How to Survive in a French Village by Tony Cole

PART TWO

The procession of floats through Bains les Bains each year was a sort of social high point in the wider area around Fontenoy.  As I said above, all the local villages built some sort of a float for this very important and much loved event in the yearly calendar.   I took part in this for most of the roughly 10 years I lived in Fontenoy, dressed in a variety of costumes appropriate to that year’s float.   One of my favourite ones was when I was pulled behind a tractor in a huge double four poster which I was sharing with a splendid old lady, who was notably short of teeth, called Antoinette.   Rural France is remarkably prudish sometimes, and the sight of the two of us happily in that bed pleasantly scandalized the public who stood beside the road as we passed by….  I was teased about my romantic and erotic involvement with Antoinette for many years after that one.  Another very happy memory, and Antoinette was a simply delightful woman to talk to, and as I discovered, to share a bed with….   Even if all we did was talk to each other.

Me lurking beside a Chinese dragon one year

Anyway, by means of my very active involvement in the Associations in Fontenoy, and by being prepared to help anyone who needed a bit of help – going up onto the forest to gather their allocation of winter firewood, helping repair a roof, whatever was needed, I rapidly became accepted as one of them, a real honour I felt.

In the course of all of this, I made some extremely good friends, as Fontenoy seemed to have more than its share of good hearted people in it.  People such as Gerard, who used to own the one garage in the village, and was a rather rotund and red faced but utterly likable and reliable man, all the various active members of the Associations I belonged to.  Also there was Roger (Monk) Llewellyn-Smith and Marion his wife who arrived after us, and who became great and important friends to us, which they still are. And of course, Jean Pierre’s wife, Marianne.  The list of friends we made there is simply too long really to put here, but there were many of them, and the friendships we made mattered to us, and still do in many cases. While Fontenoy had its less pleasant inhabitants, as everywhere does, the great majority of the people there were actually remarkably pleasant and friendly to us.

When it came time for us to leave France and go off to work in Angola, I was given a surprise farewell party and honour in the town hall.   How they managed to keep that a secret from me was a minor miracle, as in such a village, the saying that “if you dropped your hammer at the eastern end of the village, people were talking about it at the western end before it had even got to the ground” really did apply.

Anyway, I was sort of tricked into going to the town hall that night by Oscar, who told me that there was a special meeting of the town’s folk to discuss something or other of importance, which I should take part in.  So as he had grabbed me while I was still working, I was in my dirty work clothes when we arrived at the town hall, and I was surprised to see that just about everyone I knew in the village was there, all dressed in their Sunday best.

On entering the hall I was grabbed, pushed out to the front, and the good lady Mayoress – Francoise – started to make a speech aimed at me….  And to announce that I was to be given the Fontenoy Medal – an honour that Fontenoy had instituted to show appreciation to people who had really contributed in a very notable fashion to the community in some way or other… And that apparently was me!

After which a number of friends made speeches extolling my many virtues (in their eyes at least).   I was totally overcome by the entire thing.  Never having been at the receiving end of such public acclaim in my entire life.  I was also doubly honoured by the fact that I was not a native of the village, and not even French for God’s sake, but of all things, an Englishman….!

 

I am overwhelmed as The Mayoress tells us all how wonderful I am…

 

 

 

Not sure I believe what they are saying about me

 

 

 

An astonished me, with the Fontenoy medal in my hand.  Note that I am leaning on the table. I needed to.

 

 

Lotty was working in Geneva at the time, so it was arranged that she would phone during the ceremony to give me her thoughts as well…

 

That is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.   It had real significance to me, as I truly loved Fontenoy, those people who had befriended and helped me while we were there and I was actually very sad to be leaving a place in which we had invested so much work, thought, dreams and hopes.   But, that party at the end was amazing, wonderful and unforgettable.

How to Survive in a French Village by Tony Cole

 

Photo by E2 Ruins of Fontenoy château

PART ONE

When we got to Fontenoy le Chateau (a small village in the low Vosges) in 1997, we knew absolutely no one, and to be honest we had moments of wondering what on earth we were doing, coming to a small community in a country we really only knew from holidays (and in my case, a rather large number of relatives clustered in Paris and around Lyons).  We did more or less speak French, and had gone to a lot of trouble to try and find out about banking, bureaucrats and other “official” things.  But simply living, making friends and becoming part of the community, well that was quite a different set of problems.

A short video to give you an idea what Fontenoy looks like:

https://youtu.be/6YDvo6KvLb8

After we had been there for a few months, I became aware of the existence in the village of what in France are called “Associations”, which are groups of people who have got together, formed a club of sorts in order to pursue some common aim.  These Associations have a legal existence and are all properly registered in the head office of the Departement, which in the case of Fontenoy meant Epinal, a nearby city of some 100 000 souls.

Anyhow, I thought that by joining one or more of these Associations, I might be able to sort of break into the village community and become part of the daily life there, and almost more importantly, make some friends.

In the event, I achieved all those aims and much, much more, and ended up being a very central part of the life and soul of Fontenoy along with a fair number of other highly active (both physically and organizationally) local citizens.

Thus I first joined an Association with the resounding name of Des Amis du Vieux Fontenoy, which devoted itself chiefly to the restoration of the ruined 11th Century castle that explained the “Chateau” part of Fontenoy le Chateau’s name.

This restoration mainly consisted of keeping the grass and weeds in and around the very thoroughly ruined castle under control, and organising a student work camp each summer holiday, where students came, lived in one of the remaining sections of the medieval wall that used to surround Fontenoy and slowly carried out a mix of archaeology and restoration work on the castle.. But to be honest, this is really a 100 year project as the castle was very big in its heyday, and is pretty conclusively ruined now.  And most of the stones that originally constituted the castle have over the centuries been stolen and used to build the houses in Fontenoy itself.  Including the imposing church too, by the way.

And whilst the more fanatical members of the Association were fully prepared to demolish all those houses and even the church to get the castle’s stones back, there was a certain reluctance on the part of the good citizens of Fontenoy to allow that to happen.  Stalemate thus.

Actually the castle became a ruin not by the jaws of time, but was captured by, of all  things, a Swedish army that happened to be operating in that area during the 100 years war, and who upon capturing the castle, forced the good burgers of Fontenoy to pretty conclusively demolish the castle.

When I joined this Association, its Chairperson was the highly energetic and impressive Veronique Andre, a good soul who became a very good friend over the roughly 10 years we spent in Fontenoy.   Vero, being the sort of person she was, I also found very much in evidence in the several other Associations I joined shortly after becoming active in the Friends of Fontenoy.

In the course of my Fontenoy period, I was a very active member of as above, the Friends of Old Fontenoy, also of Les Amis de L’Ecole, an association who busied themselves chiefly with fund raising for the local primary school in the village through all manner of events, chief being the now famous all over France Feu de St. Jean and making and processing the float for Saint Nicholas on 5th December every year, and last but by no means least, sending that float to the Carnival procession in the nearby town of Bains les Bains where all the local villages and small towns processed through the town on their various floats with bands and all other good things as part of the Catholic Carnival (Mardi Gras).

https://youtu.be/OosCfCybz8g (in French)

The creative and organisational driving force in that association in those days was another truly good friend of ours, Jean Pierre Remond, who was a real jack of all trades, could design constructions superbly, understood the mechanics of large constructions, and was a very good organiser of labour and material suppliers too.

Being of a creative bent I also joined the Association called Village de l”Ecrit, which as its name would suggest, busied itself with all manner of literary matters, including giving an annual prize to what their jury considered to be the best book of the year written by a Vosgean writer.   Sort of local equivalent of the Booker Prize really.

This one was led by an equally energetic soul, the good Michou, who used to be a teacher but was by then retired.  She also became a pretty good friend over the years I worked with her for that Association.  This work consisted mainly of creating an enormous number of plywood “Speech Bubbles” each year on which we carefully painted quotes from all manner of authors, in French (of course) but also in honour of the considerable number of Dutch folk in the area, and who passed through on their holidays, in Dutch and as a sort of small gesture to those Brits, such as Lotty, Roger Oscar et.al who were hanging around, in English.  And occasionally in German too.  Particularly the heavier and darker of the Germanic philosophers.

These we hung up all over the village, so almost every house, shop and public building had at least one of these panels decorating it for the entire summer.   It is indicative of the cohesive nature of such a village that everyone was very happy to have one or more of these panels hanging on their house or fence, and as Michou, Daniel (another village stalwart who became a real friend over the years) and I hung these panels, we had long and enjoyable conversations about the quote that was being hung up.   Like all good villagers all over the world, most people in Fontenoy always had time to stop and chat.

Occasionally this could be mildly irritating to me, as they were perfectly happy to do this when driving their cars through the village going in opposite directions, if they came upon each other, they would cheerfully stop, blocking the road completely and chat amiably away for a quarter hour or more… And no one worried.

People around there lived very long lives by and large. And I suspect that this very relaxed approach to life had a lot to do with that.  That and the way they always recognised each other’s existence.   Walking though the town could take time, as one had to greet almost everyone by name, and at least pass a couple of minutes discussing the weather or whatever… I liked this a lot.

To be continued . . .

School in Paradise by Richard Carroll

Schoolhouse

The Toyota Hilux bumped its way along the dirt track that leads to Lakruja Village on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. We were a group of twelve from Brisbane, en route to visit the French school in the remote village. We had set out from where we were staying in the Village de Santo Resort on the outskirts of Luganville, the only major town on the island, in two vehicles, the ubiquitous pick-ups where passengers ride in the open back tray. Many in the group are not as young as we used to be, and it was a struggle for some to heave themselves over the side. On the way to the village we crossed one of the four airports built by the Americans during World War Two. The blue/black macadam was barely visible under the invading canopy of regrowth that was reclaiming the land.

We passed the occasional native hut ensconced in the forest. In parts, wide expanses of large-leafed macaranga draped in vines formed impenetrable walls on either side of the track. The sky was grey, but the rain held off. In early August, the air was heavy with humidity and the smell of raw vegetation and wet earth, while the temperature sat in the comfortable mid-twenty degrees Celsius range. More evidence of habitation became visible, we passed a tiny yellow concrete building which announced itself in bold letters as the shop. Everybody was relieved when we pulled to the side of the road and stopped. A timber-framed shelter stood in the large cleared area directly to the left; further along was a building we presumed to be the school. A number of adults were herding children dressed in uniforms of yellow shirts and green or red shorts/skirts into some semblance of order, their huge eyes fascinated by the sight of a motley crew of whites emerging from the vehicles. Sore backsides were rubbed, muscles stretched, necks un-kinked.

The school we were visiting had been going for a year and had 41 students enrolled in Kindergarten and Year 1. The project is being financed by the Millennium Cave Tours run by the villagers. “Education is far from free in Vanuatu and the cost is prohibitive for children in the outlying villages where the people grow fruit, vegetables, chickens and pigs to survive, and have little in the way of money,” our guide Sam Andikar explained. However, the villagers are recognising the necessity of education if they are to be part of the world they see changing around them.

Our trip had been organised by Bev Anti from the Resort, and Sam, director of the cave tours. Rose and I had been in Vanuatu the year before, and the idea of bringing a group of Rose’s French students to the island took root. So here we were, students – two with their husbands in tow, a friend and ourselves, waiting by the roadside to be greeted by the pupils, their teachers and the chief of the village. Finally, all was ready. “We can go in, now,” said Sam, ushering us across the track. We advanced one by one and the children draped colourful leis of native plants around our necks. We placed the gifts we had brought with us on a table in the open and were served green coconuts with a straw to drink the delicious and refreshing milk. Sam introduced us to the villagers and the chief, who welcomed us to the village. “Put your hands on the donations,” Sam told us. “It is part of the custom when giving or receiving gifts that both parties do so.” We nudged forward with the two lady teachers, Madam Irene and Madam Germaine, and stretched out to touch the books, dictionary, scissors, crayons, paint brushes, rubbers and various other items including a small laptop computer we had brought along. “The village has a generator, so they will be able to use the computer,” Sam assured us.

After the presentation we proceeded into the school hut which was set up with small tables, each surrounded by four chairs on the concrete floor and a black board at the front. White pages covered in coloured words decorated the walls. The hut was about eight metres long by five metres wide and was built in the traditional way from bamboo with thatched roof and walls. One of the women from the village had earlier demonstrated how palm leaves were threaded together to form an impermeable layer. The inspection over, we moved outside where we were offered fresh coconut meat.

A short time later we were invited into another building behind the school. We were led to chairs at the front facing back towards rows of benches filled with the children, and adults behind them near the door. The children sang songs in French and Bislama and our group responded with a few songs in French led by Rose. We also sang “Waltzing Matilda,” which I was obliged to translate into French. The villagers sang the Vanuatu national anthem and then lunch was served. It consisted of an entrée of paw paw, a local variety of apple, cucumber and grilled corn on the cob, followed by a Boonya, a traditional dish wrapped in leaves and cooked in a fire in the

ground. Rose, Jan and the teachers held the food bundle between them to mark the sharing of the meal. Two ladies unwrapped the leaves to reveal large violet chunks of taro, orange sweet potatoes, cabbage leaves, jellified cassava and chicken. A huge tub of rice was placed on the table. The children sang as they watched us eat and it wasn’t until we had finished that they were allowed outside where they were fed from cooking pots in the shade of a large tree in the centre of the ground. Some of the adults shared the leftovers in the school. The school ground had once been part of an American military base, but the villagers had had to clear the jungle that had buried it. Among the many stumps that remained sat rusted crumbling bundles of barbed wire left by the Americans.

After copious goodbyes, we climbed back aboard the vehicles and continued a few kilometres along the track to another village. Here we were shown into a small hut that served as a preschool and met Madam Rolando, the teacher. The room was much humbler than the one we had just seen. The children sat on woven mats on the uneven earth floor and resources were virtually non-existent. Once outside, Jim engaged the kids in a game of soccer – it was something to see the smiles on their faces.

This experience was an eye-opener for many in the group. Here in Australia we take education for granted, yet still rail at the cost of uniforms and books. We never question our right to a school, teachers and resources. In Vanuatu, education is reserved for those with money, which means for most, having a regular, paid job. However, eighty percent of Ni-Vanuatans rely on subsistence farming and there is insufficient money to send kids to school. This initiative by the villagers to create their own school, and therefore a better future for their children, needs support. Our support, to help make it happen.

http://millenniumcavetour.weebly.com/millennium-cave-foundation.html

 

My Encounter With Tiny Tim…  Very Odd… by Tony Cole

Royal Albert Hall © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA-4.0

Many years ago, about 1966 or thereabouts, I was asked by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band to do the lighting for their part in a concert that they were going to take part in at the Royal Albert Hall.

This was to be a large scale concert, with a load of bands and performers who were popular at the time, such as The Doo Dah Band as mentioned above, also The Small Faces, Joe Cocker and many others, and of course as you will have guessed from the title of this post, the extra-ordinary Tiny Tim.

How Lighting worked at the Albert Hall.

Before I get onto Tiny Tim, I should mention how lighting was handled in the Albert Hall in those far off days before the advent of simple touring lighting control boards and rock tour lighting rigs.   Back then in halls such as the Albert Hall, one had to work with what they had rigged, and the actual control system consisted of huge mechanical dimmers down below in the cellars of the hall.   So “Lighting Directors” such as I had to sit upstairs in a small booth high above the audience with one of the Albert Hall electricians sitting beside me who had an old fashioned telephone to pass on to the guys in the cellar what I wanted to have happen with the lighting…

So for example I would ask for the main lighting to be dimmed to create a bit of atmosphere, this command was duly passed onto the electricians in the cellar, who then dashed around setting up the dimmers, so that on my word of command which would be relayed to them by the electrician sitting next to me, they could crank all those huge mechanical dimmers into their new positions, thus changing the lighting on the stage.

Cumbersome to say the least….

Anyhow, on the day of the concerts there was a general rehearsal of all the performers and their sound and lights people, including me of course.

There was also a small backing orchestra there for any performers who might need a bit of support – which included Cocker, and obviously, Tiny Tim.

Cocker did his rehearsal perfectly, not surprisingly, and in due time it was Tiny Tim’s turn.

Tiny Tim – Photo by Jeff Goodman

He came slowly onto the stage with two “handlers” in suits, one of whom carried his ukulele for him.  They walked one on each side of Tiny Tim, each grasping him by his arms, and led him up to the microphone he would be using, and handed him his ukulele and stood a bit back from him.   The orchestra commenced to play his music, and at the right moment, one of his handlers tapped Tiny Tim on his shoulder, and like a sort of performing robot, Tiny Tim went into his act, which he did impeccably.

Then when he arrived at the end of his act, he simply stopped, and stood there immovable.   His two handlers took him by his arms again, and started to lead him off-stage.   I was standing nearby as all this was happening, and as Tiny Tim was led off the stage, he asked in a sort of little boy voice  “Where are we going?” To which one of his handlers replied in a gentle voice “we are going home Tiny, home….”   And off they went.

My overwhelming impression at the time was that he was a very sad and strange creature, and I have had no reason to change this impression since.   When you see interviews with him, and look at his very odd shape and appearance (the original pear shaped man), this feeling is only made stronger.   He was seriously odd, but when he wasn’t singing in that memorable falsetto, he actually had a very pleasing baritone voice, as you can hear of you check out a video of him singing “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime” on Youtube.

An odd and sad creature.

 

Hippiely Ever After by Ian Thomas

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Having been an enthusiastic player of tin whistles in my youth, I decided in 1971 to take up the flute. Learning the fingering was easy enough but the awful noises I made while trying for tone were torture for me and, as I feared, for my neighbours. After much effort I learned to play along with songs popular at the time. Convinced that I was finally getting somewhere with my playing I happened one day to run into my neighbour from across the hall. He was with a friend and introduced me to him as a so-so flute player.

My life suddenly changed when I was offered and accepted a position as Faculty Resident in a UMASS, Amherst dormitory. This entitled me to a smartly furnished apartment in the dorm with a balcony that overlooked the campus and the Hadley hills beyond. My “job” was to befriend and mentor students and to throw an occasional wine and cheese party for the residents. Instead of having to drive to work from Northampton, fair weather or foul, I could now simply walk to my office.

I soon met and became friends with many students among who were Larry and his beloved Debra. Larry was Jewish, Debra black. Hardly had I come to cherish their company when they announced they were going to get married and would I please play my flute at the wedding! The shocks kept coming. It would be a quiet wedding in the woods by a rippling stream with no family present and just a few student friends there as witnesses. The celebrant was the campus ombudsman, a notoriously fat and fanatical hippie who wore a giant bronze peace symbol slung around his neck. He officiated dressed in a tie dyed shirt, shorts and sandals. The vows were hastily spoken and then all eyes turned to me as I readied my flute and played, at Larry and Debra’s request, Elton John’s “Your Song” and a Jethro Tull version of a Bach classic.

Suddenly it was over. I’ve lost track of Larry and Debra now but I trust that they are living hippiely ever after.

Rolling Down A Mountainside In A Car Full Of Geese by Tony Cole

One fine summer while I was still living in England, I went down to the South of France to visit an old friend who lived on a farm there, and had an experience I would happily have missed, namely rolling down a French hillside in a car full of geese.

We were heading to see a friend of his to give them a couple of rather large and vociferous geese in Robbie’s small Citroen Dyana, when as we were rounding a rather sharp corner on a mountain road, we met a car coming the other way in the middle of the road….

Robbie braked and swerved to avoid a head on collision, but sadly, as is all too often the way in rural France, the road was covered in fine gravel. So we simply slid over the edge of the road and went rolling down the hillside, turning over and over as we went.

This is the hill we rolled down

All rather confusing, and made tricky by having those geese tumbling all over the place as we went.   Luckily we were rolling relatively slowly, and finally came to rest upside down in a field at the bottom of the hillside.  I found myself hanging upside down with a large and infuriated goose between me and the roof of the car, not a good place to find oneself, as they have large and active wings, and very serious beaks….  So extra pain was the result of that damned goose.

After sitting there for a few seconds, somewhat dazed, we scrambled out of the car, releasing the geese as we did so.   They had been stuffed into two large brown paper bags for transport, but in the course of our undignified rolling down the hillside, had escaped from those bags…  So they went rushing off to get as far from both the car and us as they could – understandably I suppose.

In the meantime, the lady who had been driving the other car, an English woman, as it turned out, had come rushing down the hill to see if we were still alive.   In my confused state, I walked up to her, stuck out my hand and solemnly greeted her with a hearty “Good afternoon” to her considerable surprise. We English like to have things as they should be, and good manners at all times are essential…

So, as it was a very small Citroen, the three of us rolled it back onto its wheels, rounded up the geese and drove across the field we had ended up in to a nearby road, and carried on in a somewhat crab like manner, as the poor car was rather bent. 

We delivered the geese safely, and returned to his farm, none the worse for our small gymnastic experience in that car.

 

Captain! O my Captain! by Ian Thomas

At about the time I turned sixteen my family and I were enjoying a holiday at the seaside. My father had rented a motor boat so that we could enjoy fishing on the river that flowed into the sea just a mile or so away from our dock. He had left on a business trip, leaving me as man of the house and captain of the boat.

I was excited when my mother, my aunt and my younger sister wanted me to take them fishing to one of our favorite spots on the river not far from where the river entered the sea. So off we went. The motor purred away as we swept down the river on an outgoing tide. Not far from the bar of the river in deep and swift water I cast out the anchor and we began to fish. No bites. We were very patient but it eventually dawned on us that we were out of luck.

That wasn’t our chief concern. We all noticed the groan as the anchor began to give way in the loose sand way down there at the bottom of the river as the outgoing tide, now at full flow, was dragging us all too swiftly toward the tempestuous waters of the bar. Time to get the anchor up and get out of there. 

As I pulled up the anchor I noticed that there was a leather strap about four feet long tangled around the anchor rope. Very strange. It was the type of strap that one wrapped around the flywheel to crank the boat’s motor to get it started. Then came the awful realization. It wasn’t just some luckless boater’s strap, it was ours! I had obviously cast it out with the anchor when we first arrived.

Meanwhile the boat was drifting swiftly toward the turbulent waters of the bar. I quickly untangled the strap from the anchor rope and wound it round the flywheel. One quick yank and the motor started. There was relief on all faces as I grabbed the tiller and steered the boat upriver against that brutal outgoing tide.

Progress was agonizingly slow as dusk began to settle on the river. We had brought no light with us and were now in danger of being rammed by other boats whose crews might not see us until too late. Then all of a sudden the motor sputtered and stopped. We were out of gas.

To save you further worry I hasten to add that a boat with a captain far wiser than I had seen our obvious distress and towed us to our dock. 

Anybody want to go fishing with me?

 

Ordinary Humans by Tony Cole

Many years ago I joined the Little Angel Puppet Theatre in London and started out on what would be one of my main careers, that of a theatre technician.

My chief area of work there was as a lighting guy and scenery maker, and John Wright, the wonderful South African Puppeteer who ran the theatre with his wife, Lindy taught me all I needed to know to do that work.

One of the true highlights of my time with them was the version of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, which we performed at the Purcell Rooms (part of the Royal Festival Hall complex on the south bank of the Thames).

This was a seriously big undertaking for the Little Angel Theatre crew, who were more used to working on the small and intimate scale of their own theatre in Islington in a setting that was totally set up for puppetry – not a description that you could apply to the Purcell Rooms, which was simply a flat stage at the end of a long and relatively narrow auditorium, and which was, reasonably enough, set up and designed for small scale classical concerts to be performed in.

But, I am happy to say, we pulled it off magnificently.

The basic idea was that we used a whole series of rod puppets (controlled from below and behind by means of rigid rods connected to their moving parts), and the puppeteers were dressed from head to foot in soft, non-reflective – black fabric, and worked on a stage that had a series of steps going across the stage from left to right, so the further upstage you went (away from the audience) the higher you were.

The stage itself was also painted matt black, and the sides and back of the stage were covered with soft black fabric.

The lighting was by means of a series of spot lights on either side of the stage, aimed across the stage horizontally, with very narrow beams.  And the idea was that the puppets would be held in one or more of these beams of light, and thus be visible to the audience, and when not held in the light, would be invisible.

This created the effect of the puppets floating in the air, but as often is the case with puppets, one quickly stopped “seeing” them as floating, but sort of invented a ground for them to be walking on… odd how our minds do that sort of thing.

Most of the puppets were about a meter (3 foot) tall, but as there were no reference points regarding size, the audience quickly saw the puppets as normal human size.  So when at the very end of the story, the soldier crosses the frontier to be reunited with his lover, and the Devil comes to claim his soul, we used a Devil puppet which was about 8 feet tall, so it looked enormous when it loomed over the soldier puppet we used in that scene (the soldier puppet we used there was a very small one, about 30 cms tall to make the difference in size even more marked and dramatic).

On all levels this was a total success as a production, and was completely enjoyable as well.

The way The Soldier’s Tale works is that (in this case) one has a cast of puppets who enact the story in mime, a narrator who tells the story, and a small chamber orchestra who play the music.  All of this, with the exception of the narrator worked superbly.  Sadly the narrator was Michael Flanders (of Flanders and Swann, of Drop of a Hat fame), a man whose work I had enjoyed and admired for many years prior to this show, but who sadly turned out to be a very unpleasant and arrogant man.

On the other hand, the music was under the leadership of Daniel Barenboim, also a man I admired enormously, and who I am happy to report turned out to be a remarkably likeable and pleasing man to work with, and obviously the musicians he led were also great to work with, being no less than The English Chamber Orchestra.

As a sort of side note, while we were rehearsing The Soldier’s Tale, Barenboim also had a concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall with his wife, Jacqueline Du Pre, Isaac Perlman and Zubin Mehta, and I had the wonderful experience of watching them rehearsing on the stage there. They were all having a great time, obviously really good friends with each other, so loads of laughing and enjoyment.

And what was even better was how they kept stopping and asking the cleaning ladies who were busy in the auditorium what they thought of how a particular passage had been played, and listening carefully to what those good ladies said.  Obviously the cleaners there heard so much good music played by so many great musicians, that they had a real knowledge of how it should sound.

So, as you can imagine, this was one hell of an experience for me, especially as at that point in my life I had not had much exposure to the Great and Good of the theatrical and musical world (that came later in my life), so I was deeply impressed to find myself rubbing shoulders with such famous people.   And also to learn the obvious point, which was that famous people are still ordinary humans ……………..

Saint or Sinner? by Ian Thomas

This story begins in far away India in the late forties. It concerns an English couple, the Greens, who have lived and worked there for years; he as an engineer in the tramways, she as a reporter for an English language newspaper. Their only child, Chad, has long since been shipped off to an English run boarding school in Darjeeling, high in the healthful mountain air and far from the teeming city.

But then along came Gandhi and Indian Independence, and life in India became increasingly uncomfortable for the Greens. They decided to migrate to Australia in mid 1950. There they enrolled their son in a boarding school called Nudgee College in the suburbs of Brisbane. Never mind that the first term was well under way. There was a locker, bed, desk and hundreds of potential friends waiting for him to arrive.

The other part of the story begins in Cooroy where two boys, Bobby and Ian, have been best friends and neighbors since their earliest school days. Bobby proves himself an instigator and Ian a follower as they grow up and often find themselves in trouble at school and at home. Their parents are unanimous in their belief that a few years away at a boarding school such as Nudgee, with its reputation for strict discipline and academic rigor, will straighten them both out. All the Nudgee folks know is that their grades are passable and that their parish priest has given them the thumbs up.

So off they go to Nudgee, become locker mates and sleep in adjacent beds in the eighty bed dormitory. The brother in charge of their dormitory, an ogre nicknamed Slam, addresses them in the dormitory on their first night there and warns them of the severe consequences that will follow the least disturbance or disruption in the dormitory after lights out. His own bedroom and office are just outside one of the dormitory doors and he makes sure that everybody gets a good look at his two foot long flashlight and can clearly discern the outline of his thick multilayered leather strap tucked just under his religious garb at his chest.

Except for Bobby locking the locker with both keys inside, and returning from the playground reeking of cigarettes now and then, the first couple of months at Nudgee pass without incident.

Then Chad Green shows up late and is assigned a bed in the dormitory that backs up to Bobby’s. He seems like a nice boy despite his thick English accent but Bobby decides he needs to be initiated and that the initiation needs to take place in the dormitory that very night. He persuades Ian that it will be great fun to jump out of bed and pound Chad with their pillows as soon as Slam is safely out of sight.

A stilly silence has settled on the dormitory as Bobby prods Ian awake and whispers that it is time to attack. They jump out of their beds and subject poor Chad Green to an unexpected and vicious assault.

Even as they raise their pillows for a second round, an intense beam of light freezes them in place and Slam’s voice comes ominously down that beam and orders them to stand on the veranda outside his room. He then proceeds to scan the rest of the dormitory to assure himself that this insurrection is not more widespread.

Meanwhile out on the cold verandah Bobby and Ian tremble more from fear than from frost. True to form, Bobby persuades Ian to tell Slam that it was Chad Green, the new kid, who was the aggressor and that they were just defending themselves. Ian tells Bobby OK just as Slam approaches and calls him into his room, leaving Bobby to contemplate his fate out there in the cold.

Ever the faithful one, Ian repeats Bobby’s lies to Slam who of course knows that this is preposterous nonsense. He scornfully orders him back out into the cold and calls Bobby in for his interrogation.

Minutes pass and then Bobby emerges, a smug smile on his face, and announces with feigned sincerity, “I decided to tell the truth.”

The story goes steeply downhill from here for Ian. His faithfulness to Bobby costs him four across the bottom while Bobby gets off with a few on the hand.

Bobby became a lot more cunning after that, especially where Slam was concerned, and managed to pull off numerous pranks. Ian decided that a partner in crime who goes and tells the truth is nothing more than a dirty rotter.

Seeing Red by Mary Margeau

Diverting off the main highway and onto a detour, we patiently move along the old Murphy Road. Only two narrow lanes of trucks and cars are coming and going. Everyone is drawn together in their determination to survive another four o’clock traffic build-up. I see a few familiar faces but no one smiles. Everyone looks dog tired, so a quick nod will do for today. Slowly we grind along in the overpowering heat of a late afternoon.

Suddenly a commotion erupts behind me. Along the shoulder of the road to my left, a red convertible with its top down streaks by us all. The personal number plates identify the driver as Tuf Guy. He is a young blonde fella, wearing a white sport jacket and big black sunglasses. Laughing, he sits on his horn while giving all of us the finger. I’ve never seen him before, the crazy hoon, and he obviously doesn’t know this road. Right in front of him, just over the top of Logan’s Rise, the shoulder he’s speeding on will suddenly disappear. This is the spot where the overflow from Diggery’s Creek cascades into a culvert, directly under the roadway. In a few seconds he’ll either crash or come to a screaming halt. Which will it be?

Driving over the rise I hear the loud screeching of his brakes. Enveloped in clouds of dust he’s managed to stop, just before nose diving into the water. His right signal flashes as he tries to pull in onto the roadway. Everyone sits on their horns laughing as they pass him by. Some wave and others give him the finger. He edges closer to the traffic flow, attempting to push and shove his way back in. As he shakes his clenched fist in the air, every vehicle moves closer together. Now our line of cars resembles a tightly linked chain. On and on we crawl. Nobody gives way to him.

Watching the drama unfold in my rear vision mirror, I suspect he’ll be waiting there for at least another twenty minutes. I speak out, ‘Serves you right, Tuf Guy, you silly ass. So much for your little road rage drama. Mind your manners and stew there until the sun goes down. Then you can finally drive away!’

Mary Mageau © 2019