Nudging our way through the drinkers and smokers outside the Bath Pavilion on a cold rain-spotted Friday night Mrs Brit and I bumped into Ian, an old friend. I’m always bumping into Ian and always pleased for it. He’s the best drunk I’ve ever known, by which I mean it only takes a single pint – perhaps even a single sip of a pint – and he’s immediately at the perfect level of drunkenness. Slightly slurred and swaying, ear-splitting grin, hugs-all-round, everything-you-say-is-hilarious level drunk, bang, he’s right there first go. And what’s more, he then stays at that level for the rest of the night no matter how much he drinks. I’ve never seen him morose or bellicose or crapulent or truculent. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen him sober, either.
He was at the level now, properly at it and we got the full treatment: of all the people in the world who could possibly have popped up there’s nobody I’d rather did. Ian’s blessed beatification of a drinking talent has stood him in good stead career-wise: the law firm that employs him puts him in charge of the socials, practically a guarantee of progression. Tonight, for the Johnny Marr gig, he had a bunch of bank managers in tow. Whenever one of them threatened to go to the bar Ian would hold his hand up in the manner of a Lollipop Lady halting traffic and peel a couple of twenty quid notes from a thick wad stashed inside his jacket. ‘These guys are all mad Smiths fans’, he said, introducing a nodding, cheers-ing blur of Mikes, Daves and Steves. They looked like they had subsisted entirely on corporate entertainment for the last twenty years. Corpulent entertainment more like, I thought but did not say, eyeing their many sagging layers of chin, stomach and eyebag. I reckoned they boasted at least thirteen chins between the four of them, and roughly the same number of hairs. Ian himself somehow remains skeletal; in an attic somewhere there’ll be a portrait of him that looks like John Prescott.
After the necessaries – jobs, kids, Marr (Ian is an Electronic fan, primarily) – we were embraced and sent lovingly on our way. It was a good gig, though not as good as the one last year in Bristol. The Bath Pavilion may boast a proud rock ‘n’ roll history (The Beatles, Stones, Led Zep, Hendrix and Syd Barrett’s Floyd all played it back in the day) but it’s essentially a big school assembly room with bad acoustics. On the way out I passed the journalist John Harris smoking a fag and in the brief confusion of recognition felt I ought to say something, but since the only thing that popped into my head was “Oi, John, why don’t you stop writing so much rubbish in The Guardian” I luckily resisted. We didn’t see Ian again but in my ringing deafness I fancied I heard him herding his bankers off to one of the pubs near the Rec, laughing his head off the while. I couldn’t help wondering what Johnny Marr makes of his audience. Bankers and solicitors, mums and dads; nothing seems very cool these days. Marr’s probably not a dick about it though; after all, he’s not Morrissey.
The good people at TASCHEN have been furnishing the Dabblers with a few mighty tomes lately. We get a lot of paperbacks from publishers, but TASCHEN tomes are really worth the getting. Worm was so pleased with his Cabins that I felt bad about revealing that they’d sent me The Art of Pin-Up, which is the size of a desk, comes in its own bespoke carry-case, retails at £150 and is full of pictures of nudie ladies. Quite a result. Review soon.
The Bristol School of Performing Arts (director John Redgrave, patrons Vanessa Redgrave, Bill Kenwright and Ken Dodd) is a fun place in an old warren of a former hotel. It supplies theatres across the south of England with their necessary Orphan Annies, Tiny Tims, swallows, amazons, urchin miserables etc. On Saturday mornings our girls go along to the infants drama class where they no doubt get to woof like doggies, grow from acorns into mighty oaks and, above all, dress as Princesses and sing songs from Frozen.
They gave their first show last week and Grandma came down from the icy wastes of the north to witness it. Turned out to be well worth the journey. With our tickets and mince pies we queued with all the other parents in the corridor while our girls were preparing themselves in the Green Room. One of the posters on the wall caught my eye. It advertised auditions for a West End production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which ‘A Corpulent Boy’ was wanted for the role of Augustus Gloop. ‘Is corpulent the official theatre-speak euphemism for fat, then?’ I wondered aloud, noting that that was the second time the relatively uncommon word had lately appeared in my consciousness. It was generally agreed that it must be, or at any rate nobody could think of a better alternative that didn’t sound either offensive or lacking sufficient clarity.
Eventually we all crammed into the in-house theatre, a beautifully-rendered Victorian-style mini-drome with seating for a hundred or so, where we had great fun tutting and sighing at a very silly lady who refused to sidle all the way to the end of her row in one go but instead tried sidling and then sitting in little stages, even though it was perfectly obvious from the enormous press of people behind her that she would have to go all the way eventually. My, my, we enjoyed that.
The show was a mix of group songs, skits and some solos – the last performed by talented older children. During one golden-haired boy’s rendition of ‘Almost Nearly Perfect’ from Charlie there occurred one of the funniest things I’ve ever been privileged to see in my life. As he sang away in his spotlight there appeared behind him, stage left, the head and torso of a little Princess (not one of ours), who was attempting to pull herself onto the raised stage from the wings. She’d almost got her knees up when a pair of adult hands appeared and yanked her unceremoniously backwards and out of sight.
We’d just finished tittering from that when suddenly there she was again, quicker and slipperier this time so that the adult hands only managed to get hold of her ankles. But the Princess was ready for it now, and as she was pulled she dug her fingers into the stage floor and howled ‘I want to go on!’ for all she was worth. This tug-of-war continued for about ten glorious seconds during which all attempts by the audience to stifle their merriment were abandoned. Had there been space we really would have been rolling in the aisles. The hilarity only increased when, in a redoubled effort, the grown-up successfully hoisted the bellowing diva off the stage with the precise comic timing of the old ‘walking-stick-hooked-around-the neck’ gag. To his infinite credit, Charlie didn’t miss a beat throughout the whole thing.
Naturally it was hard for anything to follow that, but the finale came pretty close. With total inevitability it was a whole cast performance of ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen – our girls’ big moment. As the opening bars started the older children filed onto the back of the stage in orderly fashion, and then on came the infant Princesses. Lots of them. Some walked on of their own accord, others were shoved. The tiniest tots though, including the tiniest tot of all, our own E (dressed as Snow White) were apparently lifted one-by-one onto the stage via an unseen chain-gang in the wings. No sooner had one little Elsa been deposited, blinking, onto the platform, then another little Ariel came bundling into her back. And still they came, Princess after Princess until there seemed to be hundreds, thousands, millions of Princesses, and when it seemed that no further Princesses could possibly be added to the brimming stage, still more Princesses came. Some of them sang ‘Let it Go’ and did the actions. Some wept softly. Some observed that they needed a wee. And then right at the climax a corpulent teenage boy dressed as Santa came mincing through the throng, shoving Princesses out of his way left and right as he made it to centre stage. ‘Let the storm raaage oooooooon’ he bawled, head thrown back, arms carving slowly through the air for the big finish… ‘The cold never bothered me anyway!’ and on the last note Santa froze, arms crossed, eyes closed, breathing hard in triumph.
Stunned, I searched for my girls. Cinderella C was perfectly echoing Santa’s climactic pose. Snow White E was facing stage right, intertwining her fingers and staring at the middle distance with an inscrutable expression that seemed for a fleeting second to be, but surely couldn’t have been given that she’d only just turned three, one of mild professional distaste.