A Tale of two Carnivals

Another great North/South divide weekend.  Saturday, Witney, the elegant Oxfordshire hometown of our esteemed-by-some Prime Minister and Sunday, Adlington, the mill and coal town in the West Pennines.

I have visited Witney Carnival for a number of years.  It might even be ten.  It is one of those events that changes little.  I know where my spot is, I have one brief phone call early in the year from the organiser and apart form the gradual aging of all those I meet, and of course of myself, little else changes at Witney, the cornerstone of country conservatism.  I do like the place though.  Mostly in fact because it doesn’t change and the people are friendly and welcoming.  And because it’s the one place I meet up with my oldest friend, Pedro.  Of Pedro’s Travelling Show (www.aurorascarnival.co.uk/pedro.htm).  Pedro and I go way way back, almost to the annals of time.  We lived on the road in the 1970s and toured through Europe, mostly into Portugal, to where Pedro still travels every year. He tells me he is now a firmly-established part of the street scene in Faro where every winter he busks and lives in his lovely converted library bus.  Pedro has lived his whole life on the road. We catch up the year in Witney and reminisce about old times and dream of new ones.  There aren’t many of us left, the travelling shows of that ilk.  But it is always wonderful to see him and share a meal, eaten outside under my awning and watch the Witney sun set over the cricket field.  

Witney carnival is over before it hardly begins.  A two hour frenzy of shows, ice cream and beer (the latter not for me of course!) and then as frantic a pull down as there’s a three and a half hour Northern drive ahead and Adlington Carnival to consider.  A new booking for me, taken through an agent I hardly ever work for.  I am apprehensive as I have had one phone conversation with the Chairman of the Carnival Committee and it filled me with dread and foreboding.  Firstly that he wants me in the arena.  And secondly because he has advertised me in the programme and website as ‘Mr Alexander – clowning around’. His idea and he was rather proud of the phrase I felt.

I don’t know which is worse really. I am NOT an arena act.  I am NOT a clown. There have been two or three times in my forty year career when some uninformed organiser has insisted I go in the arena, putting up the stage somewhere around the perimeter, facing into the space.  They seem to think that at the appropriate moment, they can invite ‘all the kids’ to rush into the arena to see me ‘clown around’.  They don’t, or at any rate those who do feel they are in an alien space and don’t really relax.  The start time is often delayed because arena acts go on longer than planned and there is always a pressure to finish and shoosh the children out again so the dog show can happen.  It’s awful, all round.  Try as I might on the phone I couldn’t persuade the Chairman of all this and the call ended with him virtually demanding that I do it in the arena as they were paying me and it was their call.

And I am not just a children’s show, and certainly not a clown.  As anyone who has seen me will hopefully testify.  I entertain the children and amuse the adults.  Or is it the other way around?  The show is for the child in everyone, including the children.  But ‘clowning around’ it was and in the arena.

Three miles out from Adlington and now 11.00 pm I have a phone call from the Chairman again, checking I am still coming.  I tell him I am nearly there and expect some help with directions onto the field.  Instead he just says that there will be a few laybys I can pull into and he’ll see me in the morning.  Charming.

Come the morning as it does, I pull onto the show field and meet the Field Manager from the Committee.  Luckily he has seen the show elsewhere and agrees that I am not an arena act and between us we find a much more suitable spot alongside, but not in the arena.  It’s picking up.  However, twenty minutes later I hear arguing and notice the Field Manager with an older man gesticulating in my direction.  This must be the Chairman.  I am politeness personified and introduce myself.

“Good Morning, you must be Andrew.  Good to meet you”, extending a hand.

The hand is barely shaken. “Is it?’ (a good morning or good to meet?)

He was still insisting that I move into the arena and was obviously annoyed that the Field Manager had gone over his head.  Eventually with the arena MC and the field manager both suggesting it would be OK where I was, he reluctantly agrees.  “I just don’t want you fooling around (I’d been demoted then from a clown to a fool) while the Emmerdale stars are meeting people in the arena.”

So that was it. For him the whole day was about the actors of Emmerdale, not the support act who would fool around until THEY arrived, then stop on command.

Needless to say, he didn’t even watch either of my shows.  I guess he was too busy showing them around the arena to watch me.

I don’t think I’ll be invited to Adlington Carnival again.  But, as always, I look forward to Witney Carnival 2015 and beyond…

All the best from a road near you,

Mr Alexander

Mr Alexander