The first tour of the year is now underway and it was great to be back at the Hertfordshire County Show, if only to meet up again with my colleague performer Professor Crump. Paul wouldn’t mind if I said we were both of a similar generation, although actually I think he is considerably younger than me. What I mean is that we have similar attitudes and views of the world we work in; the British Outdoor Entertainment Industry. His view is certainly higher than mine as he performs on stilts with a wonderful array of handmade props; amongst other, a tall bicycle, a huge padded horse on wheels and two rollalong dogs on a stick. His ascerbic witty comments as the Professor are much loved by parents as he engages children with his height and accompanying large persona.
He told me he had been talking to one family about the entertainers at the Hertfordshire Show. The man had said that he thought they very good, but seemed disappointed that all of them were rather old. I guess I must have been included in that observation. I don’t think there’s anything much that can be said about that, but it seems to reflect our society’s attitude to older people. I think though it’s a more of an interesting observation about our business. There seem to be much fewer younger people in this business than there were at one time. Perhaps the natural performers are being called to the more televisual, cinematic and celebrity-culture professions. Perhaps the young don’t see it as a viable profession. Maybe soon discovering a Punch and Judy man, a stilt walking Professor or a Travelling Show at the local gala will be a thing of the past. My DVD title is perhaps hiding a deeper truth.
Over the years Paul and I have met at various annual events and usually spend half an hour or so at the beginning or end of a day swapping thoughts and observations on the bizarre branch of Britain we inhabit. Over the last year he has shared with me an idea he has to write an illustrated history of stilt walking. It hasn’t been done and he is the person to write it. I think it should be very successful and he has just found a publisher after a year of writing letters and receiving polite refusals. As part of the deal he has to buy a number of them and sell them personally. We shared experiences of selling things at the side of shows, a long tradition in our business.
Paul told me he had recently heard of an old guy who lived locally who had written a book about the History of British Railways and could often be seen at the large railway stations selling his book. Paul had decided to seek him out to see what experiences of personal bookselling he might have to offer. He was also quite curious about the character who had something of a reputation for the urgency with which he buttonholed passers-by.
He called at the guy’s house only to discover that he had been recently taken into a hospice, also locally. He called round to visit the man, now declining with dementia. And there on his bedside table was a pile of his railway books. He had obviously brought them in with him, determined to carry on selling to the very end.
Perhaps Paul and I will have beds beside each other in the Old Entertainers’ Hospice. He with a pile of stilt walking history books, me with a pile of DVDs, the British Outdoor Entertainment business as much a part of history as British Railways.
All the best from a road near you,