Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Youthful Outlook

One of the first things that you notice about the 48 strong cast in Dick Whittington is that 90% them are under 25 years old. It is, as Jeremy Edwards (@jqedwards) tweeted ‘an insanely talented cast #feelingold’ .  And indeed, at just 19, Layton Williams (@LaytonWilliams) has achieved so much already – the lead role in Billy Elliott, Thriller the Musical, School for Stars and Bad Education, Victoria Quincey (@victoriaquincey) has recently set up her own dance school and Greg Airey (@gregairey)not only has impeccable acting credentials, but is also a talented photographer.  Add that to the kids and principal dancers, many of whom have been in a myriad of shows already, as a mum rapidly approaching middle age (@RuthyM007) one has to stand back and watch in admiration.

But of course the story of Dick Whittington is a young story.  It is all about the ambition and the arrogance of youth.  It is all about the desire to transcend the path of your forebears and strike out on your own.  It’s about cash rich schemes, young irresponsible love, the foolish things one says or does in the heat of the moment and the need to face up to adversity.  It is modern in its outlook – a single dad bringing up his kids to think for themselves and fend for themselves in an economic situation much like today, it’s about a young man leaving home to make money in the City and it draws on a great tradition of role reversals in all good love stories where a woman dresses as a man to impress a man -As You Like It, Zorro, Blackadder.  (Ok, the last two may not be in the annals of history but you get my drift…)

However, what would Dick et al have done if he was in his thirties?  Would he have approached  life differently? Would he perhaps have left the cat at home, knowing that digs in London would probably refuse to home an ancient animal, and that he would have to pay extra?  Would Alice have given into the urge of the biological clock by then and run off with the local baker?   Would they all listen to advice, or still forge ahead in the hot headed manner of their twenties?

I’m not sure. But it got me to thinking. If I could give myself 10 tips in my twenties from the hindsight of my forties, what would I say?  Here goes.

1)   Speak your Opinions, Don’t let your Opinions Speak   You are twenty years old, contrary to your opinion, you don’t know everything, and could learn from others rather than riding roughshod over them.  You are very forceful, talented and charismatic, but you are not always right.
2)   That Love of Your Life?  He wasn’t… Enjoy life, keep safe.
3)   Don’t ignore the Middle Aged Woman You know her, you think she’s mad, running after her kids all the time, letting herself go.  She may turn out to be the best thing that happened to you.  She may once have been as driven as you, but changed course somehow.  She may be right. She may be you in years to come.
4)   Toughen Up You’re going to need it in the years to come.  Especially when you become a parent.  You are going to have to face things you never knew you had the strength to cope with.  And you will get through it.
5)   Enjoy your Looks You know how you think you’re fat?  You are soooo not.  Everything sinks and yes, those knobbly knees will disappear.  You may have to work on your hair colour – take it from me, the perms were not a good idea, and black hair drains you. And your skin? This is one instance when the price is right – invest in a good cream and you won’t look back.
6)   Don’t get Caught Out You aren’t yet living in the age of social media, but if you were, you would take to it like a duck to water.  But your digital self would not represent the kind of person you actually are.  It’s not big to slag other people off, it’s not cool to be rude.  You would look at your postings when in your forties and shudder with embarrassment.
7)   Save Some Money Ok, I know it’s not going to happen.  But I’ve given the advice.  Life is for living after all, but there will be hard years ahead, and a nest egg is always handy in an emergency.
8)   Your cat is gonna die After her, you will have 3 cats, 2 dogs, 3 goldfish and a very overweight hamster in your life. Lots of tears, and burials in the garden. Shit happens.
9)   You will meet the Love of your Life He won’t be what you expected, and where you expected.  It will be a rollercoaster adventure – but then you’ve been on the Corkscrew at Alton Towers 11 times in a row, so you will be fine.
10) You will have kids I know you think you’re not maternal, but you are.  And your kids will bring you more happiness than you have ever experienced.  All that energy spent running around  in pursuit of happiness that you are doing now will simply be poured into your children.  And they will repay you by flourishing and growing and achieving things that even you never dreamed of.

Looking back, would I have followed my own advice? Probably not.   Would You, The Reader, add any more?

Til the next time, this young (nearly) middle aged mum  is signing over and out.


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Christmas Tree Lights

All across the country, in various towns and villages, there is the annual switching on of the local Christmas Tree lights.  The tree itself is usually a bedraggled nonentity most of the year (if it is a permanent town resident), but on a certain day at a certain time of year it springs into life as a symbol of the start of the festive period.  Depending on which town, village or city you live in, the switching on affair can range from a group of people simply plugging in the lights to a full blown fiesta with pop and rock bands and celebrities counting down.  Fleet falls in between both categories.

One of the duties of a pantomime crew is to attend as many switch ons as possible (preferably locally) in order to promote the pantomime and get ‘bums on seats’.  The weather forecast for the Fleet lights switch on was looking a bit grim, but we had been told to deck the kids out in their purple Dick Whittington t-shirts with layers – even coats- underneath the t-shirts.  And so it was that 36 roly poly kids wandered into the Harlington Centre visibly sweating as they weebled through rehearsals, and shedding layers as they worked.  Amanda, as Fairy BowBells, floated fragrantly past as Caz started to bellow out instructions to the children in her best army major Head Chaperone tones.

P, my cohort on the chaperoning course, and also her husband, was skulking in the background looking for all the world like a Mexican bandido. ‘What have you come as?’ I asked cheerily, after greeting him.  ‘Movember’ he replied in a muffled voice, as Caz turned to find out who the noisy insubordinates were.  A reporter from the local newspaper and his videographer started to record the kids singing and Little Man looked enthralled as he jiggled his hands and head and the pompom on his Christmas hat bobbed up and down.  (Note to self: good mummy for not sewing on gold bells, it would have been reminiscent of Noddy on acid).

Then it was all hands on deck and into a rehearsal for the three songs with the full cast.  The Dame was wearing an outrageous outfit and this time resembled a mulitcoloured crocheted dalek with a voluminous hooped skirt, topped off with a plant pot (and flower), perched jauntily on her head.  Unfortunately she kept forgetting this, and on several occasions got trapped in the door jamb.  Layton Williams looked like something out of Narnia as he stretched and pirouetted excitedly, his lithe body clothed in a white shirt and tight fitting breeches, replete with furry tail.

At this point I spoke to the reporter, who was looking out of the window at the rain shimmying off the roads.  It turned out that his patch also covered Aldershot, which has a renowned panto scene.  How did ours, I asked, compare to our rivals?  His answer was that Aldershot was a much bigger affair, more cast, crew and a theatre with an established panto base.  He looked thoughtfully at our merry band as they all trilled together in perfect harmony. ‘Of course’, he said, ‘It doesn’t necessarily have to be big to be good.’ I could have given him a hug.

‘Loo break!’ called Caz, ‘Anyone need the loo before we go outside?’  ‘Not me’ answered Jeremy Edwards cheerfully as she shot him a stern look.  P handed out a glow stick to each child who hung it around their necks as a little beacon of light. And quickly we all filed out into the crisp air.

Hundreds of people were gathered expectantly in front of the stage.  Fairground attractions, stalls, the smell of donuts and the sound of the candyfloss machine – all surrounded our little troupe as they stood there smiling away glowing radioactively in the dusk.  A huge roar erupted as the stars of the show walked on to the small wet stage, ‘Jeremy!’ called an ecstatic  woman behind me. 

‘Everyone having fun?’  called Fairy BowBells as she launched into the first song.  Then the stars took it in turns to introduce themselves.  ‘Jeremy!’ shrieked his fan.  Then The Pyromaniacs took the floor in front of the stage launching balls of fire up into the air and shooting flames from their mouths. ‘Jeremy’ said the groupie faintly as the flames came dangerously close to us. 

And then it came – a moment that was unexpected, but joyous to behold.  All the local schools had sent along some children who filed in front of the stage dressed in Christmas hats and stood smiling up at our kids. They kept on coming, waving all the while, until the floor space was filled with little shining faces.  The music started, and a specially composed Song for Fleet filled the air, with hundreds of little voices joining the purple crew in a massed solidarity of communal appreciation.  Tears streamed down the face of the woman behind me as she swayed, murmuring ‘Jeremy’.  And then he took the stage, kneeling by the switch as our panto crew led the crowds in the countdown to the Lights Switch On.

Five, Four, Three, Two, One!  The roars were deafening.  Nothing happened.  No lights.  Nada.  Jeremy’s handsome face looked a little perplexed.  Someone in the crowd began to snigger, and then Fairy BowBells clapped her hands and pointed at the tree as it suddenly sprang into life in a myriad of twinkling white lights.  Oooooohhhh! Went the crowd and burst into wild clapping and back slapping all round.

I went into the hall to collect my son.  Little Man was standing, feet together, arms held outwards slightly.  He had been decorated in all the left over glow sticks.  ‘Look Mummy’, he said, ‘I’m a Christmas Tree.’ 

The countdown to Christmas has well and truly begun…

Monday, 18 November 2013

Sibling Rivalry

There’s something about a baddie.  Usually you love to hate them, or their background story is so entangled that you realise why they are bad and forgive them for it – until of course the time comes when you have to choose between good and evil and the goodie comes up trumps.  I still can’t watch Star Wars and not feel sorry for the heavy breathing villain that is Darth Vader, and how many people mourned the death of Dirty Den in EastEnders, sighed when Jaws plunged to his death in James Bond, or secretly envied Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada?   It goes without saying that a good baddie makes or breaks a story…

But what happens when the baddie is your sibling?  When the ying and yang jar against the forces of dark and light, black and white, bad and good? When the evil twin is a reality?

This has to be tough – those of us lucky enough to share our childhoods with siblings know that it take compromise, humour and at times a whole lot of soul searching to live together in harmony.  And for most of us, we manage to muddle along okay, and discover the benefits once grown up.  But for those where it doesn’t work, it can be catastrophic.

Imagine a blonde bombshell who is clever, good minded, pretty and kind and her dark haired, mean spirited, jealous, bitter and twisted twin sister. Imagine then that the blonde gets the man that they are both after.  Imagine the fall out.  Imagine a situation in which the wronged and wrong sister vows to wreak revenge, and havoc ensues involving kids, cats, rats, pirates and a very good looking man. Imagine if it was taking place right under your noses.

No, it’s not the latest episode of Jeremy Kyle.  No, it’s not I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.  It’s not even the Ten O’Clock News with Huw Edwards winking at you (yes, all right…I'm putting it out there, along with my Colin Firth fantasy…)

Book now for Dick Whittington at

It’s big, it’s bad and it’s incredibly compulsive viewing.  As I said, everyone loves a good baddie.  She swishes, she snarls, she’s mean, she’s Queen.  

And she’s on her way…

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A Fairy with Hart

By now you may or may not have gathered that a pantomime is coming to town, but there’s something a flutter in Fleet. Wherever you go, you get the feeling that someone or something has been there before you – it may be the little smattering of extra sparkly dew on the grass at Fleet Pond, it may be the trail of twinkling kisses in the sky as you stagger home from a night in Propaganda, or it may be the distinct impression that you have just seen a Fairy with wings and a wand standing outside Costa Coffee… 

There is no doubt that running a pantomime in a town for the first time takes that little bit of extra effort and magic, and this is what it takes with Dick Whittington.  Readers of this blog will be familiar with most of the characters in the play, and aware that the show’s producer Amanda, is also acting the dual characters of Fairy BowBells (goodie) and Queen Rat (baddie).  This is quite common in panto land – most main characters double or even treble as other parts, and part of the fun is in spotting who is who.  But what is not so usual is that the producer also writes the script (contrary to many enquiries, I had no hand in it!), runs the castings, interviews the crew, sources all the props and merchandise and perhaps most crucially for a first time show, does a lot of the promotions.  A lot of this, of course is down to budget – if this production is successful then the next will have some legacy to build upon – but it takes a passion and a commitment to continue to hammer away at peoples preconceptions and doubts, and this is where the power of Fairy comes in (sorry, couldn’t resist that one…)

And so it is that most of the local schools by now have had a morning assembly in which Fairy BowBells appears as if by magic, waving her wand and singing a special song – weaving her spells around the kids who are just waking up from their bowl of Weetabix.  Naomi House Hospice for children with terminal illnesses welcomed her with open arms as she sprinkled a bit of fairy dust in the air and cuddled the kids.  She’s appeared in the shopping mall and posed with wide eyed little girls who have asked if she is the tooth fairy.  She has flown into restaurants on request, floated in and out of old folks homes with a smile and with a flick of her wand opened a children’s play centre.

But her biggest challenge to date is giving blood.  There has been a shortage locally of blood, and so she too will be joining everyone in Fleet today on the blood gurney. I’m not sure how the blood bank will fare with Fairy Blood, but this could be a new thing – will we be seeing the Elves from Elvetham Heath lining up behind the little crooked Goblins from Church Crookham and the Pixies from Zebon Copse?  If you are in Fleet today, be sure to report back to me as I will be intrigued to find out…

I don’t know how this pantomime will work out.  I do know that it has taken blood (literally), sweat and many tears to get this far.  All I ask is that when you come to see the show, if you believe in fairies, clap your hands resoundingly at the end – because we have one helluva Fairy with Hart.    

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Full Of It...

Sometimes, with writing, it takes will power and the knowledge that with a little bit of time, and starting over and over, something will eventually come of it. I have discovered that it is the same with any creative craft – take Strictly Come Dancing for instance, one week you can be reasonably good, and then the next you simply suck and Bruno and Len are rolling their eyes dramatically.

If you are aged 8 and are full of cold, and face this mental dilemma, it can be the pits.  Little Man insisted on going to the last panto rehearsals which were 4 hours long due to skipping one weekend for half term, and I warned the head chaperone Caz that he was a little under the weather.  He had learned his songs, but had that fuzzy echoey head that you have with a cold, and he looked a little weary, if determined.  ‘Are you going to be all right?’ both Caz and I asked him, and he nodded gingerly.

I mooched around Fleet for an hour, expecting a call, and then drove home.  Just as I pulled into the drive the phone rang – could I come and collect him… He really wasn’t feeling very well and looked a bit green when I arrived.  Of course it turned out that he had a sicky bug and then I felt like a terrible mum for sending him there in the first place (you really can’t win as a parent), but as we sat and cuddled on the sofa I felt very proud of him for his perseverance that day. 

We wondered how to make it up to him, and G with a flourish, produced a tatty old copy of the film Billy Elliott.  This we all thought was a great idea, as it was about a young boy who was passionate about dancing, it would be a first for Monty, we hadn’t seen it for years, and Layton Williams (the cat in the pantomime) had played the role in the West End.  It ticked all the boxes for a night in.

I remember once taking my elderly aunt to watch Look Who’s Talking when it first came out.  For those of you who have never seen it, or need reminding, the first five minutes feature a couple rolling around in ecstasy and then cuts to a talking sperm on the race to meet an egg.  My aunt and I stared straight ahead at the screen, I was wondering if the heating had gone on suddenly, she was in shock.  I had a déjà vu feeling when watching the opening scene in Bridesmaids with my mother-in-law, and now here we were, in the same situation, with Little Man.  On screen  there was F-ing and Blinding like no tomorrow, Little Man’s eyes were like saucers, and G and I couldn’t look at one another and stared straight ahead, willing the TV to explode or there to be a power cut. 

We had done such a good sales job on the film, but had forgotten the extent of the bad language.  But there is no doubt that it is a brilliant storyline and soon the swearing became irrelevant as we all got lost in the tenderness of the writing and joys of Billy’s extraordinary achievements.

The credits rolled, and Little Man’s eyes were lightly sparkling with tears.  ‘Did you enjoy it?’ I asked.
‘It was f****** brilliant Mam!’ he answered perkily in an appropriate accent.

I may have a bit of explaining to do at school…

Monday, 4 November 2013


There’s a stir in the air,
a shuffle in the leaves
There’s wind in our hair
and creaking in the eaves
There’s rain on the roads
and puddles for our shoes
But everything’s stopped. 
Have you heard the news?
There’s a whisper in the town,
a small clear voice
There’s the sound of a song,
with girls and boys
There’s a big purple billboard,
there’s a script, everything
There’s swashbuckling, fire,
and a very rich king
There’s a love interest,
some Pirates, a very bad Rat
A Fairy, some kiddies
and a Dancing Cat
The pace is upbeat,
not long til the show
There’s chaos ahead
(for those in the know)
There’s lines to be learned,
outfits to choose
Songs to be sung
and no time to lose
Fireworks to be lit,
Sets to be made,
Christmas lights switches,
joining the parade
There’s a shuffle in the leaves,
a stir in the air
It’s Fleet’s first ever Panto!
Will You be there? 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Support Acts

It is often said that behind every great man there is an even greater woman.  Take the genders aside, there is a lot of truth in that statement, nobody can be great without the support of others.  In fact, it often takes more effort and self restraint to be the supporting act than the front man (or woman), whereas the Best Actress/Actors are often in the roles in the first place because they are the big name money pullers, it is the support acts whose job it is to make them shine like the stars they are. And of course, nowhere more is this exemplified than in Strictly Come Dancing, where the professionals are forced to take the supporting role – often when there is simply no hope (apologies to Anne W, Russell G and John S on this one).

If you are a parent, you will understand all too well the nature of the supporting role… whether it is hovering around in the background as your child marches in full costume up to strangers doors at Halloween, or shouting encouragingly from the sidelines at their soccer/rugby/athletics (substitute what you will) matches, or trying hopelessly to join in on words of songs for the next panto rehearsal.  No matter what your child throws at you, you enable it to happen to the best of your ability, and often without so much of a backward glance until that well earned grubby and sweaty little hug at the end of the adventure.

The silly season starts with Halloween and then reaches a crescendo with Christmas and New Year.  For those of you who do not have the additional minefield of pantomime performances, you may still have that nightmare of every parent – the School Nativity…  This has traditionally filled me with dread – from the emergency stop at Tesco after the realization that my old and stained tea towels would simply disgrace the head of my little shepherd, to the waiting with baited breath at the actual performance – knowing that one of the actors would fall off the stage, need the toilet, or yawn – and praying that it wouldn’t be yours.  For a couple of years we watched one son who was a shepherd (he got bored and started to punch his lamb’s head in), one son as a Wise Man (who at the crucial moment forgot what his gift was),  and one son suddenly announced that he was Joseph.  Luckily he did not have a lot of words, but we still watched anxiously.  We needn’t have worried as Mary was a sturdy young lass who with enormous delight grabbed him by the arm, whisked him up the aisle, marched him over to the stable door, negotiated loudly with the landlord and gave birth with a ruthless efficiency.  But it does of course depend very much on whether the main act wants to be the centre of attention – I know of one Nativity in which Joseph refused point blank at the last minute to go on stage, and so his Mary suddenly became a single mum in a dodgy old barn and the story took on a whole new angle.

And sometimes being a supporting act takes on an unexpected role. Eldest Son came in the other day and being, in the main, a Sports Jock, he looked a little uncomfortable.  He had been sequestered into his inter house debating team, with less than 24 hours to go and no seconder, and had to argue against the Motion which was ‘The Police Force in the UK should carry Weapons’.  It was, he said grimly, useless, because all the police in other countries carried guns, the opposition was a boy /girl team who had had days to prepare, and he couldn’t see the argument for his side.  I worked with him on a couple of pointers, tried to dissuade him from his predilection for announcing solemnly ‘This House believes…’, and stuck him on the school bus with the usual ‘Good Luck’ and sage advice ‘Try and find someone to second you…’   He came back full of the joys of autumn and said that his team had won.  Not only had he found someone to second him, but the other team had fallen apart by arguing amongst themselves.

I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring you.  You may have to arrange your office Christmas party and watch your boss take all the praise.  Or slave over Christmas dinner only to have your mother in law commend your husband on his carving. Or wrap up countless presents and write millions of cards which will not be gratefully received. Or have lots of people invade your house and eat your food and not offer you a cup of tea. Or even scurry around blindly in the darkness back stage as your little actor takes to the floorboards.  

But one thing I do know – behind every great individual, there is an even greater one, rolling their eyes…