O holy night by Trevor Plumbly
Wrong time of the year I know, but at my age I’ll take memories whenever I can get them.
Contrary to the portrayal of joy and goodwill, our school class production of the nativity play provoked a long standing feud more suited to Shakespeare than the New Testament. Miss Folster was largely to blame; she was Casting, Script, and Musician. Emotionally ice-bound from the toes up and, as required of lady teachers of the time, totally devoid of any feminine properties that might have distracted a young mind. She had her favourites; being solitary, I wasn’t one of them, but stardom called and I snagged the part of the third wise man. Her cast list was traditionally basic: two parents, one baby, three wise men and four angels. No animals: despite the lure of the limelight, nobody was that keen on being a sheep or donkey.
Sycophants topped the cast list: Ronnie, Spot Simpson’s sister, played the Virgin Mary, which a couple of years later proved to be a serious piece of miscasting, while Joseph went to Nobby Clark; it was a non-speaking role and since he couldn’t string two sentences together, it was a good fit. Baby Jesus was a problem, as there was a shortage of divine-countenanced dolls, so we ended up with a Simpson family reject, a chubby plastic thing with moulded brown curls and a nasty looking cigarette burn on one cheek. Olly Edwards, his best mate Nick the Greek and I were the wise men. Olly got the gold, Nick the frankincense and I got the myrrh. The heavenly quartet were selected by skin clarity, pimpled angels had no place in Miss Folster’s choir.
Rehearsals didn’t go well: Tosser Harris’s role was to belly crawl at the back wielding a broomstick handle with the guiding star attached; the star’s progress was erratic rather than inspirational, and Tosser’s occasional “bugger!” when he knocked his head did little to add to solemnity of the spotless quartet’s opening carol. Problem number two was that collectively, the Edwards had hated the Simpsons for years, and it was well known that at least two of the goodwill messengers were more than likely to go off script. Miss Folster dismissed the rumour with the age old ‘It’ll be alright on the night.’
Night-before nerves provoked a dream sequence, starting with the bedsheet quartet murdering ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’. The first hiccup occurred with my first line, “See yonder star!” At that point, there was a crash, Tosser yelled “SHIT!” and dropped the broomstick. “Tis an omen” hissed Miss Folster on prompt, whereupon, coat-hanger halos dancing merrily, the angelic four broke into “We Three Kings of Orient Are’. We entered on cue, Olly clutching a gilt wrapped bar of Cusson’s Imperial Leather, Nick the Greek with a white painted HP sauce bottle and me with a green coloured Marmite jar. From infancy, the Edwards were groomed to make life difficult for a Simpson whenever possible, and vice-versa. Olly sidled up and sneered down at the synthetic saviour and muttered begrudgingly, “I bring gold for the new-born king.” Ronnie, unable to resist, smiled coyly and snatched at the treasure while Olly, keen to piss her off, held fast, there was a brief tug-of-war before the ‘gold’ squirted out of its wrapping, denting the already disfigured face of the recycled holy infant. Anxious to avoid any on-stage flak, I gave Nick the Greek a nudge and said “You’re on!” Word perfect, he intoned, “I bring frankincense for the new-born Messiah”, Ronnie responded with another virginal smile before muttering ”Stick it, greaseballs.” Horrified by the racist slur, Miss Folster thumped down on the piano keys. Taking this as a cue, the choir broke into “Silent Night”, triggering an early curtain drop and a mass exit, leaving me totally alone, clutching a Marmite jar, whilst gazing adoringly at the plastic cherub, in the straw filled tin bath.
Perchance to wake
The following day I learn that the nativity play had been cancelled due to ‘casting problems’; thus my stage career ended. Some of the above is fact, some fiction and some nightmare, life for a 10 year old’s a bit like that but fortunately age takes the edge off the sharpness of dreams while prejudice and pettiness lose their focus. Christ I’m getting maudlin! I don’t really give a toss what happened to any of that crew, I just feel that me and the bloody doll got shafted! Collateral damage? Been there!
It’s all about progress Plum: from Myrrh to Marmite …