Old friends and 17 new ones
Ken Dodd used to talk of his jokes as his old friends and as he thumbed through the hundreds of hand-written notebooks where he kept them all - that it was like meeting them again with such pleasure sometimes after a long time. What a much sadder world it is without him. And all those jokes, ‘Are melted into air, into thin air…….. Leave not a rack behind.’
It’s been four months since I last met the thousands of props and parts which make up my performing life; the pins and bolts which hold the stage together, the tiny workings of magic essential to an illusion, my beautiful painted characters forever held watching my show by the artist’s deft stroke. All my friends. And it’s refreshing to meet them again after so long. I even found myself saying ‘Happy New Year, Sisters’ to the nuns in the painted Stage Right box as I set it all up on the rain-soaked lawn of the stunning Holdenby House in beautiful Northamptonshire for the first gig of the season.
Each part of the three-dimensional jigsaw fits together precisely and forms part of the linear set of instructions which have been buried since November somewhere in the recesses of my memory without being disturbed. And here yet again is that process of probably hundreds, maybe thousands of separate actions, each in the right, the only order. Each one remembered to allow the minimum of wasted journeys across the stage, or up and down the stage steps. And at every step my old friends are there. Their characters defined and recalled; thin pin, fat pin, long pin. Nine thin long pins for this job, four strong thick ones for that.
And tomorrow the ‘hero’ props (the name given to props which make an essential appearance in a film shot, and not just as the dressing of a scene.) In each and every suitcase lies some hidden treasure, untouched by my hand since November (except for one special Southsea wedding earlier this month). And each year there they are, like Ken’s jokes, waiting to make me smile, laugh, gurgle with anticipated pleasure as they hit my hands, raise the muscle memory from long slumber and combine with the best and closest friends of all, my musical score, my beloved playlists, the heartbeat of the shows. And so Doctor Gig works his therapeutic magic on me after a long, cold and black winter.
Some major changes, some good ones, some sad. Let’s deal with the sad ones first. Mimi and Blue will probably not be with me much this year. Mimi had a very bad year last year. She was stood on accidentally, dislocating her hip. I’ve told the story. But although she has recovered from the follow up operation, she has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her front legs too. So she has been in a lot of pain. My best friend, my wife, the lovely Hilary has taken them both on (Mimi can’t be without Blue or vice-versa) and when she comes to a gig they will too but their outings with me will be limited. It is such bittersweet sadness to know that each year of our lives our faithful friends gain seven. Mimi is now nearly 70. Same as me. And so she is taking early retirement. I already miss them both terribly and life will never be quite the same again. But then it never is. And that’s what makes it so fabulous, so enticing, so delicious and so worth celebrating.
Another sad one. Martin, my marvellous accompanist has disappeared from the performing scene. He was always so vulnerable and a genius at his art. The two things went together and the vulnerability has won over, we all hope temporarily. I would love to have him at my side in the show again. (I don’t say that to many performers.) Those who caught those few great gigs we did together will testify. I hope they weren’t his swansong. I will miss him.
But on the plus side, I have 17 new friends. Mr Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Making their debut this season. They need names. Please see them below. Spot Telly Savalas and Charlie Dimmock. Any other suggestions gratefully received and appropriately rewarded. A huge thanks to my artist and friend Rob Symington (he who painted the lorry.) I think a few of them need burgundy rather than blue jackets and dresses. The wardrobe mistress (another good fantasy friend) says she can knock them up before the first May Bank Holiday.
Where would I be without my friends?
All the best from a road near you,