Sunday, December 25, 2016

Gone Wrong by O. Reader


My mother, who is now 97, was a real thespian in her time.

Her parents had been involved with theatricals, which was how they met - her mother as a singer and her father as a director. So it was not surprising that she took to the boards whenever she could. My natural father had similar inclinations, and I still have a collection of his press cuttings. When my parents were together, they did an act impersonating Ann Zeigler and Webster Booth, who were a very popular singing act in the UK during and just after World War 2. My father in drag would play Ann Zeigler and my mother would do a Vesta Tilley as Webster Booth. (Google ‘Vesta Tilley’ if the reference means nothing).

Anyhow, I might do a post on my father at some future time - this one is about my mother, who we will call Joan.

One of the religious meetings I attended with her for decades was called a school, and even with modern rebranding is still that. People rehearse before an audience how they might approach different sorts of people with their message in such a way that they may get a hearing ear.

One person will play the part of the messenger, and the other the householder who receives the call. They are given a theme and a specific time limit before a bell or buzzer tells them to stop. Timing is of the essence.

But my mother was never content with just doing it straight. She would dress up for the part. I actually met someone two days ago who remembered her from many decades past in another part of the country. What did he remember? Yes - her dressing up and playing the part for all it was worth. That chance conversation awakened my own recollections, and moved me to write this post.

As a little lad I remember that she had one special friend who we shall call Eve. Eve had first contacted her in real life in this kind of dialog, so they were often put on together. The congregation loved it. You never knew what you were going to get.

Of course intent was one thing, but quite often things didn’t quite go to plan.

My early life took place in Ruislip, now swallowed up into Greater London. The group we joined obtained their own Hall, formerly a welfare institute for railway workers. Using what was already at hand, the hall had quite a high raised platform at one end, and the backdrop was three large panels. The middle was brought forward about three feet. It meant that you could enter from the rear, either stage left or stage right, walking around the middle panel, rather than the modern system of clambering up from the front of the Hall. (Where I go today, as with many places nowadays, there is a ramp in place for the elderly and infirm. I’m not quite there - yet...)

Anyhow, imagine the scene. Joan appears from rear stage left and sits at a table with her props. She is shelling peas or something, wearing an apron and humming a nameless ditty. Everything is lining up for the Oscars. She is method acting for all it’s worth. Eve is supposed to mime knocking on a door so that Joan can rise and greet her, invite her inside, and then to be disarmed by Eve’s presentation. Perhaps they had some illustration set up that would fit the scene. Who knows. But it doesn’t quite happen that way.

Joan sits there, humming away while miming with the vegetables, but starts looking less than pleased as long seconds go by. There are appreciative titters from the audience. We’ve no idea what this is about, but it looks like it will be a lot more interesting than the previous part of the program. Joan frowns and in the loudest stage whisper known to the hard of hearing, mutters out of the side of her mouth - “Eve....Eve... Come on, come on...”

Nothing happens. Joan scowls. Now I know this is my mother, but she could really scowl with the best of them when she had a mind to. She could stop a naughty boy in his tracks at a hundred paces by a glance. So she gets up from her table and with a look like thunder goes to investigate rear stage left.

The split second she disappears rear stage left, Eve bounds into sight from rear stage right, to be faced with a totally empty platform - no Joan and an audience now in hysterics. The look of surprise and then panic that covered her face has stayed with me down through the years.

I suppose they did finally sit down and get through a bit of their piece in what time was left before the bell went.

What subject were they discussing when they did finally muddle their way through it?

Do you know something - I have absolutely no idea.