my friend said. "Enjoy yourself, stop worrying, I’ll look after Millie for the day." The man who arranges such things in Valley’s End had promised a rip-roaring time at the Malvern Theatre for Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rough Crossing’, a play to make us laugh until we peed ourselves.
I took him at his word, booked the trip, paid an exorbitant amount of money up front for coach and ticket and looked forward to the entertainment. Except the nice day out turned into an (almost) unmitigated disaster.
It started as I left in the morning on the way to the bus stop, about 15 minutes walk away from the house. It was blowing a gale, with driving rain. All the way there my umbrella turned itself inside out, every few steps I had to stop and right it. No matter how I held it, into the wind, against the wind, sideways on, the damn thing flapped and creaked and dripped. By the time I got to the bus stop I was drenched, trouser legs sodden from the back of my knees to the hems. Did I say it was also bitterly cold? A little chap walking by on the other side of the road as I was struggling laughed happily. “A bit wet today, isn’t it?” Hahaha. Sadist.
Some of my fellow theatregoers assembled at the bus stop shivered but others were made of sterner stuff. The shelter would normally accommodate six or seven people but a man in a motorised buggy, who had been the sort who feels “entitled” long before he became slightly disabled, assumed that everyone else would gladly leave the shelter to him and stay exposed to the elements. I didn’t, I had been the first to arrive, and I stayed perched on my little seat. Make of that what you will.
The bus arrived and we climbed on board. Luckily, the heating was on and gradually, during the two hour journey, my clothes dried on me. When we got to Malvern the rain had stopped. The mass exodus from the bus duly effected, a large knot of people formed on the pavement, everybody was making arrangements for the hour before lunch and where to have it. Didn’t they have time during the two hour journey to do that? I needed the loo and made for the theatre, shouting to a couple of friends that I would meet them at ‘The Italian’ in an hour’s time, wanting to visit a posh supermarket first to buy some of their famous ‘cook’s ingredients’ to take home to my back-of-beyond-village where such things are only dreamt of, never available.
Of course, I bought too much, now being burdened with an extra load of groceries, my large handbag (purse), my wet umbrella. True, I can’t blame anyone else for this oversight. I am still not a good walker, still limping when I’m tired or when the effort of walking straight and upright gets too much. I no longer use a cane, though. Malvern is a hilly town, I frequently had to stop on the way to the restaurant to catch my breath and straighten up. Gosh, I am an old crock!
The next two hours were a pleasure, I enjoyed my Tagliatelle Bolognese and we all had a couple of glasses of wine, not something we usually do at lunchtime. Everybody got merry, greatly helped by the waiters who flung their ‘per favores’, their ‘pregos’ and ‘grazies’, their ‘signoras’ and signores’ around with wild abandon, who burst into song while sinuously weaving and undulating between the tables and made much of their giant pepper mills. I bet they were from Roumania really.
Finally it was time to go to the theatre and take our seats, having left coat and groceries at the cloakroom. Stoppard can be a bit of an acquired taste but he has written some really good stuff. Sadly, ‘Rough Crossing’ is far from good, it has the thinnest of plots:
Two famous playwrights, one jealous composer, an unorthodox waiter, and a mistimed lifeboat drill… let the sharp Atlantic winds turn to gales of hysterical laughter as our colourful characters become tantalisingly tangled in a Stoppardian string of absurd events…
If only. The Art Deco set looked splendid and promised much. The moment the actors appeared the promise evaporated and within the first ten minutes several of our coach party were sound asleep. The sound was bad, the dialogue barely distinguishable, the action messy and incomprehensible. The cast (all fairly recognisable TV actors)was lacklustre and seemed tired and bored. We were all disappointed and two of my friends decided they’d had enough and left at the interval, as did several of the others. I had nowhere to go and, in any case, couldn’t face lugging my groceries around, so I stayed to the bitter end. The action perked up for the last ten minutes but by then I’d given up on the play and was simply waiting to be released from captivity. All I wanted was to get on the bus and go home.
But my trials for the day weren’t over. I couldn’t swear to it but I may have, in fact, actually peed myself, even if for quite another reason as the one promised. When I came out of the loo right at the end, before climbing back aboard the coach, I felt a dampish kind of warmth spread over my belly. Yes, the front of my trousers was wet. I had been hovering over the toilet bowl, being loath to sit on the seat which appeared a touch insalubrious. But I had also been sprayed with warm water as I washed my hands afterwards. Enough to cause a damp patch in my trousers? We will never know. Suffice to say that I kept my coat on the whole journey back to Valley’s End and the first thing I did back home was to take a quick shower.