preening her boa just there she'll have her car keys taken out of the onyx bowl by the front door. Ah, Marian again, ladies and gentlemen, from the Ukraine; thinking we won't remember she wore that same dress the first time she came down the catwalk for us this evening. And the second time. Kevin now, in - what shall we call that: clerical latex? - being whipped on all fours by Linda. That'll larn him not to talk during Songs of Praise.'
  Red Squirrel, Alex and Max on the sound and lighting desk were all nicely giggling. Which always makes things better in the theatre. A techie is like a cat: you feel privileged if he gives a shit about you. 
  A techie will have seen it all.  And knows that whatever is happening onstage, good or bad, the clock on his desk keeps running. The show may end too soon, or go on too long, but at some point the curtain will come down. 
  I find it lonely and stressful touring a one-man show. I've learned to do all the things you're meant to.  Take a couple of things from home to put in the dressing room and hotel room.  A matryoshka doll, a section of carpet or the TV remote, that sort of thing. Perhaps a recording of the girl in the bedsit below having screamingly multiple orgasms all on her own? Thank God for when her boyfriend's over. Then it's three grunts, him shouting 'Dumbledore trusted me to see this through' and a thwarted sigh. I move the furniture around in my hotel room if I feel the need.  Dame Nellie Melba moved the furniture around in the foyer of a Paris hotel, and when she was asked to cease and desist, informed the manager that she was Melba, but not to worry: she wouldn't charge them for the improvements. For long train journeys I take a huge great book like Middlemarch or Moby Dick - well, I say that. When I was first touring it was huge great book.  I also took condoms in the hope I'd get lucky. Nowadays the book's Miss Marple or Marian Keyes and I take my ventolin puffer. 
  But, as I say, I do find it lonely. So it's always a comfort to have a techie, if not to come home to, at least to walk into a theatre to. 
  It's calming to work to someone else's timetable. You can do nothing other than avoid falling gels while Daniel, Gareth or Andrea, in his blacks, combats and tool belt, rigs your lighting. Running through the lighting and sound cues with him will then focus your mind. 
  In theory. 
  Daniel Leighton, the fourth time we worked together at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool, called down from the box:
   'Lad, you're even more of a jelly-brain this year than last. Can I have a visual cue, please, for you starting that song?' 
  Rather than the stuff about me fancying Scott Tracy, Thunderbird One.  
  Or my Nanna Ak's cholesterol. She was taken to the doctor and given a pamphlet.  It said that the rule of thumb with fast was not to leave teeth marks in butter. She said how toop was that?  Did they expect her to eat her buttered tea cakes without her bloody teeth in?   
  Or my class teacher at infants' school, Miss Postlethwaite, swilling out and decoupaging enough Germolene tins for all ninety-seven of us to have one of his or her own for putting our Cadbury's Chocolate Fingers in to go in with our morning milk. 
  See, being old and cynical these days, I want to know how Miss Postlethwaite came to hurt herself so much she got through those ninety-seven tins of Germolene. 
  She wasn't married. 
  Anyway, I gave Daniel a visual cue for the song: I sat down at the piano and started playing it. 
  Make it work with your techy, and they will save your bacon.  
  British Youth Opera. I had a cough and a spit part as the Magistrate in the Thieving Magpie.  I was the understudy Giorgio. And learned the role of Fernando for Use only in Dire Emergency purposes.  The baritone playing Giorgio went off on tour in Edinburgh. I was on.  All was well until the court room scene in which the Magistrate, Giorgio and Fernando all appeared. As I waited to go on the three roles I had learned mashed and fused in my head. I walked over to Stu, stage manager. 
  'Stu, keep calm, but I'm about to go on and can't remember what Giorgio sings.  Any clue, you?'
  Stu took me by the arm, switched on his torch, and walked me to the upstage wing.     
  'Downstage, face the mayor.  Stuff about hoping he hasn't been too traumatised, sir, by recent events of his own causing.'
  Oh, yes, that. 
  Beers were on me at curtain down. 

  The head of security at Covent Garden once pissed off a techie by shouting at him for coming front of house in his blacks when we were getting the foyer ready for the Queen's arrival.  
  Never, ever shout at a techie!

  It was the Queen's seventieth birthday. I was working in the Royal Opera House foyer bookstall. At curtain down I was given a walkie talkie at and instructed to stay out of sight while noting VIPs coming down the stairs from the Grand Tier - it had to be me because I knew everyone, apparently, dear. Mark Try was on a second walkie talkie and stationed at the VIP carpark off Bow Street. I was to tell him which hyphenate was just hoving into view, and he would locate the respective chauffeur driven car and send it down to the front of the opera house.
  Two things...
  First, there was a new front of house manager that night, so he wouldn't have known where I might go to stay out of sight and still have the necessary view across the foyer to the Grand Tier staircase. 
  Second, the sound techie who gave me the walkie talkie and showed me how to use it was sent packing by the head of security before he could warn me that once Mark had sent down the first two or three cars our walkie talkie conversation would be relayed through the public address system for us to tell the VIPs when their respective cars were en route. 
  Here is what ended up being relayed through the public address system to the waiting VIPs. 

MARK.  Iestyn, what is that clicking?
ME. I'm seeing what the receiver tastes like.  Wait, though, you can't just say things, you have to use the jargon.  Words starting with letters of the alphabet. And Roger. Over and out. All that.
MARK. Who's on the stairs, please?
ME.  Roger, your query received and being acted upon.  On the stairs is the Queen of Denmark. Alpha, Betty, C..paghetti. Her treasury's clearly not of the fullest sort. Delphinium, Eglantine, Foxglove. Amazing what you can do with a couple of plastic daffodils and a candlewick bedspread. Hostelry, Igloo, Klytemnestra. What's her car like? 
MARK.  Brown.  Sending it now.
ME.  You mean: sending it now, Lard, Minge, Nongers.
MARK.  What the fuck are 'nongers'?
ME.  I don't make the rules, Mark, I just abide by them. Octopus, Prixunique, Quack-doctor.
MARK.  Quack-doctor's hyphenated.
ME.  Alas, I cannot attend to your pedantry, caller, as Mrs Krill's currently on the stairs.  I repeat: Mrs Krill.
MARK.  I think you'll find that's Mrs Krill Roger, Sierra, Tango. 
ME.  Oh, we want to play now, do we? Uvula, Vexatious, Wombat. Mrs Krill hasn't got a car anyway. She lost her licence kidnapping her friends' Filipino maids. Hers is in hospital after fireworks night. She gave her a sparkler, and they were all writing their names in the air, as you do. Her name is Mey-Mey Tirahlahlahchuchham. She set fire to her Thai Buddhist black wax cotton bead wristband and was rushed to St Mary's. Xylophone, Yak, Zarathustra. 
MARK. Whatever - Alpha, Beta, Charlie - Mrs Krill's in a chauffeur driven car this evening. 
ME. That's because she's just posh. Dexterous, Elementary, Fracas.  Ah, here's the Archbishop of Canterbury. He once gave me two Cadbury's Cream Eggs at an Easter Day Service because he was so impressed with my top As in Schubert in G. Gertrude, Hangleton, Is-you-is-or-is-you-aint-my-baby?  I do tend to have stretchy top notes.  It's the shape of my soft palate. Juniper, Kwango, Letitia. WIth my proclivities the back of my throat's been worn away to an exact bell-end shape. Moribund, Narcolepsy, Orangutan. Oh, fantastic, it's Jilly Cooper!

  At which point they finally found and put a stop to me!