If you’ve trawled thought this lovely website, you may well know that I have a degree in Dramatic Art. I’ve been fortunate to make a career as a writer, frequently scribbling for theatre and television, but you may not know that my majors at university were in acting and directing. In these fields, my career has been a little more chequered. My drama school triumph, where I milked every one of my five lines as Page to Paris in Romeo and Juliet, was enthusiastically received (by my mum). Some may also recall my touching and sensitive performance in the seminal experimental production Promotion for a Travel Company. In this avant-garde, site-specific piece, I wore green lycra tights and shoes and a giant fibreglass cherry, while handing out holiday leaflets in shopping centres. Had The Times seen it, they would have declared me the pick of the bunch. Sorry.
In terms of directing however, I think my career highlight is to come this weekend. I have been asked to arrange a rota of Santas for the church bazaar. Now to the lay person, this may seem like a simple task, but this will require the full use of my artistic skills, as well as the employment of complex mathematics, physics, philosophy and theology.
For example, I have just one Santa suit, and three prospective Fathers Christmas who vary dramatically in height and girth. Getting A into B is one thing, but getting A out of B, and C, who is half the size of A, into B will require diplomacy, a big pillow and one of those pointy things to punch holes in belts.
Secondly, the dreams and hopes of Hendon’s children rest squarely in my hands. If my Santas are ill-briefed, the whole Christmas dream could come tumbling down, leaving the little mites of NW4 disillusioned and heartbroken, which could set them off on a lifetime of disobedience, delinquency and ultimately organised crime. How best to manage this? Do I issue the Fathers Christmas with a carefully worded script and firmly instruct them not to deviate from it? Is “T’was the Night Before Christmas” still in copyright? And how to manage continuity? What if a child should stay at the bazaar over a handover period and notice that Santa’s voice, shape and demeanour has changed? Should my Santas be rehearsed in identical swaggering, tummy slapping and ho-ho hoing to avoid confusion?
And finally, how do I handle the sensitive issue of Father Christmas’ relationship with the church? Should the interaction with each child contain a Santa Clause, where he speaks eloquently on the real meaning of Christmas? I ask you, what would Spielberg do?
Hell, if I end up there, will be very like Topsytown* on a murky Tuesday afternoon. Except without the two-hour time limit.
Topsytown, for those of you not blessed with a small child, is one of those indoor soft play arenas. These are designed to plunder the pockets of desperate parents, who, particularly in the winter months have to do something with the little buggers. After they’ve torn the house to pieces, it’s dark and cold/raining/foggy outside and the park is a boggy slough of despond, you have to go SOMEWHERE.
I thought I couldn’t detest people more than I do when they sit next to me in the cinema, scoffing something smelly and noisy (I once got someone eating a family-size packet of roast chicken crisps). But then I paid £4.95 to get into Topsytown. It’s vile at all times of day, but when it’s full to capacity, I achieve new heights of misanthropy. That said, it is fun trying to decide whether I hate the parents or the children more. I stared open-mouthed at the woman who called the manager over and screamed at him for twenty minutes because her little darling had been served food cooked in a microwave. She demanded her money back and threatened legal action, but at no point stopped the child eating the toxic concoction, and when the manager had gone, ate the rest of the meal herself.
Then there are the children. There’s something about all that brightly coloured vinyl that turns the loveliest kids feral. They hunt in packs, screaming, snatching things from smaller children and stage-diving off things in an ongoing attempt to inflict grievous bodily harm on themselves or anyone in the line of fire. The noise level is approximately the same as the front row of a Metallica concert, but with more screaming and banging.
My joy in this venue is made complete with their insistence that you take off your shoes, so, as you trail around after your own squawking loin-fruit, you may, at any time, step in an unidentified wet patch. Believe me when I say you’ll pray that it’s cold, and that someone spilled Fruitshoot.
At nearly seventeen months, Ted shows no sign of wanting to talk. He’s certainly vocal, he’s just not interested in forming any recognisable words. As a devoted and desperate mother, I’ve identified the sounds he makes that mean something. “Bee!” uttered, while pointing excitedly skywards, means “There is a bird/ plane/other airborne object”. “Buh!” is an all-purpose term for a bus/truck/moving vehicle. “Meh-meh!” means “Give me milk/food/love/comfort/attention”. With these sounds, plus a lot of pointing and saying “uh-uh-uh”, he seems to meet most of his communication goals.
It made me think. Maybe I have too many words in my vocabulary. I’m thinking of cutting down. I’ll need one monosyllable for “wine”, another for “coffee”, and a third which translates as “Sod off, I’m going to read my book in the bath”.
* It's not really called Topsytown. if I use the real name, I'll get blacklisted. And then where would Ted and I go for fun?
Great visionaries are often unappreciated in their own lifetimes, and indeed, in their own households. I’m sure Anne Hathaway used to snort disparagingly when Shakespeare read some of his best bits out loud, and Mrs Beethoven probably muttered under her breath, “You’d have to be bloody deaf to think that racket’s any good. What dear? I was just wondering if you wanted sauerkraut with your dinner.”
Indeed, this is the case with my not-quite-burgeoning career as an urban music artist. It seems I’m alone in thinking I have any talents as a rapper. My husband and son are so convinced that I am not the next Fiddy Cent, that they’re afraid to say the word “rap” in case it sets me off. Presents are “encased” in our house.
I can see why they might have an issue. As a forty-something mum, living in the suburbs, I don’t fit the usual demographic. And to be honest, our neighbourhood is less gritty than mulchy, and I am more H&M than Eminem.
Still, I think a record should be kept of my unique street poetry style. So here, for your edification, is a short masterpiece known as the Apostrophe Rap. As I have not yet been blessed with a recording contract, please simulate the 8-Mile style performance environment for yourself. Put on a banging backing track, or get a friend to beatbox. Alternatively, get a small child to bang on a saucepan with a spatula. It will give the most authentic effect.
All together now:
Now listen up homies, I want you to agree
That there’s nothing more important than the old apostrophe.
It’s not hard to use and I’m gonna tell you once…
And if you do not get it, then you gotta be a dunce
Those pizza’s and those CD’s just really drive me nuts
So it’s time to learn the rules, and I’ll hear no ifs or buts.
An apostrophe is used to denote that there’s contraction,
If you’re leaving out a letter then that comma does its action.
So don’t, or won’t or can’t all need one, (though if you’re a bore,
you might just choose to leave them out like that George Bernard Shaw).
But pizza’s, CD’s, video’s aren’t missing any letter.
So leave the punctuation out and everything’s much better.
So we’ve shown that you don’t use one just because there is a plural,
And now it’s time for you to use your functions neural.
It’s possession where most people tie themselves into a knot.
Can I explain it simply? Well I’ll give it my best shot.
Before the s or after? How are you supposed to know?
So ease the beat right down and I’m going to take it slow.
You always put it after you have written the whole word.
And for my main example I will use the noun of bird.
If one bird has his wings to flap, the apostophe’s before
If two birds each have wings, then it’s after, that’s for sure.
Bird’s wings is used for one bird, that fact is really true,
But if you write birds’ wings then it is clear that you mean two.
And so I come to the end of my extended rap
And if I may I’ll ask you all to give a modest clap.
I haven’t covered its and it’s, I must apologise.
But in that case contraction wins, the apostrophe’s the prize.
And if you made it this far then I say congratulations.
Sorry it was crap, here are my commiserations.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.