It’s the start of a brand new academic year. My fourth at Fitzie’s. No more the new boy. Instead there are others who’ve arrived, fresh faced, new shoots, following more pruning by the Big Cheese. Out with the old; in with the new.
Over the holidays, I’ve been to watch two different productions of “Bouncers.” One in a Nissan hut with a small audience, performed –hammed-up - by a local Am Dram Society and another by a professional company in a grand seaside theatre. Rammed with holidaymakers. Both were full blooded and graphic, and both had everyone in stitches. Adult stitches? Dare I put it on at Fitzrovia? And with only four acting parts? I think it’d be a real eye opener; might even pave the way for more contemporary drama if it works.
And what’s the alternative? “Journey’s End”? “Daisy Pulls It Off”? Shakespeare? Safe and sound.
I’ve left Orchard Cottage with Jethro Tull echoing in my head, whistling, and head off in my penguin suit to Dining In. Now I’m sat next to Biggles’ wife and we’re laughing loudly. ‘Sounds like you should definitely do it,’ she says. ‘You’re Head of Drama. You should do what you want.’ There’s a rap on the table and a penguin suit stands. ‘Gentlemen, could you all move six seats to your left. Please take your glasses.’
‘See you in the pub after,’ I say and head off. Coming towards me on the opposite side of the table is The Big Cheese. Fuck. I’m not going to have to make polite conversation with him am I? We sit bang opposite each other.
Pleasantries over, we all pick at our roast guinea fowl with redcurrant sauce. Eventually, The Big Cheese fixes me in his sights. Rests his fork on his plate. ‘So, Robert, what are you putting on this term? Another large cast musical I hope.’
I tell him about Biggles and he frowns. ‘Isn’t there anyone else? Someone from the music department, perhaps.’
‘I want to do a play anyway.’
‘Oh? What have you got in mind?’ He picks at a bone on his plate.
Oh well. Here goes.
‘I want to do “Bouncers.” It’s by John Godber. Do you know his work?’
‘No. No I don’t.’ He chews.
Good. I take a swig of wine. ‘Bit chewy this bird.’
He swallows. ‘Yes. Big cast?’
Damn. I take another swig. ‘Four actually.’
‘Four?’ He’s about to take another mouthful of fowl. ‘In a school play?’
‘I’ll do a revue later in the year; for a cast of plenty.’ I mention one of the staff in the music department, reaching for a bottle. ‘Said he’d lend a hand. Top up?’
‘No, thank you. What sort of play is it?’
I pour myself a glass. Slowly. ‘Um. Social comedy.’
He puts down his knife and fork. Grinds and swallows before speaking. ‘Is it suitable? For a school I mean?’
Hmm. Good question.
‘It’s challenging for the actors. And it’ll be different from the norm for the audience. A bit bawdy, but no more than Shakespeare or Chaucer.’ Will that do? I wait as he ruminates. ‘Big musical next year, Headmaster.’ Reach for my wine glass.
He purses his lips, and returns to his Dauphinoise potatoes.
There are four brand spanking new sixth form Drama guinea pigs waiting expectantly in the concert hall, Steely Dan playing gently in the background. ‘The Caves of Altimira.”
“…I would climb the garden wall with a candle in my hand…”
Two boys and two girls.
One of the boys is Balls. He’s a reputation as a bit of a Jack the Lad type, quippy with his teachers. ‘No, sir, I said AN-gina, not VA-gina.’ He’s also popular with the girls cos he’s sporty. His Housemaster, Major Barker, often talks about him at staff meetings. ‘If I had my way, he’d be out. He’s all cock and bull that boy.’
I don’t get it. I really like him; have known him from day one. He’s never been anything but keen and interested in my lessons and of course rescued “The Mikado” from disaster as well as being a stalwart of my cricket sides.
He’s got dark hair that’s beginning to creep down over his collar. Bold rolling eyes. Still that toothy grin under hamster cheeks. He’s already morphed into a man. Dark stubble. ‘I’m thinking of applying for Drama courses eventually. Do you know anything about RADA, sir?’
The other boy’s new to the school. ‘From St George’s, sir. Came to see “The Mikado” with my parents. I want to be an actor and it kind of persuaded them it wasn’t such a bad idea. Made an appointment to look round the place. The fact that you’re introducing exams sealed it.’ He moves as if he’s made of rubber. His face contorts. He’s all hands and fingers gesturing. All arms swinging. Long legs. ‘I’m a changed person when I go on stage, sir.’ Rubber Man.
Of the two girls, one has come from St Benedict’s. Turns out she knows Tits ‘n Arse. ‘She’s in my dance classes. Told me how much she enjoyed it and that I could help here.’ She’s in a light blue pencil skirt. Navy blue blouse. Mousey by ponytail, slight of frame, she walks daintily. Quick feet. Twinkletoes.
Then there’s Fizz. She looks older. A roundness of face changing to more mature features. A butterfly emerging. Has she changed her hair? No. Eye liner? But she’s wearing a skirt. I’ve hardly ever seen her legs. Recollect her telling me, ‘I’m not a girly girl, sir. I hate pink.’
At the start of term she’d bounded up and I’d felt a smile rush to my face. Surprised. Happy to see her. Couldn’t ignore how much I’d missed those bright eyes and open face. She’d told me about her holiday with her dad and his new wife. ‘Embarrassing. At it day and night.’ Making me laugh.
Now she’s sat in a purple skirt, legs crossed. Bare, tanned legs.
“…a wooly man without a face and a beast without a name…”
I turn off the music and outline the course, handing out relevant documents. ‘Read all these. Make sure you’re familiar with them. Any questions, well, I’ll do my best to answer them. We’re all guinea pigs this year. You and me.’
At that first meeting Fizz had asked about the school play. ‘What are we doing?’
When I tell her, her face drops. ‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘I’ve been thinking. There’s four of you. It would be good for all of us maybe if we had one project where we all mucked in. Without the pressure of an exam at the end of it. What do you think?’
‘I thought it was for four males,’ she says.
‘Ah, but that’s the beauty of this piece. It’s multi role playing. You have to play men and women. So really it doesn’t matter if it’s a mixed cast.’ I look round. They’re nodding. ‘Would you like to read it through together? Now? I’ve got copies in my study.’
At the end of the lesson they all groan. ‘Can’t we finish it, sir? It’s so funny,’ says Balls.
‘Oh yes. Or can we take it away with us?’ asks Twinkletoes.
Packing up, Balls speaks to the group. ‘I say, everyone. I’ve got a party next weekend. My sister and I’s birthdays. You’re all invited. Bring your cossies with you.’ When they’re leaving, he walks out with Fizz, grabbing her so they’re arm in arm.
I’m late for my next lesson with them. Held up. Meeting running late.
When I reach the concert hall it’s empty. Odd. I can hear voices as I cross the corridor to my study. ‘Naked!’ Laughs. There’s Fizz, lounging in my seat, the others ranged, sprawling on whatever’s available. There’s music from my cassette player too. More Steely Dan.
“…they looked upon the promised land where surely life was sweet…”
‘Oh hello, sir,’ says Fizz. ‘We wondered where you were so we came here. I put your music on.’ She picks up a sheet of paper from the desk. ‘The phone went while you were out.’ She looks up at me. ‘I answered it. In case it was important.’
‘And was it?’
‘It was from a woman.’ Is she teasing me? ‘A young woman by the sound of it.’ The others are suppressing giggles. ‘Seemed keen,’ continues Fizz. ‘Left her number but no name. Very mysterious.’ Balls laughs out loud. ‘Ooh, sir. Tres sexilla!’ They all laugh.
I take the paper from Fizz. ‘Thanks. I expect it was from some sex goddess demanding my body.’ More laughs.
At the end of the lesson I head to my study and dial the number. I recognise the voice immediately. ‘Hi, Rob. Surprise.’ It’s Miss Dazzle. A thump in my chest. What can she want? ‘Look I’ve got a netball match down your way. Fancy meeting up?’
I’m mid sentence when I see Fizz at the door. ‘Of course I’d love to. Next Saturday? Will you be staying overnight?’
When I put the phone down, Fizz has gone, but not before I catch her throwing me a look I’ve not seen before. I can’t read it anyway. What are her eyes saying? And why do I feel as if I’ve done something wrong, given the circumstances?
Song For Jeffrey - Jethro Tull
Comes from the “This Was” album from 1968, and yet another example of an LP I first heard coming via brother’s room. Hooked, I later bought my own Tull album, a beautifully cloth bound double “Living In The Past” which also had “Song For Jeffrey” on it. Ian Anderson is a reclusive figure, but his unique brand of prog rock, heavily influenced by his own genius on the flute, will remain with me forever.
Two Steely Dan tracks this week. Possibly my favourite band of all time? These two come from “The Royal Scam” released way back in 1976. By 1980 I was desperate for another album by them; it had been three long years since the epic that was “Aja”. Surely time for another album? Sure enough, coming hot off the press would be ‘Gaucho.” Phew! At Last!
The Caves of Altimira – Steely Dan
Who could argue that Art Garfunkel hasn’t the sweetest of voices? This song showcases that rare beauty, and the song’s melody is class itself. Frank Lloyd Wright was actually an architect…
Steely Dan. The Royal Scam.
Love the brass intro to this song; great depth. The song incorporates all those signature time changes that are so typical of the Dan; and Donald Fagen has such a distinctive voice. Then, there’s the punchy brass of the middle eight…
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!