For my sins, once every couple of years or so, I produce and direct our Village Pantomime.
And this year it was time to do it again.
And so we sat down and sort of wrote a play called 'She Ain't No Cinderella' back in March, and then sort of wrote a bit more in April. And carried on doing that during the Summer Months, until... hey presto! A play was born.
Everyone in the village was very excited (we don't get out much) about the new Panto, and our meeting in September to 'gauge interest' was an enormous success with hundreds of villagers clamouring to be in it. (Exaggeration needed as 25 villagers sounds rather dull).
And when we started to rehearse in October, all seemed to be going rather swimmingly. Each Scene had someone in charge who would report back to me how it was all going.
In November I managed to visit various scenes and do my best to make some sense out of the somewhat baffling scenes some people had concocted. (Eight Sugar Plum Fairies, four of which were men)
In December we had big rehearsals for all the cast, taking place at the venue where the play would be performed on the 20th and 21st December.
And finally, on December 15th, we held our Dress Rehearsal! All too exciting!
The next day the stage was built, the lights were going up; it was all going wonderfully!
That afternoon I was sitting comfortably having my hair cut, while Middle Son reclined on the sofa in the sitting room, recovering from Pneumonia. Hadn't I mentioned that? Or the fact that I was covering at work for a colleague who had had an operation? Or that I had done no Christmas shopping owing to sick children and colleagues? No? Oh, well. Suffice it to say that I had been a tad Busy.
No, not busy.
Frantically, horrendously, tortuously Busy.
And so, sitting in my kitchen while having my hair cut was a total Luxury.
Until the phone rang.
It was Graham, fondly known as Boxy as he was in charge of the Box Office for the Panto.
'Proddy?' he asked.
Yes, I know. Nick names are naff, but we like them, OK?
'Proddy?' he asked. (short for Producer. DO keep up)
'Yes?' I answered in a dreamy kind of way. People fiddling with my hair always makes me go a bit cross eyed.
'Bit of a problem. Our venue for the play doesn't seem to have a Licence for the Entertainment.'
And so began the Nightmare.
Apparently, everyone needs a Licence (french accent) for any Entertainment they might be providing to their unsuspecting audience. And the place where we were setting up for the panto Had No Licence.
I won't bore you with the 'maybe we could put a stage in the barn' or 'what about the pub, could we fit it in there?' or 'Sod it, let's do it in my house' sort of thing.
Because WHEREVER you want to put on a play, even if you WROTE the BLOODY thing yourself, it makes no difference. You have to have an Entertainment Licence. And we Didn't Have One.
After I had had my hair cut and dried, and I had collected Youngest from school, and waited until Daughter was brought back by Very Kind Friend, I went for a walk with Milo, our dog.
And as I walked in this Gale and Downpour I attempted to ring various Village Halls who might have a Sodding Entertainment Licence around and about who might be able to let us perform our weird and wonderful Panto.
No answer. From anyone.
'Leave a message and we'll get back to you in March' sort of thing.
Arrived home battered from rain and hair looking distinctly Uncoiffured.
Message from Dial Post Village Hall. Could I ring Alan Childs.
Yes, I could!
Rang Alan Childs.
Who said, 'Yes, alright, you can have do your Pantomime with a cast of forty five, with a 7 x 4 metre stage for two performances at the end of the week in our village hall.'
'Really?' I asked, a little stunned.
'Yes,' said Alan Childs.
'One thing,' I asked.
'What's that,' he said.
'Have you got an Entertainment Licence?'
'Yes,' he said.
'One more thing,' I asked.
'What's that?' he asked.
'Have you got a drinks licence?'
'Yes,' he said.
At this point I think I told Alan Childs that I loved him and could I have his babies.
Which might have caused a problem as am distinctly menopausal, and have perfectly good Husband who has already provided plenty of rather splendid children.
He took it all in his stride and continued to tell me the 'slight problems' that we might have to sort out.
'Oh?' I asked. Full of optimism that any problems could be sorted. Hadn't we just found ourselves a Village Hall at the eleventh hour?
'Well,' he began. 'You won't be able to have your Dress Rehearsal on the Thursday night because there is Bowling in the hall.
'Oh,' I said.
'And you won't be able to get into the hall until 12.00 midday on Friday because of Badminton.'
'Oh,' I said.
'And you can't go into the hall on the Saturday as there is a party from 1.00 until 6.00. for twenty five four year olds.'
'Oh,' I said.
'And while you are setting up on the Friday, there's an Old People's Lunch in the meeting room.'
'Oh, 'I said.
'And on the Friday night there is also a Bingo Christmas Party in the meeting room where you would be changing, so you'll have to change in the hut outside.'
'Oh,' I said.
'But apart from all that, it shouldn't be any problem at all.'
But do you know, it wasn't! A problem at all.
We went to the village hall the next morning to check that it was going to work with our stage there. Me, Boxy, Chas and Nick. Chas was one of us who wrote the play, and Nick was doing all the sound.
We enthused and cheered as we saw that it Might Actually Flipping Well Work.
We cheered a bit more when we saw the hut where we would all be changing on the First Night.
We cheered again when we saw the immaculate kitchen where we could flog all the drink.
We clapped when we saw the meeting room, where we could change on the Second Night.
We clasped Alan Childs warmly by the hand as we told him how grateful we were.
And then Chas had to ring the Scaffolders who had just spent four hours putting the stage up in the old venue. And ask them if they could they take it down and put it up again in another hall?
'Yes,' they said.
'When?' they asked.
'Friday,' Chas said.
'Fine,' they said.
Honestly, aren't people flipping gorgeous?
Boxy got the lights. Nick sorted the sound. I emailed everyone to say there was No Need To Panic but we weren't in the old venue owing to an Entertainment Licence Absence, and we were now in Dial Post Village Hall. Could anyone help on Friday?
Tsunami of offers back to help on Friday.
The unbelievable kindness was extraordinary. These people are seriously SERIOUSLY nice.
By Friday our stage was up, our lights were up, the sound system was up, our spirits were up, and the doors opened at 6.30 to welcome the first of our audience.
Oh, did I mention that Boxy and his wonderful Wife rang around to make sure that everyone who had bought tickets knew of the change of venue? Or that the stage people took another 4 hours to set up the new stage with not One Cross Word. Just smiles and hard work.
Did I say that the entire cast turned up at the dress rehearsal and calmly got on with it without lights, or a stage? Because we had to practice in our old Venue owing to the Bowling in the new one.
Did I mention the small fact that NONE of us had actually REHEARSED on the STAGE before the actual PERFORMANCE?
The Panto brought the house down. I sat with Boxy who was also doing the lights. (Did I mention the fact that he hadn't been able to practise the chuffing lighting cues until the FIRST PERFORMANCE?)
And while I sat with him, watching his careful moves with the lighting cues, seeing the terrified faces of the cast through the makeshift curtain, hearing Nick behind us muttering about the next sound cue, doing everything PERFECTLY, watching Scene One as it started, the Ugly Sisters (Husband was one... black wig and lipstick....) and Pantomime Cow (as you do) doing their utterly crazy but hilarious Scene, I felt SO proud of my wonderful, mad, generous DEAR cast. .
That can be told on Monday that their entire play was to be moved to another venue. And to carry on with all changes so calmly and with such good humour.
We added a bit to the play. At the last minute. Simon, our Village Tenor (has the voice of an angel, so does his wife Sarah) started the play by becoming a member of the Horsham District Council,. and demanded to know it we had a Licence for the Entertainment. Dunno, said Chas (Step Mother). 'Audience, do you call this entertainment?' 'NO!' came a roar from the audience, already somewhat lubricated by the extremely well stocked bar.
Horsham District Councillor was then gagged and 'frogmarched' down the aisle by myself and Mandy (Fairy Godmother).
Brought the house down.
The applause at the end was thunderous. And I looked over at the cast (I was up on that stage as well owing to a small part in Scene 3) and every single one of those darlings was smiling fit to burst, gazing out at their friends and relations who were yelling their appreciation for a fourth curtain call.
And I thought to myself that it doesn't get much better than this.
Because, quite frankly, it doesn't.
Thanks, Cast! Here's to the next one.
And can someone sort out that BLOODY Entertainment Licence before the Dress Rehearsal.
(Exit Producer, followed by Horsham District Councillor with clipboard)
Am a Mother. To four children. Am a Wife. To one Husband. Live a chaotic, task-filled life, where nothing is ever tidy enough, clean enough or paid enough. Despite that, there are moments of great contentment.
I try to write about the things in my life that make me spit out my tea. And any biscuit lurking.
I LOVE this life. But sometimes I yearn for a clean and tidy one.