Saturday 13 September 2008

A turkey on steroids

14st 2lb; 7.0 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,241; Alnwick.

I seem to have lost an encouraging amount of weight since I was last at home, though sadly weight is the one thing I do not feel I can attach to this morning’s reading from my bathroom scales. For reasons unknown, I was comprehensively dehydrated at the time I stepped onto them, after getting up at almost hourly intervals throughout the night to answer pressing and irritatingly repetitious calls of nature. I probably put on half a stone just drinking a pot of tea with my breakfast.

The highlight of my day was an afternoon telephone conversation with the LTCB about the disco she had attended in my absence last night, where the dress code was “school kids”. Unfortunately she claimed to have no photographs of herself in her outfit, not that I would have been allowed to upload them to this blog if she had done. But luckily I have a large collection of artistic DVDs featuring young ladies of about the LTCB’s age dressed as schoolgirls (usually quite briefly, it has to be said, both from the point of view of skirt length and the amount of time before they are required to remove their clothes in the interests of plot development). So I can always take a look at those to help me build up a comprehensive mental picture of what it must have been like.

The low point of my day was attending an evening theatrical performance with my aunt. It had been entirely her idea. Judging by the number of tickets the theatre had evidently sold, most people must have been able to spot the awful warning signs that had eluded us. Two grim looking women (sapphists, I reckoned) plodded onto the stage and picked up an accordion and a double bass, while a third sat down in front of a piano. This one looked so unnaturally happy that she must surely have been on some sort of drugs. Within minutes, I was wondering whether I could get away with leaning forward from our place in the front row and asking whether I could buy some off her.

Then a blonde woman shimmered on: the star of the show. The first things I noticed was that she had an absolutely huge mouth, and the second was that she was wearing a long black dress which she had clearly bought when she was a couple of sizes smaller than she is today. Either that, or she had been overcome by my traditional, optimistic belief in clothes shops that I can buy something far too tight and “slim into it”. Christ alone knows how she came to imagine that it would be a good career move to mount a show imitating Edith Piaf, for which one would have thought the obvious minimum requirements would be (a) looking and /or (b) sounding vaguely like, er, Edith Piaf. This was not so much The Little Sparrow as The Turkey On Steroids.

I suppose she might have just about got away with her life at a go-as-you-please talent contest at a working men’s club in the former Northumberland coalfield, so long as it was on a Saturday night after Newcastle had won at home, and she had put a couple of hundred quid behind the bar to buy ale all round.

Between what my aunt told me were songs, the star told us a few things about Edith Piaf. All of which I already knew, not that I was particularly interested. The quality of this patter is perhaps best conveyed by repeating her following sadly unforgettable claim that she had studied French at the Sorbonne, but she and her English colleagues called it the Sorebum because of the hardness of the seats in the lecture theatre. She simpered as she delivered this cracking punch line. Jesus. I was rapidly losing the will to live. So I shamefully abandoned my aunt at the interval and fled for home, spending the drive worrying that her claims to be really enjoying herself might be the first signs of galloping senility.

The quality of my evening’s entertainment improved immeasurably as soon as I sat down on the sofa with a fish finger sandwich and turned on the TV. I had to watch a couple of recorded comedies to restore my composure, but switched to The Last Night of the Proms in time to see Bryn Terfel, clad in some ludicrous heraldic suit, belting out the final verses of “Rule Britannia”. I was puzzled at first that the proceedings appeared to being conducted by Salman Rushdie. Upon consulting the Radio Times, the BBC seemed to be claiming that the balding, bearded bloke in the shapeless white linen jacket was actually one Sir Roger Norrington, but this was clearly just another cunning disguise in Salman’s continuing (and, he no doubt hopes, never-ending) quest to evade the fatwa. The cameras kept cutting across from the Albert Hall to other gatherings in parks in places like Cardiff and Belfast, but not during the final trio of patriotic rabble-rousers. Perhaps all the provincials cleared off home during Salman’s distinctly lack-lustre speech. Or maybe they got the collective hump when the community sing-song reached that line in “Jerusalem” about “England’s green and pleasant land”. Whatever the reason, it was just the certifiable crowd in the Albert Hall and me singing along to the National Anthem. And I would not bet the obvious way on which of us did it more loudly.

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