Tuesday, May 11, 2021

An Imperfect Life 

Comings and Goings

Chapter 46

"William guess what."

"I've had a hard day!  I give in!"

" The theatre club are so impressed by my having done a production course they've asked me  to produce a play in the autumn."

"How do you feel about that?"

"A bit scared - and delighted."

"Remember  the shop is getting really busy now.  You'll be too tired to go out in the evenings and . . ."

 "No I won't!  You don't understand - it's only really exhausting in the shop when there aren't any customers and then you look down on all the people milling round the High Street and wonder how you can entice them up the stairs.  Once you've got them in - honestly William it's exhilarating. 

William sighed, "Don't say I didn't warn you!"

I thought I had better start with a one act play and as John Mortimer was a big name then I chose his 'Lunch Hour'.  We were in the sixties - the era when the "Anyone for tennis?" middle class drama was beginning to look old hat and the theatre of the absurd was rearing its ugly head.   I had learned a lot working with Pete on his production of 'The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll" especially to keep a hand on the tiller at all times and not allow the wafflers to waffle on and waste valuable time. 

 In 'Lunch Hour' there were just three characters - it was a sad/comic tale of a man and a younger woman having a liaison in a shabby hotel near King's Cross.  The only other character is the Manageress who, unbeknownst to the girl had been told a long involved cover story of the man's wife having travelled down from Scarborough with the children who had been left with a sister -in-law in another part of town.

Unfortunately the girl knows nothing of this and in the course of the crazy conversation discovers she has three children, a sister in law and that there have been family rifts since the wedding.  It all becomes real to the girl- she becomes the injured wife, romance goes out of the window and the affair is over before it has begun.  It must have been hilarious with the original cast of Wendy Craig, Emlyn Williams and Alison Leggat but whilst my man and manageress were very good the young girl didn't quite get it.  However the committee liked it enough to ask me to do a full blown production later in the season.  This time I would make sure the key parts were played by more experienced actors and 'The Deep Blue Sea.'and 'Separate Tables'were productions I was proud of.

  Pete and his wife Julia were leading lights in the club - both were professionals - Pete worked in Television and Julia earned a living as an actress, writer and director.  She was a catalyst and I treasure the day I first met her.  One of the club members had thrown open her beautiful garden for a drinks party and suddenly I noticed a strange happening.  A dark attractive woman was slowly entering the garden - Julia was always a bit shortsighted - and suddenly the whole party - including me -  slowly moved towards her-  until she was surrounded and then the party really rocked. That was my first meeting with Julia.

 I had been reading 'The Unquiet Spirit' by Jean Jacques Bernard.  Gary  - who I had met on the production course had even designed a set for me.  I asked Julia if she would consider taking the lead.

  Julia read it but said it would depress her too much and I understood what she meant and realised we had more in common than I'd thought.  She was a member of the Crime Writer's and invited me to go with her to their annual party.  It was exciting meeting famous writers especially Kathleen Whitehorn - a journalist I much admired.  She had just written a very funny article on sluts(with regard to dress)and admitted she was one of the first order.

I proudly told her that I - at that very moment- was relying on a safety pin to hold up my bra. Julia told me later she was asked who was the girl who looked like she had escaped from a James Bond movie.  Not the impression I wanted to give at all.

The sixties were a time of change  and people were questioning the beliefs they had hitherto accepted.  I became increasingly aware of the gulfs between the haves and the have-nots; of the families who lived their happy peaceful lives without much care for the unhappy dysfunctional people and I rebelled against anything that branded anyone as lesser humans.

I'd always been receptive to other peoples's worries but now it was a if I had a sign on my forehead saying 'Stop here and tell me your problems.'

This was some time before I actually became a Samaritan and before I befriended someone who helped me to keep my head above water.

  Since I left home aged sixteen to start a nursing career, my sister Maddie and I had had a fairly volatile relationship mainly because I had developed a mind and opinions of my own.  She and her husband came over most week-ends.  I valued her friendship so it was a blow when she told me they had decided to emigrate to the States - a much bigger step then than now.  She had our aunt, as a resident - a GI bride who lived in Rhode Island and Liam, Jamie's brother who lived with his wife and family in NY State.  Maddie asked me if I ever thought  of Jamie and I said the recent experience with Gary had made me think of him. 

"If it had been Jamie instead of Gary I wouldn't have thought twice about it.  I feel I cheated both of us.  But it's all over now," I assured her, "I'm a different person and I expect he is too."  I quashed any further thoughts of what might have been way out of my consciousness.

Maddie and I decided to have a few days walking together before she left and we had a really bonding time in Wales - getting to know each other as adults, although I would always be the younger sister to her - dammit!  We chose Dollgellau and found an interesting hotel with a lake in the garden.  When I told the proprietor and his wife that as soon as I saw the lake I felt Lancelot there was great hilarity.  The food was yummy but the heating was  inadequate and we almost froze to death.  Each night we would huddle in the bar where mine host and his attractive wife would regale us with tales which might have come straight out of 'Under Milk Wood'  The locals would come to inspect the two English ladies and the whisky flowed freely.  The bedrooms were so icy we dreaded going to bed.  It wasn't all decadence - we climbed two mountains; one was Y Garn and the other one's name escapes me.  I do remember- when we were at the top, having a blonde moment and suggesting we went another way down, which looked rather pretty.  At the bottom we realised we were miles from where we had left the car and had a very long walk in pouring rain before we got a hitch.  We were terrified we may have missed dinner(the food was excellent) but our worried hosts had kept it for us.

Maddie asked me if later on I would go up to Mum and Dad's with her to soften the good byes.  All went well until we were on the station at Manchester and Dad was in a huff - God knows why.  As it got nearer the time when Margaret and I had to leave I couldn't stand it any longer and took Dad off down the platform.

"Dad you've GOT to say goodbye properly.  You may never see Maddie again"  By this time I'd lost it and we ended up all hugging each other and smiling through our tears but all the tension had gone.  I'm happy to say that the parents visited the States many times for the rest of their lives and later when Maddie acquired a house in Portugal they would spend the winters there and Maddie would visit the UK every year.

At the theatre club I decided to do Shaw's 'The Devil's Disciple' as a big public production which would be presented in Tonbridge School.  The character of Dick Dudgeon had always attracted me and I persuaded Alan, who was our solicitor, to play the part.  He was a fine actor- more cerebral than physical; I treasure the look he gave me when I asked him to leap onto a table to hold forth.  It was difficult for him but we got there in the end.  We had an old film actor in the club (he appears briefly in the old film 'The Lady Vanishes,'often to be seen on a Saturday afternoon on the telly) and I thought he would make a great General Burgoyne but Charles wasn't going to give in so easily.  He leant over me from his great height, a lank lock of  much too black hair flopping over his moustached face.

"Who played the original part?"he demanded.  I looked up at him, blinking a little.

"Laurence Olivier."

"Harrrrrumph!"  And I knew that he was mine but he was very high maintenance and I had to provide a pair of bright tan-coloured, thigh-high suede boots before he was happy.  Those wretched boots; every time Charles was on stage they seemed to be the focus of attention.

Actors can be a pain at times.

What I discovered about the play was that each act is written in a different style so in the first act one could get beautiful Chekhovian movement- in the second it's all war,war,war and finally in the third funereal with the Dead March.  Still it went down well and was certainly a learning experience.  On the acting side my favourite part was Beattie in Arnold Wesker's 'Roots.'  A bit near the knuckle but all the more real in performance.

We had a bit of bother at the shop.  Someone had opened a shop run on the same lines as ours, in the next town.  They were perfectly entitled to do this but they had named it using four words, only one of which was different to ours and then by only three letters.  People would come into the shop and say "We went to your other shop."  It's called' passing off'

as if someone had opened a store called Marks and Spicer.  Our solicitor was convinced when his partner said,

"I see Pat's opened another shop."  Alan was great and sent them some strong letters and they had to change it.  Cheek!

All was going well; The family were fine, the shop was booming, I was in demand as an actress and director and then I met Tim.