The Blue Angel, Chapter 5

Clara was sweating. This was most definitely sweat. Rivulets of moisture cascaded down her arms and back, aided by the ludicrously inappropriate travelling clothes she was still wearing. Growing up, her mother had always told her that ladies did not sweat, they perspired. No, that was wrong; horses sweat, gentlemen perspired, ladies glowed. That was it. Clara was glad her mother were not here to see she had transformed into a five foot horse. Ladies from Meltcham and the surrounding areas ideally should emit as few bodily fluids as humanly possible, especially in public. Clara had grown up trying her best to take up as little space on the planet as she could, and yet here she was flinging her arms wide, creating arcs of perspiration – no, sweat – that flew into the air out and away from her like so many colourless rainbows. At the very least, all this unexpected physical exertion was sobering her up. After the third time of running the dance routine, Clara began to realise it was she that was holding back the assembled cast. On the stage, spread out evenly as per Betty’s instructions, and all suitably attired in work-out gear, some with parts of their costume already employed, the throng of dancing girls she had encountered in the pokey little dressing room didn’t seem all that numerous after all. From her vantage point at the very back of the stage, almost entirely obscured by the feather fans of the other girls, she counted five dancers including herself. Not that Clara was any kind of dancer. Nevertheless, people were being generally polite, for now. Various interjections ranging from ‘You’ll get the hang of it.’ to ‘Who’s the dud with no left feet?’ had punctured the last, what was it, half an hour. More? The three-piece band included Troy of the ghostly trumpet strains – who was in fact the current drummer – and his grandfather Fingers, who must have been the oldest working musician in England and who never missed a beat – unlike Clara –, in spite of his playing an impressive array of wind instruments and being ninety if he was a day. At the baby grand was the band leader, a very slim, very tall and very calm man in his forties, Clara would guess, with sandy blonde hair which he was continually flicking out of his eyes, when he wasn’t pushing his small, round tortoiseshell glasses back up the bridge of his nose. The trio of musicians were boosted by something Betty referred to as ‘the track’, which offered recorded support from the sound desk. Operated by Willie, encased within a tiny little cupboard with a perspex window, the sound desk and its operator were situated the furthest point from Clara whilst still being in the auditorium, and looked out across the tiered tables and chairs, now clear of glasses, ashtrays and the general detritus of last night’s shows. If Clara could barely see Willie crammed within the sound booth like an over-stuffed armchair, Willie – replete with headphones – could most definitely see and hear everything going on on-stage, she was assured by a red-head in front of her who answered to the name of Lola.
Lola, Betty – who it turned out was ‘Betsy’ to her fans –, the erstwhile Kittie. Clara was beginning to realise why she might want to divorce herself from the name ‘Clara Pin’.
“Pardon me. Where are all the gentlemen?” She ventured to her new neighbour, convinced that male body parts had formed part of the dressing room throng earlier.
“The boys are the spesh acts. They don’t do the group numbers. Some of them won’t even be back by the time the show starts,” informed a gum-chewing Lola, whilst displaying an impressive set of back molars for the duration of her speech.
“Why ever not?” Clara felt sure this was a rather laissez faire attitude, in spite of her total lack of knowledge of the world of theatre in general and nightclub entertainment in particular. Lola treated her to a three-hundred and sixty degree tour of her mouth before slowly answering,
“‘Cos they’re performing in two or three other joints tonight, Toots. They’re where the money’s at.”
As well as Lola the redhead, she was flanked by a Fifi and a Ginger. Surely these were the sort of names one gave one’s pets? Didn’t Cook have a moggy called Ginger? Yes, a massive Tom Cat which her Grandmama’s Bichon Frise, Fifi, had detested! Perhaps Clara was dreaming all this? For the second time since entering this curious world, she began to feel like Alice. The pair Clara Pin now found herself sandwiched between seemed to share not just the animals’ names, but a similar rivalry too. Clara Pin. What a ridiculous specimen she must seem to these impossible beauties. Clara Pin was an ageing librarian with pince-nez and a bun. Clara Pin was a dowager aunt. Clara Pin was considering a sensible pair of ladies brogues. No! Those were the nightmares her parents foisted upon her. Those were the stings and jibes her gadabout brother Freddie laid at her door. ‘Well, look at your Clara Pin now, Freddie!’ Clara dared to think as she attempted a pirouette, lost her footing and fell into the drum kit.
“Careful not to injure yourself on your first day, Missy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint’. Troy gave her a wink as he kindly helped her to her feet.
“Betty, we’re getting close to our statutory break.” the sandy-haired band leader spoke up.
“Sandy’s right” agreed Betty, hands on her perfectly slender hips, encased in a wrap-around dress. So his name was Sandy too. But Ginger was not the red-head. This place!
“Statutory break?” boomed Quentin Treadwell “Statutory break!? Only from a muso would you hear such blasphemy!” He had been waiting for his entrance at the side of the stage for the past thirty minutes or more, but they had failed to make it as far into the routine as that. “Some of us have been working here!” He glowered in the general direction of the band, as if to suggest that their ability to play and sit down at the same time were somehow idleness on their part. Sandy held his hands up in surrender, having presumably been around long enough not to tangle with a crotchety Master of Ceremonies.
“Betty, why have I been dragged away from vital preparations for this evening to attend an unscheduled rehearsal, only to stand in the corner like a wilting Aspidistra dying of thirst?” The most petite of the showgirls took this as her cue and trotted over to the abandoned bar to fix her idol a drink. “Bless you for that Sukki my darling,” he demurred. Sukki? Oh, for heavens sake!
“Really, Betty, this is too much – the floor staff will be back to set up the tables in before long” continued Treadwell.
“Yeah, some of us have missed our dinner break for this” declared the gum-chewing Lola, pointedly.
Treadwell persisted “I really must insist on some form of resus.”
“Recess.” offered Sukki.
“Recess.”
Betty, stood between the stage and the raised tiers of tables and chairs, clapped her hands with finality. “Alright, everybody take five. That’s five – not fifteen!’
Clara watched as people scattered in every direction – the band were slipping down a gap between the stage and the back wall to spaces unknown to the newcomer. Willie had vanished from the sound desk no sooner had Betty finished clapping. Quentin Treadwell and his lapdog Sukki had crossed the floor and gravitated towards the bar, swiftly slipping into the stock room beyond. Lola and Fifi were making for the dressing rooms now via the wide double doors which separated staff and clientele, whilst Ginger took advantage of the extra stage space and dropped into the splits, beginning an elaborate series of stretches that seemed to Clara to be both impossible and highly unnecessary. She thought of Cook’s cat once more, licking itself beside the Aga, daring you to object with its green glass eyes. Clara met Betty at the lip of the stage. “I’m terribly sorry. I am trying, honestly”
“It’s not your fault. You’re getting us out of a bind, here. Clearly you’re more suited to comedy”
Clara’s eye twitched. “But can’t you take Ruthie’s place in the opening number? I don’t think I…”
“I’ve got a solo routine in a totally different costume immediately afterwards. It’s the only way the running order works. We’re limited to how much we can change without mucking up the spesh acts appearances in other venues across town.”
“Yes, of course. The spesh acts.” Clara nodded sagely, trying to sound as if this was not her first time in a cabaret club, let alone on a stage of any kind.
“You do understand that tonight is an important event for us? Old Ma Lewis is in.” Continued Betty.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Old Ma Lewis is the owner of this place.
“I thought you said Quentin was the boss?”
“Lewis is a very hands-off owner. The money. We only ever see her when there’s a problem.”
“Oh my. But what could possibly be wrong?”
“A long-running show like this doesn’t get reviews any longer unless there’s a major shake-up of cast or a refurbishment, and we have had either for a decade at least.”
“I should imagine Mr Treadwell commands his fair share of attention from the press, after thirty years?”asked a wide-eyed Clara.
Betty tinkled her tinkling bell laugh for the longest period Clara had witnessed yet, before declaring flatly, “No.”
“I see. So it’s money.” deduced Clara.
“It’s money.” agreed Betty.
Just as Betty seemed about to say more, Lola the gum-chewer flew through the double-doors leading to the dressing rooms, a look of panic in her usually doe-like eyes.
“Betty, you’ve got to come, quickly. It’s Ruthie.” she insisted.
“Not again!” sighed Betty, “Do we need the Lucozade?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” said Lola, deadpan. “She’s dead.”


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.

The Blue Angel, Chapter 4

With Betty dispatched to search for ‘bubbly wine’, Treadwell began fussing about looking for glasses in the adjoining room, whilst Clara took the opportunity to take in her surroundings more clearly. Faded posters of a younger Quentin Treadwell peeled away from the wall. A threadbare hand towel which might once have been described as ‘avocado’ was spread out on the one long work surface. On this were make up brushes and little pots of colour laid out with the precision of a surgeon, their lids open expectantly like baby birds waiting to be fed. An orderly row of elaborate jackets filled one wall; velvet jackets, sequinned jackets, jackets with feathers sprouting from the shoulders. Was this cubbyhole really all the man had to show for thirty years at the apparent top of his game?
“Turkey,” announced Treadwell, appearing in the doorway like an illusionist, and brandishing a bottle, a champagne coupe and a jam jar.
“I’m sorry?”
“Feathers, dear girl. Always use turkey. I swear by them,” he passed her the jam jar. “Have you visited Paris?”
“Errr, yes. With my mother when I was thirteen years old.”
“I was taught by the concierge of the Moulin Rouge that when tasting champagne, to take lingering sips. Let the bubbles dance on your tongue,” he uncorked the bottle, “don’t do that with this.” he commanded emphatically. “Ideally it should not touch any part of your mouth. You may also want to hold your nose.”
“You performed at the Moulin Rouge?” Clara was suitably impressed.
“For nine glorious months.” Treadwell poured the wine, “you’re sitting underneath the handbill.”
Clara turned and focused on an elaborately designed advert featuring a much younger Treadwell in a small star on the bottom left-hand corner. The poignancy of it made her quite bold, “Here’s to you,” she offered, holding her jam jar aloft.
“May your medicine never poison,” countered a quietly impressed Treadwell.
They drank. Clara attempted to suppress a wince as the gut-rot hit her insides.
“Have another glug, you need to work it around your intestines a bit,” offered the man, clearly amused. “Now, you must tell me all about your incorrigible aunt and her adventures since we tread the boards together.”
It was at that moment the pair became aware of six pair of eyes creeping around the door-frame to witness the extraordinary sight of their usually guarded star chatting cosily with a complete stranger. “Push that door to, would you?” said Treadwell.
Clara obediently pushed the door without taking her eyes off her new confidante.
A bloodcurdling scream ensued from the other side of the door. Various unknown voices ramped up the drama,
“She’s trapped her fingers!”
“Who has?”
“It’s Ruthie! Get the…”
“I don’t want any bloody Lucozade!”
Horrified at being the cause of Ruthie’s suffering, Clara’s hand – still encase in a grey kid glove – shot up to her mouth. “Should we see if she’s alright?”
“Ruthie? She thrives on drama, dear. Where were we? Oh yes, your aunt.”
Still reeling from this latest catastrophe, Clara took another large gulp of wine and swallowed hard, “My aunt is very well, thank you. She has been back in the family homestead of Meltcham for nigh on twenty years now, and is proprietress of a very well-respected shop of antiquities; curiosities, that type of thing. And my aunt. Well, my aunt told me to come here. She didn’t say I’d be meeting you. She didn’t mention you at all, just said to ask for William Tell, which I suppose I thought was a joke or a nickname or, oh, I don’t know what I thought. I don’t know what I was thinking! Getting on a train and coming to London without so much as a by your leave. I’ve never even been to Upper Crumping unsupervised. Lower Crumping, yes, but never Upper! I just had to get away, you see, I simply had to, and one hasn’t always been able to talk to mother or father the way that one can with aunt Terri. And so, when it happened, well…when it all came out…I’m so sorry am I talking too much?”, the light-headed girl took another slug of wine and stared intently at her host.
Without taking his eyes from hers, Quentin Treadwell reached forward and took the half-empty jam jar from the reeling girl and placed in out of her reach. After what seemed like an eternity, he opened his mouth and spoke, “She didn’t mention me. At all?”
Just as Clara was about to attempt a reply, there was a knock at the door and Betty appeared almost simultaneously. She was not tinkling.
“Quentin, I’m so dreadfully sorry to barge in like this but we need you on stage.”
“Now? Whatever for? The doors don’t open for another two hours!”
Betty carefully broached the subject, “Ruthie can’t do the fan-dance section of the opening number. Her fingers are in a real state” it was all the blonde girl could do to keep her eyes from darting towards Clara. “We shall have to rehearse in one of the new girls and we simply can’t do that without you.”
“But Old Ma Lewis is in tonight!”
“I know.”
“The show must be of the highest standard!”
“I know. And Kittie’s just walked out.”
“And Kittie’s just walked out!” parroted Quentin Treadwell, as he shot out of his chair and wrapped his satin robe so tightly you’d think his life depended upon it. “Lead on, MacDuff!” He commanded Betty, who relieved him of his champagne coupe and slipped out of the room again. Treadwell paused to turn to his guest, peering down at the perplexed – and now rather drunk – girl. “Come along,” he said, “you’re coming with me.” and he marched out of the cubbyhole towards the stage. Clara Pin jumped up and trotted behind him, trying not to bump into bit of costume and props, the adjoining room deserted of people now.
“Me? But what use can I be!” she exclaimed.
“We’re two men down. Well, women…”
“Oh dear. That is a pity. Perhaps it would be best if you cancelled tonight’s show? What is the show, exactly?”, Clara reeled.
Treadwell spun around so abruptly he almost knocked a flat of scenery from its hinges “Cancel the show?!”, he cried, as the flat swung violently towards Clara, who was swaying a little herself now. “CANCEL THE SHOW?!”, the man bellowed as two showgirls in bra and pants ran for cover.
“Young lady, for three decades now I have presided over the room you are about to enter twice a night, Wednesday through Sunday, and not once have we cancelled the show. Not when the roof was caving in, not during the three day week, not even when Liza got gout.”
At that moment a distraught Ruthie ran through the hallway, having just been broken the bad news of her demotion. She stopped short in front of the unlikely pair, like a rat caught in a trap, glared at Clara Pin and then wailed as she ran off in the direction of the dressing room. Treadwell forged on with his tirade. “You will be taking Ruthie’s place in the opening number.”
“But, I…!”
“You will be standing in for Kittie’s solo with your juggling routine.”
“But I don’t have a…”
“And together,” Treadwell, changing tack now, cupped a surprisingly tender hand on the girls trembling chin “we shall ensure that the show will go on! I trust there is nothing ambidextrous about what I’ve said?”
Clara’s left eye twitched an infinitesimal twitch. She swallowed hard, “Nothing ambidextrous, whatsoever.”
Treadwell bent down and beamed a breathtaking smile, “Clara Pin, you’re in the show.”


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.

The Blue Angel, Chapter 3

As if on cue, a chair of studded satin to match the door spun around, dragging ‘The Boss’ away from his own reflection and towards the overladen Clara swaying in the doorway.
“Has he come with that stuff yet, Kittie darling? I simply can’t keep going until four in the A.M. without it. Oh. You’re not Kittie.”
“Kittie’s gone.” Betty informed the man. “Stormed out.”
“Ah well. Good riddance to the old moggy. Who’s this? Have you got my stuff?” he demanded.
It was at exactly this point that Clara finally lost her balance, letting go in one clattering cascade the vanity case, pen, notepad, handrail – which she was inexplicably still clutching – and, as a grand finale whilst dipping down to save the lot, her pink cloche hat, still perched on the side of her head, fell on top of the whole offering, now piled by the man’s slippered feet.
“Juggling act is it?” He responded, without missing a beat, “Needs some work.”
“Oh, Quentin, you are incorrigible!” sparkled Betty “This is Clara Pin” she tinkled a laugh.
Quentin turned to the newcomer “Are you married to that?”
“Why does everyone keep asking that?” blurted Clara before she could stop herself. It had been quite a day.
Betty gasped as the man’s eyebrows flew up towards his receding hairline. A bejewelled hand simultaneously slapped his exposed breastbone in shock. All noise from the overcrowded adjoining dressing room seemed to cease; if they had been playing billiards at that moment, the balls would surely have stopped mid-roll. The man slowly rose out of his satin throne unfolding his full 6 foot 2inches in height – age had knocked an inch off at some point in the previous decade – and peered piercing blue eyes upon the diminutive upstart.
Who is this old queen? Clara thought to herself.
“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you who I am,” he said. A side-eye to Betty and a tinkle from she, “But Quentin Treadwell is not in the habit of being addressed in such an inseamly manner.”
“Unseemly” prompted Betty
“Unseemly manner” Treadwell forged on, unperturbed, “After thirty years as the undisputed Master of Ceremonies of the world-famous Blue Angel club, I should think I might be afforded a little more respect from a two-bit juggler in a hat like a Blancmange. So, given that it is becoming increasingly unlikely that you are here to deliver my cocaine, may I be so bold as to ask what business you have bothering the world’s seventh most successful cabaret performer in history?
“Seventh?” Betty queried.
“Eighth if you include Marlene” sighed Treadwell, dramatically “Well?”
Clara swallowed hard, and stubbornly dug her hands deep into the pockets of her overcoat as she had done since she was a child whenever she felt cornered. Not quite sure where she was or what had happened to her since disembarking the train earlier that day, she was close to tears now for want of some clarity.
“We’re waiting,” said the man.
Just at that moment, Clara’s fingers brushed a small piece of thick, good quality card inside her overcoat pocket.
“My aunt sent me!” she abruptly announced, brandishing aloft the matchbook that bore on its front the iconic image of an azure winged goddess, matching that of the sign over the establishments door; The Blue Angel herself. On the flip-side of the matchbook was Aunt Terri’s unmistakable – but very easy to mistake – scrawl bearing the landmarks address.
“Your aunt” snorted a perplexed Quentin Treadwell, for whom sentimentality over blood relatives was anathema.
“Yes. My Aunt Terri. Terri Carr.” replied Clara, sounding for all the world as if she had got a question wrong on a pop quiz, and secretly fearing as much.
“Carr? Pin? Would it kill your local clergy to stay sober long enough to baptise two syllables?” quipped Treadwell unkindly. “Wait! Terri Carr. Terri Carr…”
The old man’s demeanour suddenly altered and a wide, beaming smile spread slowly across his lined face. Clara noticed with even more clarity the thick pan-stick foundation, – presumably left over from yesterday’s performance of whatever this was – dried up in the creases of his increasingly welcoming visage.
“You’re the niece of my old comedy partner, Terri The Turn?” clarified Treadwell.
“I suppose so.” replied Clara, non-plussed all over again.
“Well now, this calls for a celebration! Come in, my dear! Betty, fetch the bubbly wine!”


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.

The Blue Angel, Chapter 2

It was dark for a time, but Clara steeled herself and followed her new guide and the ever-increasing strains of a trumpet in pain. Seeming to read her mind, the sofa explained “That’s Troy. We’re training him up to take over from his grandfather, Fingers, but he’s a way to go yet. Give it a rest Troy, the girls can’t put their lashes on straight!” bellowed the leathery one as the two of them finally entered a pool of light. Clara found herself standing on a rickety, makeshift platform surrounded by ropes and pulleys, high above a large open-plan room filled with chairs and tables, a perfectly shaped oval dais with a baby grand piano in the centre of it dominated one wall with doors either side.
“This is The Blue Angel” pronounced Willie proudly, puffing out their chest.
Clara looked again at the vast room below. She saw overflowing ashtrays, piles of filthy glasses, sat astride one of the banquets a homely looking girl was swearing like a sailor as she tried to mend a whale-net stocking. Many of the blue plush seats – that unmistakeable blue again – were ripped and torn and held together with gaffer tape and there was, she was sure, an overwhelming smell of gin caught in the (sapphire?) drapes, or perhaps that was simply the power of suggestion.
“This ain’t the Blue Angel” declared a voice the other end of the gangway “The Blue Angel only exists between midnight and dawn. This is the wreck of the Hesperus.”
Clara tore her eyes away from the sight of the wreckage below to see a smiling girl with blonde ringlets, wrapped in a silk floral robe. The girl seemed to have been transported directly from the pages of a 1950s magazine, with her perfectly coiffured curls and doll-like, made up face. Her kitten heels sported delicate pom-poms of fluff, as if she were permanently kicking a pair of powder puffs ahead of her to the muted sound of a delicate ‘poof’, but that aside, she seemed at that moment the most normal and friendly-looking creature Clara had seen since she had boarded the train in Meltcham.
“That was quick work, Willie. Kittie’s only just stormed out the door”
“As one whore closes another one opens.”
“William, really. You shall have this poor dear thinking us a house of ill repute” the girl turned her attention to an increasingly shell-shocked Clara. “I’m Betty. I’m in charge of all the new girls – unofficially. And what’s your name my dear?”
Clara steeled herself. Somehow, it seemed important to make a good impression on this kind looking girl who represented some form of normality.
“PinClaraClaraPin.” The words tumbled out. Breathing out, she tried again “Clara Pin. That’s it. Clara Pin.” I really must pull myself together, she inwardly chided.
“Are ya sure?” chuckled the sofa
“It seems a few pins tumbled out onto the floor there”, the blonde girls laugh was like the tinkling of a small crystal bell.
“Best not stay up here any longer than necessary” said Willie, squeezing past Clara with their enormous bosom and disappearing into the cavernous darkness from which they had just come.
“He’s right about that” said Betty “The weight of all three of us up here could make the whole structure collapse.”
“Oh dear!” exclaimed Clara
“Wouldn’t want you to break your neck on your first day, would we?” that smile again.
“No, quite. Um, you said ‘he’”
“Did I? How frightfully binary of me. Now look, it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from. It doesn’t matter why you’re here. It doesn’t matter – ‘Clara Pin’ – who you were. What matters is you’ve found us.”
“Right.”
Betty delicately placed a perfectly manicured hand on Clara’s shoulder “You’re home now. We’re family. Don’t ask, don’t tell. That’s our motto.”
“Isn’t that prison?”
“You said it, not me,” that tinkling bell laugh again “May your medicine never poison.”
Clara riffled in her bag and fished out a notepad, as Betty forged ahead “Clara Pin. Are you married to that?”
“Sorry?”
“As a name.”
“Well, I’ve had it for some time now…”
“Don’t tell me your age,” Betty interrupted “not unless it’s pertinent to your act. What are you doing?”
The pair had reached the end of the gangway, and Clara had managed to flip open her notepad and find her favourite pen “I thought I’d take some notes. What did you say about poison?”
“You are funny. Is that the act? I do think a show can suffer from too many performances that are pure aesthetic.” Betty flashed a winning smile and cocked her head “Shall we go and meet the boss?”, and with that she pushed open another mysterious door and led Clara down some perilous-looking steps.
“Willie isn’t the boss?” Asked a confused Clara as she grasped for a handrail that was no longer in working order.
“Oh, he’d like to think so. They! Sorry.” Betty turned to her and frowned. “Did you mean to bring that piece of handrail with you?”
Just as Clara was juggling with an answer, along with her bag, notepad, pen and newly acquired handrail – all whilst trying to keep her increasingly unruly hat in place, Betty pushed open a door and the pair were confronted with a swell of half-naked bodies in a room too small for the sheer amount of them. Mirrors lined the walls, but these ones were all of a type and punctuated with bare bulbs in wire cages around their edges. At the foot of each mirror were long work benches bolted to the wall and strewn with all manner of detritus, from make-up to sandwiches, overflowing ashtrays to, what was that? Something vaguely phallic, thought Clara. A feather boa was strewn over one looking glass and swishing perilously close to a bare bulb; this whole place was a death trap!
Betty clapped her hands “Everybody! This is Clara Pin. Clara Pin, this is everybody.” She moved through the sea of bodies with Clara close behind. Nobody looked up. There was a general chorus of murmured ‘Hello’, but nobody much cared. These lithe, beautiful bodies had seen many others come and go in their time. One girl, in the middle of a delicate operation with a wooden spatula and some pink goo looked up to acknowledge Clara’s existence at precisely the wrong moment. A curdling scream rang out.
“What was that?”
“It’s Ruthie! Get the Lucozade…”
“I’ve scorched me Nancy, what the blood hell use is Lucozade gonna be?!”
General shrugs of disinterest. ‘Ruthie’ glowered at the newcomer and Clara sensed she may have just made an enemy for life. Before she could apologise Betty swung open a studded satin door with a flourish, dragging Clara’s attention away from Ruthie’s nether-regions.
“This” declared Betty, in what Clara would later find out was her best ‘For the cheap seats’ voice, “Is the boss.”


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.

The Blue Angel, Chapter 1

Clara Pin stalked down the train station platform, grasping a vanity case in one gloved hand and adjusting the seam of her nylons with the other. The journey from Meltcham had been a tedious affair, too misty to see anything much of the changing countryside, and a rather bilious woman in tweed who had insisted on squeezing herself into the same carriage. She had proceeded to dissect her squashed fly biscuits most of the way to London, explaining – not that Clara wished to know – that she ‘wasn’t keen’ on the fly part. The mist had eventually given way to a dense blanket of fog as they crawled slower and slower towards Kings Cross, as if the weather were some portent of pending doom, wary of what might greet them. But now she was out on what she assumed was a bustling London street, the fog having swallowed everything around her seemed even to suffocate the noise of traffic on the roads. She fished in her pocket for the matchbook her Aunt Terri had given her and tried to decipher the address left on the back in her spidery scrawl. Really, if she had not so clearly been destined for the arts then her Auntie most certainly would have been welcomed with open arms into the medical profession, such was her penmanship. Neon signs were the only thing that penetrated the fog that evening, some of them bolted to the sides of sandwich bars and late-night tobacconists, some swimming in the gutter by her increasingly spoiled heels. It seemed to be forever and just as many wrong turns before Clara found, by luck more than anything else, the stairwell she was looking for. The blue neon sign at the top depicted a winged goddess with an arrow pointing downwards, and as Clara obediently descended the steps, the sounds of a jazz trumpet swam up to meet her. At the bottom of the steps was a door the same colour as the goddess above, intermittently illuminated by a flickering beam. What kind of blue was it? More vibrant than duck egg, less arresting than corn-flower. A very particular blue, it was. Now at the bottom of the steps, Clara reached for the handle as the door swung open violently, propelling her against the stairwell wall in a fluster of gloves, vanity case and cloche hat.
“And you can tell Old Ma Lewis to shove her lousy job!” yelled a stunning beauty with a severe black bob as she shrugged on a fur coat to cover her underwear. The cat then turned on Clara “And Whaddayouwant?” she demanded, squaring off to her with no attempt to begin buttoning the coat. “Er. Mr. Tell. William Tell?” sputtered Clara.
“Mister? Sure!” The cat yelled over her shoulder “Willie! Fresh meat! Follow the smell of gin and desperation. Good luck, Kid, you’re gonna need it.” and with that she bounced up the steps, her coat flapping wide of her, and disappeared into the fog.

Clara caught the door before it could shut again and found herself in a long thin corridor lined with mirrors. Framed in gilt and jutted close up against the next, the high, thin sheets of glass seemed to squeak, filling both sides of the room. As Clara cautiously made her way down the plush blue carpet – peacock, would you call it? – beneath her feet, each pane reflected back to her a grotesque distortion of the young woman she knew herself to be; here was a ludicrously bulbous Clara, all squat and fat but with a reed thin neck you could snap like a twig. Then came a Clara with legs six-foot long, a concertinaed torso and a melting face and hat, and on and on as she encountered the mirrors down the hallway, each one more bizarre and un-nerving than the next. Was this right? Surely her Aunt had been mistaken? Or a joke, perhaps? Was the fog just confusing…
“Yes?”
She realised she had somehow come to the end of the corridor, gripping and clawing her way along the wall like some ridiculous heroin in a tacky B-movie, and standing before her now in plus-fours and a chequered waistcoat, was a woman with the biggest bosom she had ever encountered. Even bigger than Cook two cooks ago, and hers was massive!
“Can I help you?” the woman demanded in a voice of leather and whiskey.
“Hello. Yes. I hope so. I’m looking for a William Tell”
“I’m Willie Tell”
“Mr. William Tell” clarified Clara
“That part’s debatable” croaked the leathery one, producing a pipe and stuffing fat fingers of tobacco into it. “What’s the story then? Up the duff? On the run? Actually a Russian Countess? Out with it, I’ve got a show to run.”
Clara faltered, “Story?”
“All the girls have got one – most of them more far-fetched than their costumes”
“Costumes?”
“Is there an echo in here?”
“Echo?”
The plump leather armchair stared at the flustered girl for a moment and then bellowed the deepest and heartiest laugh Clara had ever heard. “You’ll fit in well. P’raps we can find you a comedy skit in the early show. Come on, Fanny Brice, this way.”
And with that, the armchair turned on one enormous leg and was engulfed by darkness. Clara, who was beginning to feel very much like Alice and starting to wonder if she had indeed fallen through a looking glass in that hall, clutched her vanity case close to her chest, pushed her pink cloche hat hard onto her head and, taking a deep breath, disappeared into the blackness beyond.


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.

Working With Me Friend

So, I think I may have mentioned that I’ve been creating a brand-new show about Victoria Wood, entitled LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND. No? I do hide my light under a bushel don’t I boys and girls?

Anyhow, what you may not be aware of is who I have been making the show with…


Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne

This is Sarah-Louise Young, pictured above with myself whilst on a photoshoot with Steve Ullathorne earlier this year.

Sarah and I have known one another since we were 13 years old, growing up in Kent. When I put on my first cabaret event at the age of 15, Sarah was there in the show too. In one of our annual charity events she even hosted the show in the style of Susie Blake’s announcer from Victoria Wood As Seen On TV, utilising Vic’s wonderful sketches for that character. Sarah has had great success creating and performing in shows about real people – ‘Julie, Madly, Deeply‘ (about Julie Andrews) has been seen in Australia, America and India to name just three, and had a West-End run at the Trafalgar Studios as well. Her current hit show ‘An Evening Without Kate Bush’ was due to return to the Edinburgh Festival for the second year running, until recent news of the festivals cancellation this year, due to Corona Virus.


Photo credit: Gabrielle Motola with thanks to Richard Carroll & Seabright Productions for artwork

So, when i decided that I would like to create a one-person show based on the life and work of a real person, who better than to ask my friend of %$%$ years who had already done it twice herself?

Since September, Sarah has help my hand every step of the way, from Research and Development to our initial Sharing in October to more RnD and changes, to the first Preview in February and helping to spread the word so I had a mammoth ten Edinburgh previews lined up (sadly, many of which already cancelled due to COVID-19). Not least of all, Sarah has proved generous and knowledgeable about the Edinburgh Festival itself, having taken shows up there countless times since the late 90s.


Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne

Sarah and I have been in touch regularly during this period of isolation, and work on the show continues – even with no sure date in sight for it being performed.

If this lockdown has taught me anything about my career as a creative it is that, aside from one’s ambition, desires, drive and ego – none of which are real anyway, and all of which need to be kept in check regularly, like a bunch of unruly children – the real joy of making something with people whom you respect and value, is the journey you go on together and the laughs, fun and adventure that it holds.

Thank you Sarah-Louise, for believing in me and agreeing to go on this journey together. LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND would be a lot less of an experience if I weren’t making it with one.

National Two Soups Day

On 20th April I was due to be performing my Victoria Wood show ‘LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND’ for the second time, but COVID-19 has had other ideas. By complete coincidence, I discovered after booking my venue that this is also the fourth anniversary of the death of that same beloved entertainer, who left us in 2016 along with Alan Rickman, Prince & David Bowie, to name just three.

So I’ve come up with an idea to make this and all future 20th April’s NATIONAL TWO SOUPS day where the country celebrates the comedy genius of Victoria Wood by having soup for lunch or dinner and re-enacting Julie Walters’ waitress character in Victoria’s classic British comedy sketch, co-starring Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston.

If you’d like to get involved and mark the occasion then please join our Facebook event, hosted by the ’Looking For Me Friend’ Facebook Group.

I’ve already heard from many Vic fans of how they are going to take the opportunity to have Skype or Zoom parties with the person/s that introduced them to Victoria in the first place. The community are decided whether to have tinned soup or home-made and preparing their lockdown shopping lists accordingly.

I’m even in talks with other entertainers who have Vic-based shows and encouraging them to take part with a special video message of songs or sketches, and welcome hearing from many more – so please do spread the word!

We may not be able to be together at present, but hopefully this event will give us an opportunity to connect with old friends and loved ones, to so something silly and lighthearted and to remember the joy and laughter given to us by a National Treasure.

No tip?

Bastards.

The Edinburgh Festival, Victoria Wood & Me

Yesterday it was announced that the Edinburgh Festival 2020, will not go ahead due to the Corona Virus Pandemic. I was five months in to a very in-depth plan to take a brand-new show celebrating the life & work of the late, great Victoria Wood to the city this August, as part of the PBH Free Fringe, with an ambitious – but much anticipated – ten previews in London, Birmingham, Cambridge and Hastings of the show beforehand.

In the past three weeks, I have seen each of those preview opportunities and now the big 23 dates in Edinburgh  – at the Ballroom in the much-loved Voodoo Rooms; arguably the best Free Fringe venue in the city, which I lobbied HARD for – all taken away from me by COVID-19.

Like countless other performers, producers and promoters, this pandemic has robbed me of thousands of pounds worth of income as a self-employed creative, and there was a very scary week or so there when we didn’t even know if any support or relief was coming from our government; what has since been put in to place has still seen certain people fall through the cracks, eligible for nothing or very little.

I have had very dark days, asking why I would ever want to rebuild if a society treats its self-employed thus – as an afterthought, as secondary to the employed. Ignoring the enormous contribution we make to keeping the economy moving with the resources we employ, staff we enlist, venues we book etc etc.

At time of publishing, OUT OF HAND, the outdoor advertising company that holds the monopoly on advertising outdoors in Edinburgh during the festival, is retaining 10% of my full fees paid to them for my poster distribution for a festival that cannot happen, having done nothing more than process a payment. This payment was made only in response to their loud, insistent countdown to the opening day of their sales for the festival, insisting that there were only a limited amount of places available and to get in quick. Hours after their reaction to the festival being cancelled, it feels very much like a kick in the teeth to all their clients, past and future.

I do not know what the future holds for my show LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND: THE MUSIC OF VICTORIA WOOD. Until such time as people can congregate again, it will be an online community – one that is growing fast, such is the love and adoration for our friend, Victoria. In just four month our Facebook group of the same name has grown to over 1K members, all sharing quotes, favourite YouTube links, silly pics and memories of laughter. If that is what I am to do with my days until further notice, I can think of not much better, given the circumstances.

As for Edinburgh, maybe I will be there next Summer and maybe I will be touring around the country with the show, and maybe I’ll be in the poor house. Time will tell.

Discovering Victoria Wood

I’m always intrigued at what age a person discovered Victoria Wood, and where she was at in her career during that same time. I’ve come to realise that, for the most part, people can be split into four different categories;

Category 1: Victoria Wood As Seen On TV
First airing on Monday nights in January in 1985 on BBC2 at 9pm, VWASOTV was my first experience of Vic, and I enjoyed her with my sister and my Mum. It is a rare thing to find a television programme that you can watch with your children – especially when they are 8 years apart in age – and each of you stay engaged and find it funny; but with VWASOTV that is exactly what Vic achieved – at least in our house.

Category 2: An Audience With Victoria Wood
If VWASOTV did not penetrate your psyche, then there was a chance for viewers of ‘the other channel’ to join the club with this 1988 production from LWT, which Victoria recorded in front of a celebrity studio audience whilst six months pregnant with her first child (she kept this secret from all but her nearest and dearest, and her clever choice of outfit for the show helped to hide the secret). A one-off special, this saw us first meet Kimberley’s beret-wearing mate and brought the mammoth hit Freda & Barry (known to most of us as ‘Let’s Do It’) to our attention.

Category 3: dinnerladies
Victoria Wood’s sitcom set in the canteen of a busy factory in the North of England was dogged by contrast competition from fellow northern lass Caroline Aherne’s The Royle Family for both ratings and awards, when they both appeared on the BBC at the turn of the century. However, in the following 20 years, dinnerladies has proven itself to be a slow burn with the British public, not least of all due to constant replays on UK Gold, Yesterday and other channels dedicated to repeating classics. Crucially, there are many lovers of dinnerladies who are too young to remember any of her other significant output or indeed Victoria herself when she was alive.

Category 4: The Early Adopters
There is a final category of people – and I am not included amongst them – who have been championing Vic and her work for much further back; whether that be 1982’s Granada sketch show Wood & Walters, her plays Talent, Good Fun, Happy Since I Met You & Nearly A Happy Ending; her appearances on That’s Life or even her competing on New Faces in the Seventies. To these die-hard fans, I can only bow – and let them through to the front of the cue for extra custard.

However you discovered Vic – or if I and my show LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND will becoming your ‘entry level’ – I hope you enjoy her as much as my mum, sister and I have. And thank God she left us such a legacy of laughter to get us through the tough times.

 

My Favourite Victoria Wood Sketch

For many fans of the late, great Victoria Wood, there is one sketch that stands – or perhaps I should say totters – above all others, and that is the one widely known as TWO SOUPS.

This unforgettable few minutes sees an infuriated Duncan Preston & Celia Imrie, who are in a rush to catch their train having to deal with Julie Walters’ ancient waitress in a old-fashioned English restaurant. In reality, Celia & Duncan are – if you look very closely – trying their best not to laugh as Julie sails towards them infinitesimally slowly, bow-legged and equipped with hearing aid, oblivious to their rush.

Legend has it that Julie was having lunch with Victoria when they both experienced the inspiration for the sketch in real life, and weeks later she was recording her interpretation of it!

But, that is not my favourite Victoria Wood sketch – possibly because it does not have Victoria in it, possibly because I am a contrary thing and have never felt the need to follow the crowd. No, my favourite Victoria Wood sketch also sees us in an old-fashioned English restaurant and also features a barmy waitress – this time played by Victoria herself – and it is entitled IS IT ON THE TROLLEY?

Victoria’s unnamed waitress seems to have been put in charge of the ‘sweet trolley’ because it’s all she can be held responsible for. She’s pretty keen on this trolley, and there’s little the two men dining can do to dissuade her from offering ‘anything on the trolley’! Maybe an excerpt will help…

Just coffee for me too, please.”
“Coffees what? Have you seen it? Have you seen it on the trolley?”
“Just two coffees, no sweet.”
“Just two coffees, no sweet?”
“That’s it.”
“Have you seen it on the trolley?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Is it a sorbet?”
“Just two coffees, thank you.”
“Can you point at it?”

And so it goes on – Buzzfeed have created a handy little list – as they do – of their favourite 13 things from Vic to make you giggle – give it a look: https://www.buzzfeed.com/rosebuchanan/wonderful-moments-to-remember-victoria-wood-by

It’s no wonder she won so many awards – not least of all an MBE!