Tuesday 26 August 2008

Audience participation

No idea of my weight; 7.6 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,259 days remaining in the kitty; Alnwick.

The Less Tall Cheshire Brunette got up at the crack of dawn to practise yoga with the aid of a DVD, and quite possibly a DVD player and television, while I devoted myself to a bizarre dream involving a solicitor I have not got called Mackay. When both of these important activities were over I ventured downstairs. Having forgotten to bring a wireless with me, I decided to watch the expected news summary on the hour on BBC1, only to find that they provide no such thing. Worse still, the whole of their breakfast programme appears to play in an hourly loop. So having watched a shameless plug for a new American film about feckless 40-something stepbrothers masquerading as “news”, one then has to sit through much of it again in a trailer of the highlights “coming up in the next hour”. And to think that some of my girlfriends have complained over the years that my usual morning audio wallpaper, the Today programme on Radio 4, can be a touch repetitious. What on earth am I paying a TV licence fee for?

I collected the LTCB’s cats from their cattery in the late morning (memo to self: investigate why dogs take their vacations in boarding kennels, not a doggery). An otherwise routine wallet-emptying experience was enlivened by the simultaneous arrival at check-in of an absolutely enormous black dog, perhaps of the Pyrenean Mountain variety, or maybe a Newfoundland, though most definitely what would be characterized in North Eastern dog fancying circles as “a big bugger”. I was much entertained by the well-proportioned female half of his accompanying entourage running through an apparently endless of the dog’s likes, dislikes and special needs, and awaited the almost inevitable line “Where will he sleep?” so that I could join in the chorus of “Anywhere he bloody well likes!”

To fortify myself for the journey back to Northumberland, I decided that it was high time I tried the Chinese takeaway cum fish and chip shop on the corner of the LTCB’s street. Being oldish, English and hidebound, I ordered fish and chips as you would expect, and was told that it would took a few minutes as the fish had to be freshly cooked to order. When it was ready, the girl behind the corner asked whether I would like a standard or large portion of chips, and I said that a normal one would do nicely. Whereupon she took the sort of shovel with which firemen used to stoke the boilers of main line express locomotives, and proceeded to assemble enough chips to serve between four and six exceptionally hungry people, or a rugby team with unusually delicate appetites. Very good they were, too, as was the nicely battered piece of cod balanced on the top. I ate perhaps a quarter of it, and wished that I owned a very large dog to help me out. Though perhaps, on reflection, a pig with a cast iron digestion would have been even more useful.

I made it home to Northumberland in time for a quick mug of tea before driving into Alnwick to rendezvous with my aunt at the Playhouse. There are only two rows of seats in the Playhouse which provide a comfortable amount of leg room for people over about 5’ tall. One is the very front row and I can never remember which is the other one, so Row A tends to get my vote. Which is fine unless one ends up as the sole pervert right in the front for displays of gratuitous nudity, as I did at the touring production of The Blue Room a few years ago. Or, as tonight, when there turn out to be unexpected calls for audience participation. I am quite good at avoiding these myself by just fixing the performer with a withering stare, but my aunt seemed to feel an inescapable urge to join in. It had been her idea that we should come to see a bloke called David Benson doing his one-man show about Kenneth Williams, with whom he had a tenuous personal connection as the winner of a children’s story writing competition for the BBC’s Jackanory: Williams had been assigned to read the winning entries on air. He did a very passable impersonation of the man and I felt minded to forgive him the occasional lapse into Frankie Howerd as I am not sure that Williams himself did not sometimes make the same mistake. However, he was considerably funnier when relating events from his own schooldays, even if having a mother who was certifiably insane and ended up being forcibly removed to a loony bin would not be everyone’s idea of a natural subject for comedy.

My distinguished looking aunt was hard to ignore in any event, sitting as she was plumb in the middle of the front row, and she had already attracted his attention by the alacrity with which she responded when he asked everyone else in the theatre who had a barmy mother (living or dead) to raise their hand. When he asked whether anyone else came from his home town of Birmingham, blow me if she didn’t stick her hand straight up again, initiating further enquiries about precisely where and why. She confessed to coming from Winson Green and explained that “My father was in the prison service”, leaving me wondering whether she was trying to avoid the mockery that might result from the revelation that he had been the prison chaplain; or seeking to convey the impression that he had actually been the governor.

Parts of the evening will stick in my mind for a considerable time. In particular, I shall always recall how unnerving it clearly was to have to say “f***” quite frequently under the basilisk gaze of a distinguished looking octogenarian with a barmy dead mother and a father who was something in the prison service.

Back at home I watched the BBC ten o’clock news and then chanced upon a comedy programme which featured a hopeless Welsh bloke of 40 trying to make a dating video with the aim of attracting a 23-year-old girl. How hilarious. Luckily my viewing was interrupted by a telephone call from someone in Chester who was precisely 23 when I was 40. Men of Britain take heart: it can be done. Though admittedly maybe not if you are Welsh and given to sporting a Peter Mandelson moustache.

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