One of the caveats to being offered the position of Fred in the pantomime was that Little Man had to appear on the official Pantomime Float at the annual Fleet Carnival. This is always a very long drawn out affair – with the main road in Fleet blocked out for 2 hours or so as float after float wend their way from the Station at the bottom of the hill, up the high street and turning the corner into the biggest park in Fleet (whilst avoiding the cricket ground, which backs on to it). And parking your car is a nightmare. So we viewed this news with mixed feelings.
Little Man was required for all morning rehearsals, as not only was he actually with the float, the Pantomime cast had a 20 minute slot to fill once they had got to the park, before all the part time rock bands wake up the Fleet Yoof and end Carnival by partying heavily into the night. I was told that he would be provided with a T shirt, that he needed a packed lunch, and that because the forecast was sunny, he should be slathered in sun cream and bring lots of water.
We turned up at the Harlington, Middle Son looking terribly embarrassed as he was in full cricket whites, ready for his forthcoming match. Little Man clutched his plastic bag of food, and looked miserably at the young girls wheeling in their Hello Kitty trolley bags, or silver make up cases. (Note to self: Tesco bag not De Riguer, will have to find more suitable artistic receptacle for snacks.) However, I breezed over to the sign in desk and announced our arrival. The woman looked up.
‘Ah, yes,’ she said, and looked down again at a voluminous register, ‘Sign here.’ And that was it. An older girl took him over to the T shirt table where he was fitted with a snazzy purple and gold top.
‘He looks like a Quality Street,’ sniggered Middle Son, as I thwacked him across the head.
Because of the hours involved in the pantomime, there are three teams of youngsters (or juveniles as they are known in the trade), and therefore three Freds. There was Self Assured Fred, who was older and wearing a trilby for the occasion. There was Floppy Haired Fred, lithe and handsome. And then there was my Fred, who was rapidly looking like Terrified Fred, as he stood, surrounded by females in gold and purple tinsel, chatting away rapidly in staccato. The chaos subsided as Amanda, the producer, held up a hand. The rehearsals were about to begin, and so with a quick wave we departed.
In the afternoon, just before setting off to the Carnival, both my other sons suddenly expressed concern in the welfare of our dog, and that he needed a walk. Weirdly, they both volunteered to do it, which meant that G and I were in the unusual position of actually going somewhere By Ourselves… So we called Grandma and Grandad, and arranged to meet them there. This is always dangerous, as Grandad has a horrible habit of wandering off, and so Grandma is constantly looking for him. But we had no idea what time the Carnival would end, and had friends coming for dinner – so our figuring was that 2 cars would be better than one.
Thousands of people stood on either side of Fleet high street. Music was blaring, the sun was shining and the roads were shimmering in a 30⁰ heat. The pubs were doing a roaring trade, and parents, pints in hand, pointed out all the weird and wonderful as the floats progressed slowly down the road. Local schools had pulled out all the stops – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with real live Oompa Loompas collecting for charity, an enormous Chinese dragon, Showboat, Pirates, they all kept streaming past.
And then we saw it. The Pantomime float. Preceded by the tallest stilt walker Fleet had ever seen, who had to duck several times under the bunting strewn from lamp post to lamp post across the street. Following him were two fire eaters, with tattoos and piercings in places that looked uncomfortable, but muscles to die for. Resplendent in gold and purple balloons with a smoke machine puffing gently, the float sailed majestically into view. Amanda had changed into a fairy outfit, and waved her wand brightly. The Pantomime Dame wore a heavy outfit comprising pom poms and tinsel, that I couldn’t help thinking resembled one of my Nan’s crocheted toilet roll covers that she kept for special occasions. The older dancing girls and boys twirled and clapped as the float turned the corner with a lurch.
The smoke machine went into overdrive, all the dancers suddenly became headless, and at one point Fairy Bow Bells disappeared in a billow of grey fumes, emerging spluttering, but still smiling. And amongst them all, sat Little Man, waving joyously at the cheering crowds and still smiling brightly. I couldn’t see the other Freds, but the girls were still fresh in their pony tails and a smear of lip gloss, and did not appear to be wilting, despite the intense heat.
‘Oh good,’ whooped G, as we descended the hill into the park. ‘There’s a beer tent.’ And off he disappeared. I found Grandma, who was looking helplessly around.
‘Oh there you are…’ she said vaguely. ‘Have you seen Grandad?’ I spied him sheltering in the shade and watching the Carnival princesses arrange themselves on thrones on the stage. The older one sat serenely, but the younger one, who was about 2, had had enough, and stamped her dainty foot, ripped off her crown and bellowed for her mummy. Just then a compere with a dodgy microphone stepped into the fray, and all the prizes for the floats were announced. Oompa Loompas, make up streaked and wigs askew, ran on to the stage amidst congratulations. All sorts of floats won all sorts of categories. Little Man looked a little put out.
And then Fairy Bow Bells took to the stage and introduced her purple crew. ‘Fleet’s first ever pantomime!’ she announced, and thanked the sponsors, Dominos. And then, despite the searing heat, and the all morning rehearsals, and the long walk, and the bumpy grass caused by years of football, the little troop stood up and sang and danced their hearts out. The crowds cheered as Little Man and Self Assured Fred leapt up in the air playing air guitar, they stood swaying as Fairy Bow Bells belted out I Could Have Danced All Night, and they laughed and joined in as the Pantomime Dame led them into a bawdy song.
As he settled on to my lap back at home, still in his t shirt, I asked him what had been his favourite bit of the day. He held up something. It was his Dominos Pizza silver badge from the carnival, his name in shiny black writing.
‘You know what this means?’ he said incredulously.
‘No?’ I enquired helplessly.
‘This means that I can go into Dominos, and take orders from people!’ His eyes were shining.
Oh well, I guess if this panto thing doesn’t work out, he may have something there….