Musical statues

Statue of a child, peeling paint

Image : Pixabay


The volume on the radio grows the moment Mum and Dad close the kitchen door. A big band sound, the swing of brass so loud the loose pane of glass in the window rattles. Another day Dad would grab Mum’s hand, pull her close as she laughed, pretended to fight him off, as her head tipped back and the rhythm reached her feet.

But not on Friday.

Friday is pay day. Friday is Dad going to the The Punch and Judy with a full wage packet and leaving with it slim and crumpled. Friday’s the radio getting louder and louder as Mum washes up, dishes slamming, as it grows dark outside and Jack swings on the front gate, waiting, watching for Dad, his easy stride, the plod of dusty boots. Now Dad’s home and he’s using the dresser to help him stand.

Jack tries to think of it like a game, like musical statues in reverse. He stays still as long as the radio plays, heart pumping, pulse loud in his ears. Listening. The moment the radio clicks off and the kitchen door creaks open, he reaches for a toy car, makes fat burbling engine noises, smiles up at his Dad – a wide smile that feels like it stretches to his ears. The smile has to be big enough to reach from his face to Dad’s, from Dad’s to Mum’s.

And sometimes it is.


Wednesday Word Tangle: Why the Brits Love to be Beside the Seaside

Ah, the glamour. Image: Pixabay

Ah, the glamour.
Image: Pixabay

We’re the third week into the summer holidays – the halfway point – and I know my son’s already experienced the highlight of his time off. Settle back and I’ll tell you why.

We have the ‘seaside’ here in the UK. I know our American cousins have the ‘beach’, but that’s a different beast entirely.

You see, ‘beaches’ are miles of golden sand, golden skin turned ever more golden by the glowing ball of the sun. It’s blue skies, a softly rolling, unimaginably sapphire ocean, white tipped and foaming. Maybe there’ll be palm trees. Maybe there’ll be cocktails served by waiters the colour of oven chips wearing nothing but flip-flops and budgie smugglers. Maybe.

‘The seaside’ is a not the same.

Forget the above. There may be sand, but there may also be pebbles which are too small to walk on comfortably, too big to be called grit. If there’s sand it will be the colour of a Labrador that’s been swimming in a muddy river.

There may be enough blue in the sky ‘to patch a man’s shirt with’ (no, I’m not sure either – it’s something my stepmother used to say) but even if it’s clearer than that, it’s unlikely to be free from cloud.

You will want to keep your pale, goose pimpled flesh (we’re English, don’t forget) undercover, because at the seaside it is always windy. You will need to pack a jumper: you will need to use bags, shoes – perhaps a particularly immobile elderly relative – to weigh down the corners of your towel if you wish to sit on it, or it will be blown into the sea.

Ah. The sea.

The water may be chilly enough to make your toes go numb, and if you’re brave enough to go for a swim, you may want to edge in a little at a time, so your body can acclimatise to the drop in temperature. It’s traditional to do a sort of hopping about jig accompanied by a ‘Ah! Aha! Ah!’ sort of noise – think of it as a kind of saline Morris Dance.

Not that entering the sea is always an option. At our closest seaside, Weston-Super-Mare, (situated on the Severn River Estuary, so not really ‘the sea’ at all) the water recedes so far and so quickly, we’ve spent entire days making sandcastles, dodging heaps of straw and manure left behind by the depressed-looking donkeys as they lollop up and down, having ice cream dropped in their manes … And the sea has remained a shimmering brown sliver on the distant horizon, beyond the end of the pier, beyond signs warning of murderous shifting sand.

Ah, there it was, did you glimpse it? Hidden among the references to manure and Eeyore’s grumpier cousins, was today’s Wednesday Word Tangle.


This word conjures several images to me.

There’s the original Victorian / Edwardian edifices of fancy wrought iron, the place to promenade and buy a ‘Penny Lick’* and listen to brass bands playing I do like to be beside the seaside at an ear splitting umpa-pa volume – probably in a vain attempt to drown out the Punch and Judy man.

Then there’s fire.

It may seem an odd thing  to associate with these fine examples of British architecture, but piers burn down more frequently than Game of Thrones actresses bare their chests – well, maybe not, but you get my meaning. Weston’s pier was destroyed by fire in 2008, but the original 1903 construction had already been destroyed in 1930 – by a fire. And it’s not just Weston – Southend, Brighton, Colwyn Bay, Great Yarmouth … What do they make these places out of? Petrol and fire lighters? 

The other image it conjures is the one my son loves the best.

You see, most piers aren’t really sophisticated places. They’re often based in very ‘touristy’ resorts where there’s less absorbing the wonders of nature and more throwing yourself into contrived, manmade thrill seeking. Piers are full of arcade games – flashing lights, ringing bells, loud pop music. They’re stuffed with ‘Dodgems’ (they used to be called Bumper Cars in my day, a time when we more honest about our intentions to whack the hell out of other drivers and less likely to sue). They have Haunted Houses and Fun Houses and roller coasters and carousels and candy floss in bags that turns to red goo if the weather’s too warm.

Piers are loud and brash, full of trashy entertainment and cheap thrills. And that’s why my son has such a brilliant time in the one at Weston.

Let’s hear it for the British pier. A grand, incendiary tradition.

*‘Penny Licks’ were an early way of dispensing ice cream. You paid your penny. The vendor gave you something shaped like a sherry glass with a shallow dip in the top in which he smeared ice cream. You licked the glass clean of cream and handed it back. The vendor did exactly the same thing for the next person … Usually without washing the glass between customers. Hmm… Yummy!

Thanks as always to Kittykat-bits and bobs, the founder of W4W

Can blog, can write, can act a little


In Monday’s post, I shared with you my childhood love of the theatre.

There’s a bit of me that still loves it. If I’m ever at the seaside or at a ‘Fun Day’* at our local park and there’s a Punch and Judy booth, you’ll see me gravitate towards it.

For those of you unaware of what Punch and Judy is, imagine a brightly coloured square tent, just tall and wide enough to hold one man – maybe two – like a little mobile theatre. A square hole in one wall of the tent acts as the stage and on the stage appear puppets.

Apart from the wildly unattractive, hook-nosed Punch (who’s usually dressed in red and yellow with a pointed hat – like a court jester), there’s his equally unattractive wife Judy, their baby, a policeman, a crocodile and strings of sausages Honestly, I’m not making it up – this madness is my heritage.

Most of the characters have shrill, insane voices that drill holes in your brain because the puppeteer has a reedy piece of metal in his mouth called a swazzle. They say you’re not a proper Punch and Judy man until you’ve swallowed several swazzles. And I say, you can’t say ‘swallowed several swazzles’ if you’ve been drinking.

The storylines mainly consist of domestic abuse, infanticide, assaulting police officers, being eaten by crocodiles… It’s subversive, very dark and has passed as fit entertainment for the under tens since its first recorded performance in the UK in 1662.

Anyway, even though the voices give me a headache and the nice liberal in me loathes the laughs derived from unbridled male-on-female violence (this guy ain’t no role model, people) I will always watch a little of a performance as I pass by. Part of me loves the tradition, the history of it – and what are we Brits without tradition – but a bit of me is drawn to the theatricality of it, the idea that the puppeteer is like a strolling player of old, carrying his stage on his back – or more likely these days in the back of his Ford Transit.

And then there’s conventional theatre. I’m lucky in that I live in a biggish city with some excellent theatres. At any one time, I could choose between Shrek the musical or Warhorse, performances of Handel’s Water Music, a challenging modern piece about female genital mutilation or an 18th century Restoration comedy in one of the country’s oldest surviving theatres … by candlelight.

And as I said in Monday’s post, I really do see the parallels between actors and writers.

Both disciplines must thoroughly know their characters, how they would speak, what they would say, how they’d react to a given situation or stimulus.

We have to channel other people who might be very different from us, have different life experiences with different tales to tell.

We have to give ourselves over to the process of living as someone else and hearing their voices in our heads.

Now, if all of this sounds frightening close to mental illness, then maybe it is.

But take comfort from the fact that authors are solitary beasts by nature, usually hidden away in their Writing Caves, barely seeing the light of day from one season to the next, communicating only through email or text. They are rarely allowed out of their Caves, and if they must, if some evil agent or publisher forces them blinking into the blinding brightness of the day to promote something at a signing or a book fair, they are usually outnumbered and can be easily overpowered as their limbs have been wasted through sitting at a desk all day.

Now, actors … I’d be much more worried about them if I were you.

*Beware of anything sold to you as ‘fun’ – it will be cheap, cheesy low-grade entertainment, often with a high humiliation factor (such as stag nights, hen dos, and anything that involves the removal of clothing). If ‘fun’ is prefaced with the word ‘harmless’, it will be neither harmless nor fun. Fun is for the under tens and possibly for those over seventy who behave like under tens.