So I’m at the Ilfracombe Victorian Week and it’s all going quite well. One day of bad weather with no shows, but to be honest I needed the day off. Relentless three shows daily for ten days plays havoc with the bones, and of course the cybernetics of the bones; the joints. On the wet day I put it all out, did a ten minute warm up and the rains came. A deluge all day so nothing for it but to put it all away and retreat to the lorry where I fell asleep for three hours and woke not knowing where or who I was.
Somewhere at the back of my mind I remembered it was Cowboy Night. Sounds intriguing? Well I thought so. I knew nothing much about it except that in the past few years at Ilfracombe I had been disturbed by men dressed as cowboys shooting guns along the High Street and terrifying the dogs. So my expectations weren’t high and the only thing which decided me to go was the fact I’d been cooped up all day in the lorry and that I had been told that last year’s was an absolute storming evening.
The event was at the top of town in the Bowling Club. The venue was decidedly inauspicious. No sparkling water and no ice at the bar. Luckily I’d brought my own water as most venues here don’t seem to have sparkling water and it’s about the only drink I take now. But it has ideally to be with loads of ice.
The gathering company of Victorians I knew from this and other events. My good friends Colin and Alice kindly gave me a lift there and it meant I could sit with them. A long dilapidated room with formica tables and chairs down both long sides and a wooden dance floor that had seen better days. A venue from Hades. Anyway I was there and there for the duration as it would be extremely rude to leave. I have to say though I was struggling for my sanity. Colin and Alice tried to keep me buoyant.
The event began. It was masterminded by John and Rosemary Blythe, both like me, enjoying late middle age. He, a joiner apparently, and his wife, who seemed to do a lot of the spade work behind the scenes while he presented the show. It was ever thus. The items on the agenda were motley and bizarre. A quiz about Buffalo Bill that was so difficult and specialised that I didn’t even know one of the answers. Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs. (I kid you not.) A Circassian Circle dance. A peculiar game that entailed throwing mini lassoos over a pole on a treasure chest to pull the contents towards you to win a Lottery ticket. A lucky spin the wheel number game.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not being cynical or cold-hearted about these things. They had a distinct and peculiar charm, especially when all participating were dressed in Victorian Cowboy costumes and the sun was setting over the sea from the window opposite. It was like being in a flashback in a Fellini film. I was beginning to enjoy it as an outsider watching these lovely people and probably realising that, as most of them were of my generation, this was an event that wouldn’t be repeated many more times and once gone would be gone forever.
However the evening’s climax was unexpected, charming and extremely funny. It is difficult to describe, but put simply, our host provided the kit for three teams to build a proscenium arch theatre and all the props, masks, script and instructions to put on a performance of Edward Lear’s wonderful nonsense poem, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. Down to the very last detail of everything required. All in kit form. I cannot tell you how uplifting the ensuing half an hour was. It was funny, charming, endearing, unforgettable, wonderful and extremely British in every positive way as all present laboured in teams to build their theatre and present their oeuvre. My friend Colin has provided a photo and it captures something of the magic of it all.
It was one of those occasions which, when I am lying on my death bed, I shall look back at my life and say ‘I would NEVER have missed that night.’ I will laugh and breathe my last.
All the best from a road near you,