When I was in my early twenties I worked with Ken Campbell, a man of uncommon intelligence and a genius eye. He wanted me to study ventriloquism.
‘No thanks’ I said.
He wanted me to study talking through a dummy and holding the stage.
‘No thanks’ I reiterated.
The dummy looked like my father.
I left the Roadshow to pursue other things and Nina Conti worked with Mr. Campbell. The very act he wanted me to do she, in fact, did. The rest is history. She is a brilliant comic and vent act.
I bought the old git a ticket for the NINA CONTI show at the Arts Theatre for Christmas. Covid came and they reallocated the tickets for March 28th. We went.
We took the train, and quietly sat as we stopped off in High Brooms, Tonbridge and rearranged ourselves for new passengers from Seven Oaks. We sped through Orpington, London Bridge and Waterloo and before you could say ‘tickets please’ we arrived in Charing Cross.
The concourse was empty, a covid legacy.
We were going to have a salt beef sandwich at ‘Gaby’s Deli’ but we ran out of time.
‘GABY’S was a tiny Jewish Deli next to ‘Wyndhams Theatre’. When we were there in 1980, performing in ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ I would go to ‘Gaby’s’, in the interval, and get the cast salt beef sandwiches wrapped in brown grease proof paper. I would argue with Sarah about Jewish issues, bundle the salt beef on rye with pickles, through the stage door and prepare for the second half. The salads and latkes, the soup and hot blackcurrant juice sustained me for the long run. Sadly Gaby got old and retired. Hundreds of us fought to keep it open but it closed in 2018. I don’t know whats’s there now.
We walked to the theatre and he had a gin and tonic I a fizzy water.
The foyer filled up with young, old, and the intelligencia from Hampstead. We were told to hang on until the stage was set, so after much foyer toing and froing we were finally let in.
We were a noisy and attentive audience ready for a good night out. The stage was set with a guitar and mic, amplifier and stool and two rails of masks. You must have seen Nina doing her schtick on telly. The very schtick I was meant to have done. Nina entered wearing a red sequinned trouser suit and the show began. ‘Monkey’, who lives in her handbag, was brought out to entertain. People were invited up from the audience, a mask strapped to their face and Nina did her improvised act. Speaking, and singing for them through extraordinary masks. Throwing different voices and creating outrageous characters. The audience yelped with delight.
The second half had a group on stage; mother, father their child and two other random audience members. Ms Conti created an anarchic scene that had Jim giggling under his black mask which he insisted on wearing because of covid.
The show came to an end and we left. Walking through Leicester square at 10.00 at night felt lonely. I had a cheese an onion pasty at the station as we waited for the 10.15 to arrive.
It was a strange empty night for me. We didn’t laugh together. Like wot we did when we was young. The 45 minute journey was me and him analysing what he found funny and what I didn’t and what I found funny and he didn’t.
When we arrived home I had calmed down.
‘Just because we don’t laugh at the same things doesn’t mean our marriage has come to an end’ said the old git.
‘Just because you didn’t enjoy Nina Conti does not mean that we should file for divorce citing incompatibility due to dummies’, he continued.
The dawter told me to stop being an idiot. But the bottom line is if you can’t laugh at the same things then what?
After 45 years together we do still have the same political eyes, we both say the same thing when we watch Putin and his evil ways.
He will watch old ‘8 out of 10 cats’ – I can’t I hate old news.
He’ll watch ‘Mrs. Browns Boys’ and I will leave the room.
Although we do listen to old songs and watch old films. He’ll play ‘Crash Test Dummies’ and ‘Billy Joel’ and I’ll swoon over old ‘Stevie Wonder.’
But there’s something about not laughing together that feels like the beginning of what Freud calls the ‘Journey of individuation’ when you grow apart. A separateness that you leave each other standing and move on without them, the thought of that horrifies me. It is of course bollox since I’m never gonna let a ventriloquist get in the way of my ancient marriage. Two weeks down the line and I have recovered from my bout of connubial terror that my marriage was over on account of a puppet show at The Arts.
Ever since I have been beady eyed at what we do laugh at.
When the BBC News comes on and the theme music starts, he beats out the rhythm, I move with it makes us laugh. When the theme tune to ‘University Challenge’ comes on he conducts the strings and I laugh.
When ITV’s News comes on he conducts and plays the drums. I laugh.
My conclusion is that I like stupidity and he feeds me that.
He gives himself up to pantomime humour and I have to allow that. I am not the controller of his funny bones.
However, we went to see ‘The Duke’ with Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent, we sat in row ‘H’, in our beautiful local cinema, me with a big tub of popcorn and he with a glass of Merlot, we held hands and laughed and cried at the same time.
I can only assume that ventriloquism and cheese and onion pasties don’t agree with me.