Wayward Uncle Robin’s Christmas Happening

Having slipped Parslow the groundsman a couple of jazz cigarettes, Wayward Brother Uncle Robin managed to infiltrate the inner sanctum of Randall Towers today, breezing into the Great Hall, emanating the distinctive aroma of patchouli, his Afghan coat flapping behind him. The Marquess of Prestberries’ younger brother never failed to make an entrance.

“Hi Cats,” he huskily said, “I need you to give me some positive vibes – you dig?” he asked, shifting from foot to foot in his open toed sandals. I considered the wisdom of wearing this type of footwear in December.

“It’s like, my Astrological Freak Out in a week’s time. Good times. The only real bummer is that I haven’t got any food. I couldn’t score a turkey, could I? It’s just that I’m pretty short of bread and the man is really sticking it to me at the moment. I know my niece usually has a well-stocked freezer…”

At this point, Lady Barton St Mary, having heard the commotion being made by Thatcher, the vicious guard dog prevented from doing its job by our corrupt groundsman, entered the hall. Uncle Robin suddenly fell quiet, staring at her ladyship, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down beneath his white goatee beard. He managed to compose himself and broke into his trademark  charismatic smile.

“Hey, beautiful Lady, it’s me, Uncle Robin,” he explained unnecessarily, spreading his arms in a messianic way.

“I’m in need of some real heavy help from my groovy niece,” he continued, “I can tell by your aura you’re ready to light up my life and introduce some peace and love into the cosmos.”

Lady BSM folded her arms and stared levelly at Wayward Uncle Robin.

“What do you want?” she asked him sternly. He explained his predicament.

With the slightest of smiles, she waved her hand.

“I’m sure Mrs Dallimore can accommodate you,” she said.

Uncle Robin skipped forward and embraced Lady BSM in a bear hug.

“You are one cool aristo chick, baby,” he murmured, smiling benignly.

Whilst Mrs Dallimore was summoned from below stairs, Wayward Uncle Robin took the opportunity to explain his Astrological Happening, an annual event that coincided with Christmas but ‘wasn’t tied down with all the heavy Jesus rap’, as he described it. He showed me a few photographs from previous ‘happenings’, mainly involving him and a selection of ladies in their sixties. I would have preferred it if they’d taken the photos before removing their clothes, but you can’t have everything.

Five minutes later, he was skipping off down the drive, turkey crown swinging in his duffle bag, ‘laying some skin’ on Benfield the butler as he passed by.

Having left behind his small volume of beatnik poems and some king size cigarette papers, I suspect he may be returning soon.

In the meantime, let’s hope Wayward Uncle Robin enjoys the turkey as well as the company of some scantily clad sexagenarians during this festive period.

Far out, man.

 

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Corporate Husband

Last night I accompanied Lady Barton St Mary to the company Christmas dinner. Being the husband of a company director, I am expected to act in an appropriate manner in keeping with her high expectations.
This morning I had to undertake my traditional annual review and appraisal, when her ladyship reflects on my behaviour and uses the data to determine whether I can continue in my role for another year. All in all, I believe my performance was satisfactory, with me being my usual charming, reserved and uxorious self. She tended to agree but did give me a couple of helpful pointers as to how I could improve. I did try and explain that derogatory remarks about religion  were taken completely out of context and therefore shouldn’t be used in evidence against me.
Company Christmas ‘dos’ are always interesting affairs. Everybody is supplied with a three course meal and the bar is free. It’s amazing how a free bar allows people to think that a single measure of spirit is a piffling amount and yes, we always drink bottles of champagne when visiting a rather plushy hotel. Not always in pint glasses, but what the heck…
This year was just food, no music or dancing. Last year, we were packed into a large hall, fed a school Christmas dinner and treated to what was described as “a tribute to Michael Buble and The Rat Pack.” It was not so much Michael Buble and The Rat Pack but more Michael Barrymore and Roland Rat. I was standing at the bar when the Amazonian like ‘hostess’ approached me.
“What do you think of the entertainment?” she enquired, towering over me in her frighteningly high heels. I looked at her. She stared down at me, flashing her white teeth and fluttering her false lashes. I considered my reply for a moment, trying not to stare at her cleavage, her bosoms straining to escape from her dangerously low cut sequinned mini dress. To be fair, since her cleavage was at my eye level, this was difficult. I decided to be honest.
“Meh,” I said. Her eyes blazed and she took a deep breath, her bust now dangerously close to poking me in the eye. How was I to know she was part of the act? To make matters worse, I think she may have been romantically linked with The Buble. Or Roland. Or both.
She then did her best to flog me some flavoured vodka. I pointed out that I had a business card that allowed me access to all the vodka I wanted for free. That was the end of relationship. To be honest, I don’t think she was my type. Pushy wasn’t the word. She made Mel B look demure.
To exacerbate the situation, half an hour later, my plan to be a reserved and dedicated corporate husband was shattered as Lady BSM’s personal assistant decided she wanted to dance to Buble. With me. Whilst the entire board of directors and staff looked on, we shuffled and twirled in the middle of the crooners as they sang ‘I Just Haven’t Met You Yet’. Amazonian lady looked on in horror, leaning on the bar. I half imagined her making a cutting motion across her neck in my direction at one point.
Lady BSM kindly left this out of her corporate husband review 2013.
Of course, all Christmas dos have their moments. On another occasion, I remember watching one of her ladyship’s employees, who happened to be historically drunk, take a seat next to her and proceed to stroke her hair as if she were a valued pet. Grown men and women cowered in the corner of the room, awaiting her reaction. Fortunately, she accepted that his actions were due to his inebriation and allowed him to continue for several minutes. It was like watching a small child patting a lioness on the head.
My own Christmas events have had their moments, too. Again, a fair amount of alcohol is imbibed. Somebody usually takes a power nap in the corner. One particular year, after we had both enjoyed several soothing beverages, my manager and I decided to leave the pub and continue celebrating in another hostelry. Having helped my colleague make the arduous trip up the road to the pub, we took a seat in some rather large carver chairs. My boss, believing the floor beneath her to be moving, gripped the arms of her chair tightly, promptly pulling one of them off. She looked alarmed for a second, then held the offending item aloft, giving me an accusatory stare.
“Look what you’ve done!” she said in a loud voice. After a perfunctory attempt to replace the chair arm, watched by the irritated landlord, I persuaded her it may be a good idea to move on.

What I think I'm like at the Christmas do.

What I remember being like at the Christmas do.

What I'm probably like at the Christmas do.

What I’m probably like at the Christmas do.

Then there’s the time we booked a meal in a pub and were served raw salmon and turkey. One senior manager left early after being insulted by a waiter. We eventually left en masse in protest, walking to another pub in an attempt to have a Christmas lunch, which of course was impossible. We made do with what they had – a selection of chocolate Father Christmases and Reindeer.
Next year, I’m sure I’ll be a shining example of corporate spousery in a paper crown.
Meantime, it’s my (almost) voluntary work Christmas dinner on Tuesday. I’ll keep you posted.

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Eight Notes Changed My Life.

Lady Barton St Mary brought my attention to a post on her Faceache page, asking participants to name ‘their most influential song’, with various contributions. Mine is very easy. The song starts with an eight note riff in A that defines my generation. Let me take you back, back, into the deepest darkest depths of time…

It was 1976 and I was at school studying for my ‘O’ levels, which meant spending hours in my bedroom revising. By revising, I mean sitting at an old writing bureau making up stories, drawing cartoons and listening to music.

The music I listened to varied from my sister’s old 45s from the 1960s (Herman’s Hermits, The Beatles, The Shadows) to my limited record collection – Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney and Wings, Deep Purple. There was the occasional chart single that I would record onto cassette tape on a Sunday afternoon from the radio, diligently hovering my finger over the ‘record’ and ‘stop’ button to avoid the DJ (Alan Freeman or Tom Brown) talking at the beginning or end of the song. Millions of people of my age had cassette tapes with tracks that either started or ended with Tony Blackburn’s chirpy tones ruining the ambience of your favourite artist.

A couple of weeks before my 16th birthday, Eggy Howe sidled up to me during a maths lesson. He explained that his brother had a friend who worked at HMV in Oxford Street and that they planned to take a trip ‘up west’ to see some new music at a club. Despite it being a school night, for some reason my dad was quite happy for me to travel the 12 miles on the tube into Oxford Street with Eggy and his brother, who was 20 and a police cadet at Hendon College. Hendon cadets were always nicknamed ‘Piglet’, but politeness and fear drove me to make the sensible decision not to try it out on Eggy’s brother Steve. Dad’s philosophy was that I couldn’t come to any harm travelling with a police cadet, followed by a half joking comment about how disappointed Eggy’s dad must be about having a copper in the family. Since this was the 1970s, the decade of recreational violence, I can now understand dad’s logic.

The ‘club’ was a rather disappointing one. I’d expected a West End club to be full of men and women in evening dress sipping martinis. This one contained some of the weirdest characters I’d ever seen. They made the local art college students look like bank managers. The event was called a ‘Punk Rock Festival.’ Completely intimidated, the bands that appeared were either a) not a band, b) not musicians or c) a complete noisy mess. There was one pretty girl who took my eye called Susie, but she seemed to have very little idea about what she was doing on stage. I later found out she spelled her name Siouxsie.

Overall, the evening was noisy, disorganised and very ‘arty’. However, there was something about the atmosphere I enjoyed. A lot of the audience were what I would come to identify with the majority of punks: dressed in a shockingly unconventional way but extremely well spoken.

A week later, I was flicking through the Style pages of The Sunday Times. My dad always insisted on buying it for my education, which was a thoughtful thing to do. Of course, I was scanning the pages for any photographs of ladies in a state of undress when I came across a small feature about a fashionable party in Chelsea, where a band called ‘The Sex Pistols’ had played. I hadn’t forgotten the name, but most of the noise they’d made at the concert. I doubted they’d ever amount to much.

Then in December they appeared on a tea time current affairs TV show called The Today Programme on ITV. This particular programme was presented by a rather pompous curmudgeonly man called Bill Grundy. He obviously took an instant dislike to his guests, who’d been called in at the last minute to replace the originally invited musical guests, Queen. Mr Grundy invited them to swear. Steve Jones obliged him, profusely.

Suddenly, punk was a big thing. The new enemy of the state.

I was, of course, delighted. To see old Bill being roundly put in his place but some dirty upstart was entertainment at its highest!

The newspapers and middle aged people in tweedy suits and comb overs came on to complain about ‘the youth of today’. What fun!

It wasn’t until the following year that I actually got to hear the band. Never Mind The Bollocks was an exciting, uproarious album. To me and my mates, it was all a bit of fun; The News of the World thought it was the end of the world, a threat to modern society, something to be banned and eradicated.

I took to sticking up my hair with soap. My mum complained bitterly about me wearing trousers with rips in them, put back together with safety pins, saying it looked as if she didn’t look after me.

My brother in law came in to the living room when I was playing ‘Bodies’ on his hi fi system. Always one for convention, he strode across the room, wrenched the vinyl disc from the machine and threw it like a Frisbee against the wall.

I’d never felt so alive.

Punk died out pretty quickly. After all the fun of The Pistols being banned and at number one with ‘God Save The Queen’ in Silver Jubilee week, as the year passed and ‘new wave’ bands started appearing, the punk revolution was over. Not that there ever was a revolution, just a generation of kids listening to music made by their peers and not something they were told to listen to. The over reaction of the authorities and the media, who always like to be in control, made it such a jolly wheeze.

I was of course still listening to Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, Camel and Van der Graaf Generator. Iron Maiden, Rush and Saxon were around the corner, leading me into my heavy metal phase.

By the end of the 70s, punk had become a commercialised product, tamed and domesticated.

But it did make me realise that you don’t have to follow the herd, that people in authority often get it wrong. The punk in me is still there, even if my hair is greying and I worry about pensions and mortgages and my children’s future.

But whenever I hear ‘Pretty Vacant’, the hairs on the back of my head stand up on end. Generations before had Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones. We had The Pistols.

Those first few bars, then Johnny Rotten telling me there’s no point in asking, you’ll get no reply. Still exciting, stimulating – maybe another revolution is due!

Meantime, let’s all watch X Factor.

What is your most influential song? Become a Rural Space Cadet and tell me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Grant and The Royal Northern Sinfonia

johngrant2

 

This all happened last Tuesday. Yes, I know that’s a while ago, but I’ve been very busy at (almost) voluntary work, compounded by the fact I am writing this rubbish whilst afflicted by a chest infection. Granted, it’s a minor ailment for me, but if a person with a normal constitution had it they’d be in an oxygen tent under 24 surveillance in hospital by now. I just hope you appreciate the physical sacrifice I make to write a blog that a couple of people read.

So, John Grant. Most of you know what I think of John Grant (see Who’s John Grant?http://ruralspaceman.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/who-is-john-grant/ ) having seen him earlier in the year at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. But when the opportunity arose to see him with a full orchestra, well, I couldn’t let that one go. Lady Barton St Mary agreed to accompany me.

Now this was the sort of concert ideally arranged for middle aged couples. John would be starting at 7.30pm on the dot, no support, no intermission and all done and dusted by 9.20pm. Almost 2 solid hours of John Grant followed by some reflection on a wonderful musical experience over an Indian meal.

He opened with ‘You Don’t Have To’, the band split between front of stage with the rhythm section on a balcony behind the orchestra. I’d intended to write down the set list on my ticket, but it was very dark and the resulting list was just a smudged mess of hieroglyphics.

This is him.

Of course, for me, every song was brilliant. Listening to John Grant is like eating the most delicious toffee ever, with a hint of chilli. The orchestra added some extra depth, but occasionally struggled to fit in. They came into their own with a soaring, sinister, brooding overture for ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, making the hairs on the back of my teeth stand to attention.

In fact, The Royal Northern Sinfonia fitted in perfectly with John’s dark, velvety baritone.

There were a couple of surprises, including ‘That’s The Good News’ from Queen of Denmark, with John’s rather accurate accent and ‘JC Hates Faggots’, his homage to religious tolerance. Or otherwise. Plus the beautiful ‘Fireflies’, which usually starts the tears flowing, like a few of his songs. Don’t tell Lady BSM.

There were also a couple of new songs: Geraldine Page and No More Tangles. Yes, he did name it after the shampoo, with the lyrics referring to No More Tears and Gee, Your Hair Looks Great (is this really the name of an American shampoo?) The lyrics were classic John Grant:

‘No more tangles, no more tears, no more reindeer games with narcissistic queers…’

John managed an encore, which seemed inevitable, since the whole of the orchestra stayed exactly where they were, hoping nobody would notice.

The crowd were in raptures. After the show, Lady BSM commented that although John Grant may not be universally famous, his fans are amongst the most devoted you could imagine. It’s also true to say that The Bristol Colston Hall’s  audience contained every version of gay man (and woman) you could imagine. Big bearded ones (mainly men), small bearded ones, jackets and coats and trousers in bright, garish colours but with impeccable taste, one of the reasons John Grant gigs are so enjoyable.

As we made our way through the lashing rain towards the bright lights of the Indian restaurant, Lady BSM made the valid criticism that perhaps they didn’t make the most of The Royal Northern and I was inclined to agree.

But it was John Grant. Funny, talented, wonderfully entertaining.

I have a feeling this isn’t the last time I’ll see him …

 

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Mixed Fillings

dentist

Last week I was due to see my dentist, Dr Gorgeous, but the appointment was cancelled at the last minute because he was sick.

He’s been our dentist for a couple of years, taking over the practice after our dentist of 25 years had to retire  because of ill health. Our previous dentist was a few years older than me, with a gentle manner and a pleasant humour. Dr Gorgeous, however, is in his mid thirties, likes taking part in triathlons, plays the music station BBC 6music in his surgery and likes to chat about current trends. He is also tall, athletic, dark haired, with piercing blue eyes and a soft Irish lilt in his voice.

I remember Lady Barton St Mary returning from her first appointment with him, with a rather beatific smile on her face.

“Yes, I think my visits to the dentist will be rather pleasant in future,” she opined, “I’m quite happy to lie back in a chair and look into his eyes.”

Good grief.

Our old dentist was quite happy to leave my teeth alone, but Dr Gorgeous has that youthful enthusiasm. It’s almost as if he sees my nashers as a rather decrepit building he’d like to restore to its former glory. In my more fanciful moments, I can imagine reaching my sixties with teeth that could rival Simon Cowell’s. I wouldn’t be able to smile in the street at night time for fear of reflecting the headlights of oncoming drivers back into their eyes and causing a terrible accident.

So, three weeks ago, he gave me some special flossing sticks which looked a bit like miniature lavatory brushes.

“Use these on your back teeth,” he instructed me in his sing song accent, “I’ll see you in three weeks to decide on the future of your mouth.”

I’d never felt so important. A summit meeting for my gob.

He showed me how to use them. I spat blood into the bowl.

“Ha! A bit o’ blood! That’ll happen to start with!”

Dr Gorgeous seems to like bleeding mouths. Momentarily, I wondered if he’d like one.

So, for three weeks, I’ve been using these miniature bog brushes in between my back teeth. He was right. The bleeding eventually stopped. Perhaps he had my best interests at heart after all. In fact, he’s always done a fine job. He’s never really caused me any pain. He likes John Grant and can speak knowledgeably about indie music past and present. He has the current issue of Esquire magazine in his waiting room. He likes to talk running and cycling.

To be honest, I’m starting to see Lady BSM’s point of view.

Keep smiling.

 

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The Magic of Giving a Gift.

As most of you are aware, I start panicking about Lady Barton St Mary’s birthday gift in August, despite the fact her birthday isn’t until the 18th December. As you may be aware ( see  Christmas Past, Christmas Present – Mustard Coloured Track Suit and a Leopard Skin Kimono) selecting gifts is not my forte.

Fortunately, she informed me that she wanted some Chanel No 5 perfume, which was fine. Also aware that I wouldn’t find it however hard I scoured the shelves of the local petrol station shop, she directed me to the John Lewis website, which now has a special Chanel sale section.

“At the moment, they’re offering 10% off,” she explained, “if you order it today, you can also save 25% with our family discount card.”

I forgot what type of Chanel she wanted. Coco? Coco Chanel? Coco Madamoiselle? Cocovoulezvoucouchezavecmoi? Coco the Clown? I’d distracted myself.

“Chanel No. 5,” she reiterated firmly, “look at the start of this blog.”

Oh yeah.

So, having established that I can purchase it online now, with discount, using her card, part of my BSM birthday panic will be over. Phew.

She leaned over my shoulder as I searched for the right product, giving me a hug.

“That’s one of the strengths of a long relationship,” she whispered in my ear, “always being able to surprise your partner.”

Wait until I give her this vintage bottle of  Stowaway (Sleepy Lagoon) I ordered on

eBay instead of the Chanel. She’ll be so thrilled!

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Woolly Hats and Daffodils – Bordergame (The National Theatre Wales)

Have cash will travel.

Have cash will travel.

Wordpretzels, this blog is all about the ‘immersive theatre experience’ Bordergame, so may contain some spoilers for those of you who may feel like taking part. However, it would be hard to spoil the performance, since the outcome is completely different for every audience member. Stay with me on this…

Bordergame comes from the minds of two rather weird geniuses, John Norton and Matthew Wright, directed by John Norton. This is the basic premise: Wales is now an independent state, The Autonomous Republic of Cymru; in the NewK, there’s a TB epidemic and people are dropping like flies. It’s your mission to make it across the border and be accepted as a bona fide citizen of ARC; What’s there to stop you? The border guards of the Border Agency of the Autonomous Republic of Cymru (BAARC), led by the rather sinister figure of Alun Trevor. What’s more, B.A.A.R.C. is ably assisted by online players who can watch the action on covert cctv cameras, all registered members of the Active Citizen Programme (ACP). They have the power to watch you participate and decide whether you should be allowed citizenship or be deported. Still with me?

NTW_Bordergame_1820x500_1

 

The night didn’t start well. Lady Barton St Mary and I missed our connecting train to Bristol Temple Meads (the gateway for illegal entry into ARC). To make matters worse, Miss Katherine, travelling from Cardiff, had our tickets. Or rather had forgotten them and had returned to her flat to retrieve them, thus making her impossibly late. Ironically, she was having a nightmare trip out of Wales.

Therefore, we arrived in a rather dark and stressful mood as the rain lashed down on a damp November evening.

No matter, we managed to rendezvous with our contact, open a safety deposit box and collect our cash and a letter with instructions.

I followed the map, walking briskly in torrential rain, the paper wilting and getting softer in my cold hands. I had to find Riverside Road and meet my contact. Lady Barton St Mary struggled to keep up, skittering across the cobbles in her heels. I spotted a figure silhouetted under a streetlight. I approached and gave him the coded message. He stared at me for a moment. His black skin glistened as droplets of water ran down his cheeks.

“Stand over there,” he said brusquely in his thick African accent, pointing to the corner of a building. Lady BSM approached him and tried the same line. He fixed her with a steady gaze and snatched the map from her hands.

“What are you doing here!” he demanded, “can’t you see you should be under the bridge up there?”

Poor Lady BSM looked at him imploringly. She’d already had a run in with the sat nav in the car, which had steadfastly refused to find a suitable car park, so she looked a little defeated.

“Go!” shouted my guide, “and run! You’re going to be late!”

I watched Lady BSM disappear into the murk, unaware that I had her rail ticket in my pocket. I was joined by another migrant, who introduced herself as Adalyne. Later on standing on Platform 4, I found out that she was from Brisbane, Australia.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked her as the rain did its best to hammer through the roof.

Our guide approached, standing very close to us both. He looked from one of us to the other.

“When is The Queen’s birthday?” he demanded of Adalyne. She giggled.

“Don’t laugh!” he shouted angrily, “Dis is no laughing matter! You will be asked dese things by the border guards! 21st April 1926! Follow me!” he hissed, turning on his heel and heading up the hill back to the station, splashing through the puddles.

As we reached the archway leading into the back of the station, he bustled us into a corner and produced a bag. He produced two identity cards with our images on and demanded $500 each from the stash we’d collected from the safety deposit boxes. Meekly, we handed it over.

He then explained that people were dropping like flies from TB in the NewK and we needed proof that we were healthy. For $50 each, he would give us four sets of X Rays showing that we were. Adalyn tried negotiating.

“These aren’t very good X rays,” she said, “I know, I’m a nurse!”

Wrong move. Our African liaison gave her his best stare.

“When was the NHS founded?” he enquired.

“1967?” she offered hopefully. He stared at me, lifting his chin for a response.

“1948,” I said, confident in my knowledge.

“1948,” he confirmed.

I handed over $100, trusting Adalyne to pay me later.

Transactions over, we were taken around the corner and briskly led by another diminutive figure to the back of a yellow transit van and bundled in.

“Wait for Snakehead,” we were told, “he’s going to get you across.”

It was dark, but we could make out three shadowy figures; two females and another person under a blanket, who said his name was Odey. We introduced ourselves, although by now I wasn’t concentrating and can’t remember their names. One of the ladies tried to find out where Odey came from.

“Syria,” he said, coughing loudly.

“Sorry,” he said softly, “I think I have TB.”

“Move up, move up!” said Adalyne in her thick Australian accent, her bony hip pushing me towards the back of the van, away from the sickly Odey. We fell silent as the back doors opened and a large figure climbed in and slammed them shut behind him. He wore fatigues and a flat cap, eerily lit by a bright torchlight he held in his left hand. He remained silent for a few seconds.

“Where’s yer ID?” he demanded, a strong, aggressive London accent. We held our IDs aloft. He snatched one from the girl opposite.

“This is an old card,” he growled, “you’re travelling as a British citizen. When were you born?” he asked her. Fortunately, she’d memorised her given birthdate. He took another.

“Where are you from?” he said in a low tone.

“Bury,” the next girl stuttered nervously. She’d also followed instructions and memorised the card.

“Where’s Bury?” he asked. Silence.

“Fucking hell. You don’t sound like you’re from Bury. You lot have got to liven up or you’re fucked,” he spat, producing some yellow coloured booklets.

“These,” he explained, “are your ID papers with immunisation information. They cost $300. Each. Hand it over.”

I watched carefully as he snatched the money from my group’s hands and threw the booklets at them.

“If you have a mobile phone, turn it off,” he rasped. “Use these,” he said handing out old fashioned models. “You’ll be sent messages and be called with instructions.”

He then handed out green beany hats with a daffodil motif.

“Wear these. That way you can identify other migrants,” he explained.

He pointed at Adalyn and me.

“Your train leaves at 20:54. Platform 11. Now fuck off,” he muttered, opening the transit doors and spilling us out into the bright lights of the station.

“Here’s your fifty,” said Adalyne, handing over a crisp note.

“Thanks,” I said, “at least I’ve come out on top once tonight. I stiffed Snakehead for a couple of hundred,” I laughed. She smiled and shook her head.

“Bloody risky,” she opined.

IMG_1239

Handed to me at Temple Meads. Maybe all is not perfect in The Republic.

We made it onto the train and split up as instructed. I found a seat by the door , just outside the carriage. By this time I’d found Lady BSM and given her the rail ticket.

It didn’t take long before I felt the presence of somebody standing next to me; a young woman, wearing a luminous yellow jacket, the letters B.A.A.R.C. emblazoned on the back. I kept my head down. My phone buzzed with messages, warning of other migrants who were spies, calls helping me with my Bury accent.

I continued to move about the train, avoiding the guard. At last, I received a text congratulating me on crossing the border. Yes! I’d made it!

Then one message informing me that Interpol had reported my ID as false, recommending I claim political asylum when confronted by the authorities and to await a call with my asylum story. The call, when it came, was muffled and indecipherable. Oh dear.

We arrived in Newport and made our way to the designated exit, staying close together as advised. As we left the station, we were met by uniformed figures – the B.A.A.R.C. enforcement officers, who lined us up and one by one, checked our documents and asked questions:

Where was the queen born? Where does a cockney come from? When is mothers’ day?

One by one, migrants were allowed to pass, or told to stand to one side.

“What happens on St Valentine’s Day?” asked the tall imposing border guard.

borderguards

helo , Im ‘yn actio

“Oh, you give gifts and flowers to your wife or girlfriend. Or both,” I grinned, hearing the chuckling behind me. Authority always makes me do this, try and make fun. The guard smiled and looked at his diminutive female companion, before turning once more to me.

“What do you think of St Dwynwen, then, the Welsh patron saint of lovers? You heard of St Dwynwen?”

“Of course I’ve heard of him,” I replied confidently.

“She,” said the female officer, a jubilant look in her eyes, “St Dwynwen’s a woman.”

I looked back at the huge security man.

His smile had disappeared and he gazed over my shoulder under the slashed peak of his hat, no longer interested in my presence.

“Stand over there.”

I did as I was told.

Lady BSM answered a couple of tricky questions and made it through. I was on my own.

The next I knew I was in a van and being driven around the streets of Newport. We arrived in a dark, dingy car park, the tarmac iridescent with the earlier rain and were led, single file, into a brightly lit office; B.A.A.R.C.’s interrogation centre.

We sat in plastic chairs as migrants were led into an office to be questioned. However, three of us were taken upstairs, where we had to read words from a screen into a tape recorder to ascertain whether our accent betrayed the information on our ID cards. It’s hard to keep up a Bury accent for long. Unless you’re from Bury.

borderguards2

Guard suspects there’s a leek in the Welsh border control…

Then back downstairs for more questioning. I desperately tried to communicate with my fellow migrants to get an asylum story, without luck. Like the others on the train who I tried unsuccessfully to buy things from, they thought I was a tricky plant. Suspicion and paranoia play a large part in the illegal immigration game, counteracting that aforementioned camaraderie. Eventually, the large border guard appeared again and ordered us downstairs and out into the open, where another minibus waited for us. Another trip across town, another line up against the wall. The guard pointed at a fire door.

“Knock on the door. This is a safe house. You will find your loved ones inside. Thank you for playing Bordergames,” he announced with a kindly smile.

I was reunited with Miss Katherine and Lady BSM.

The safe house looked authentic. The asylum seekers inside certainly were. Niki, from Eritrea, had paid 2 500 euros to get from Greece to the UK. Odey was into his third year of a mechanical engineering degree in Syria when the shit hit the fan. Lots of them hadn’t planned to come here, some of them would rather not be here, but had no choice. Their circumstances and their home countries had somehow become bizarre and dangerous places to live.

I thought about my own feeling throughout the performance. I’d been nervous. I felt unsettled, confused by the constant use of a language I couldn’t understand; in this case, Welsh. The camaraderie between the men and women who shared my journey was strong; we somehow supported each other, even though we’d never met, but had an underlying feeling that any of us would do anything to get citizenship. It turned out that the two other ladies in the van with Adalyne and me were spies.

Then I considered what it would be like to do it for real. Nobody would give me a cheery smile and wish me luck at the end of it. I travelled on a train in an upholstered seat. Not a fridge or a packing case or under a false floor in a truck. I went without food and drink for a couple of hours, not days on end.

“What exactly is it the creators are trying to say?” asked one participant back in the safe house.

I’m sure that when he starts to recall his crazy journey from Bristol Temple Meads to Newport, wearing a woolly hat with a daffodil on it and concentrating on a cheap mobile phone, he’ll work it out for himself.

Bordergame runs until 21st November 2014. For more information, go to

http://nationaltheatrewales.org/bordergame

 

 

 

 

 

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