Ready to go on

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Back on tour - Plymouth

I bet you thought I'd given up, didn't you? Well, here I am again after a lovely week off spent digging and planting and eating out with my wife. I didn't dig and plant my wife, we dug and planted together at the allotment. Of course, I do dig her in the sixties sense of the word but I don't pl.....

Oh, bloody hell! One week off and I've lost it!!

Start again.

We are in lovely Plymouth this week and the weather is just gorgeous. I drove down here on Monday along the A303 (that's for all the Nuts In May fans) past Stonehenge, which all drivers slow down to have a look at. Apart from that delay, it's a lovely drive, especially with the top down. The car top, obviously.

The Theatre Royal, Plymouth, is a great theatre and the audiences have been very receptive and friendly. I still feel like a bit of a visitor to the show with my little 'guest appearance' for the final ten minutes of each performance, but I'm managing to keep up my enthusiasm, I hope? It does mean that I require very little energy to perform each evening and can, therefore, give every day my full attention. I don't, unlike the main cast, have to save myself for the show.

As a result, despite my long drive here on Monday, I spent Tuesday touring the area. In the morning I crossed the famous Brunnel bridge in to Cornwall and explored the winding Cornish lanes along the coast to Looe, Polperot and nearly to Liskeard. I have been there before, but not since I was at University. Then I stayed in a caravan for a wet and windy week with my (soon to be) wife and a college friend. It was very different on Tuesday morning. Beautiful sunny weather and crowds of Easter holiday makers. You get so used to everyone else getting on with their normal lives while you spend the days on tour sightseeing that it was rather inconvenient to have other people enjoying themselves in your presence. I felt slightly resentful; firstly that they were there at all, and secondly that they were in groups and had other people to enjoy it with. It can be a solitary life on tour.

In the afternoon I went the other way up the coast, the Devon section, Paignton, Torquay and Torbay. This is an area that I remember more clearly from my youth. We spent a number of summer holidays in Torbay. Actually, just outside it at a caravan park come holiday camp in the hills overlooking the Torbay coast.

I have such strong memories of those holidays, probably because they seemed such a long way from home.

We always stayed the Friday night at my Aunt Fran's house in South London and got up before the sun had risen on the Saturday morning to begin the long journey to Devon. This was in the 1960's and the route was A roads all the way. Out in to Surrey, along the Hog's Back, through Hampshire on the road I took on Monday, then the A38 in to Devon (I really am turning in to Keith from Nuts In May). This really was an 'are we there yet' journey, two car loads, with four adults, five children and dogs and all the gear we would need for the week. My brothers and I fought over the right to travel between my two cousins in my Uncle Ben's Morris where you would be pampered and given lots of sweets by Fran, a lovely giggling, rouged, buxom woman. She had a great zest for life and passion about her that, even as a young boy, I knew was a bit 'naughty'. I didn't know anything about sex, of course, but there was no doubt that Aunt Fran was a sexy woman and proud of it. The last time I saw her, just before she died of cancer, she was in her hospital bed and kept apologising for the way she looked and trying to hide the lower part of her face with her bedsheets. "I'm sorry Michael," she said, "They've taken my teeth away and I look dreadful. I haven't even got any make-up on." I'm proud that I managed to say, with a smile and with complete honesty, "You're always be beautiful to me, Aunt Fran." Despite being very unwell and in pain she still managed a giggle. The naughty giggle that I remember so well.

I tried to find the camp site we used to stay at but couldn't. It's probably a good thing. The memories are so strong and definite that the reality would only spoil them; sitting around in deck chairs between the caravans with my dad making everyone laugh with his ridiculous stories of the war; walking through the camp site with my cousins, Benny and Lyn, who were such astonishingly good looking teenagers that people would stare at them, at least it always seemed that way to me; Skip, the bald, beret wearing, camp entertainer (camp in the sense of 'site'); the glistening, blue swimming pool surrounded by sunbathing mothers and yelping, splashing children; the 'main hall', where the entertainments would take place every evening; my dad winning the talent show with his Al Jolson and Maurice Chevalier impersonations and joke routine done in an Irish accent that always ended with the line 'Glorry be, if we'd brought your mother we could have saved the horse and cart!'.

I suppose it was what I might now describe as being 'tacky'? But that's only because I've learnt to pretend that I'm posh. I still love being in a crowd of people like that. Working class people who know how to have a good time. Even last night, I came out of the theatre to find the pub next door was doing karaoke. I was straight in there with all the people who think that it doesn't matter how well you sing as long as you 'have a go'. Of course, I can sing, so I'm just showing off really. The people were drunk but friendly. And they were happy. Ever been to a Michelin star restaurant? If you have you'll know the difference.

I can still picture that smoke filled hall at the Torbay Campsite; sunburned faces from a day by the pool, red lipped women drinking port and lemon, elderly couples clapping along to 'Yellow River', groups of girls dancing 'The Slosh' in rows while their men hung around the bar area downing pints, and us children running between the tables or dashing off to the amusements in the hope that coins would have been left in the one armed bandits.

I am going on, aren't I, but it's been a while since I wrote a blog so I hope you'll excuse my ramblings?

Finally, I wanted to relate one particular memory of those holidays. One afternoon the pool area, the main hall and the play areas around the caravans were strangely quiet. Deserted, virtually. Everyone was crammed in to the bar. Five hundred people or more, gathered around one black and white television, most of them relying on the sound alone or the reaction of the people closest to the TV to tell them what was going on.

I was eight years old and had been given the job of keeping an eye on my younger brother, so I only occasionally popped in to this noisy, smokey, slightly frightening place. I didn't really understand what it was all about but I knew that it was important and seemed to be taking all day! It was only at the end that I got swept up in the whole thing.

"Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over? It is now!" The whole bar erupted and everyone hugged each other. My mum and dad were crying and laughing and I was hauled in to the air and placed on my father's shoulders as he led a great parade of chanting people on a circuit of the swimming pool. "We are the champions, we are the champions!" My word, we certainly were.


Years later, when we were making a comedy television programme called KYTV, we did an episode on the Swinging Sixties and one of the sketches involved Kenneth Wolstenholme, the man who said those immortal words. We asked him to repeat them. "Oh, yes," he said, "I remember the ones you mean. 'Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over? it is now! Take that, Fritz!! That's for Dunkirk!'. Are those the ones you mean?" The interviewer, Geoffrey Perkins, had to look dumbfounded and then said' "I don't recall that last bit?". "Oh no," Kenneth replied, "they must have faded out my mic. What a shame." Imagine getting the man himself to make a joke like that about the thing that he will be remembered for forever? Astonishing!