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Friday 15 November

I was at Beyond the Fringe this morning as I was helping with the setting up tomorrow’s fair in the afternoon.  When I told Acton, his comment was, “Oh honestly darling, why do they always have tea­ stalls at fairs?  If they’re looking to raise money wouldn’t they do better offering glasses of wine as well?”

 “You can’t offer wine at a church hall fête,” I said, “it’s just not done. Besides it’s Saturday morning to early afternoon.  People don’t want to be drinking alcohol at that hour of the day – most people, I added seeing the look on his face.

“Don’t you believe it,” he said.  “You’d bunce the takings up nicely if you offered a nice chardonnay or a decent merlot.  It’s just so inevitable Cleo – so unimaginative and parochial.”

“Well, we are parochial,” I said.  “We’re a rural parish.  People expect that sort of thing.”

“They’re conditioned to,” he protested and then a wicked smile passed over his face.  “I’d love to see Eleanor Snailbeach as a cocktail waitress – wouldn’t you?  That gleam as she trots round in a little black number bearing a tray of martinis and Manhattans.”

“You’ve got a terrible imagination,” I chided him, laughing.

“That’s the point darling – I am imaginative.   Much more than St Gremlins’ church hall will ever be.  I’d rather have a Bath Oliver with some warm brie than an egg sandwich any day. Too gloomy by far.”

There wasn’t a great deal for me to do with the setting up. Graham had taken time from the farm to help Mr Colebatch with the large trestles while the smaller ones were put up by the others.  Faith and I simply had to arrange the urn and cups and saucers on the oilcloth tablecloth and manoeuvre the usual tea sign above it.   Eleanor was floating around not doing an awful lot except making observations with a smile.  I suddenly found myself thinking of Acton’s comments and imagining her in her dress with a tray of drinks and let out a little laugh.

“What’s tickled you?” Faith asked.

I told her and she too gave a snigger.  “Mind you, she’d suit that better than being a barmaid and pulling pints.  I definitely don’t see her doing that.”

As we laughed over it, Eleanor came trotting over.

“Ah, such levity,” she said.  “What’s the joke?”

“We were laughing at the idea of serving tea and coffee,” I said, desperate for something to say. “How much funnier it would be if we were serving beer.”

She gave a funny little smile, not surprisingly failing to find it funny and shrugged and turned away.

Faith and I fell about laughing at that. 

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Thursday 14 November

For a moment this afternoon, I thought I was misunderstanding Eleanor’s play and dreaded that I was out of kilter with the village. I had gone to the Greens to help Cherry with the wrapping of the biscuits and cakes she’s been making for Saturday’s fair and it was, as ever, a very agreeable time. She had been busy and she has the ‘touch’ and what she had made looked very professional.  She had bought lengths of ribbon, cellophane bags and small patterned boxes to put them in so, after giving my hands a thorough wash, we set to aided by cups of tea.

It was while we were chatting that I mentioned Eleanor’s presentation and, being careful not to air my opinions too bluntly knowing how things get back, I said that I didn’t think it was that good.

“In what way?” she asked, for she is playing Anna the prophetess.

“Well, the rhyming is a bit obvious. It seems more for primary school children than adults,” I ventured.

“The nativity is largely for children,” she said.  “The village children will like it as well as taking part in it.  I’m sure that’s what Eleanor had in mind.”

I was quick to prick that kindly meant sentiment and told her, “Actually, that is not how Eleanor sees it.  She thinks she’s written a work for adults.  She’d be terribly hurt if you thought it was meant for a juvenile audience.”

Cherry stopped midway in putting slabs of tiffin into one of the polka dot patterned bags.

“Really?” she asked looking at me in amazement. 

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m just afraid the village will laugh at it.”

“I suppose . . . .,” she mused.

“Where’s your copy of the play?” I asked.  Cherry went and got it from their sitting room and I took it and flicked through to find her lines.  “Listen to this,” I said.

“Oh baby dear, my fading eyes, Have seen you – Heaven’s blest surprise Along with donkey, lamb and cow, Before you now I also bow.

“Actually, she’s wrong about the surprise.  Anna was a prophetess and knew her scripture.  Jesus was foretold hundreds of years earlier.  There was no surprise about it, he was well and truly expected.”

Cherry laughed at this and said, “I see your point.  I think we’d better keep schtum otherwise our Eleanor will be having one of her tantrums – and at Christmas too!”

“Quite,” I said.

My reward for helping out was a delicious slice of marble cake with a cup of coffee when we had finished.  The mingled taste of the chocolate and vanilla sponge was especially good with the coffee, a sort of mocha experience.    I came away grateful for our conversation for, hopefully now, word will get round without offending Eleanor that St Gremlins is putting on an adult presentation albeit with decidedly childish words.

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Wednesday 13 November

Am I telepathic?  After yesterday’s despairing read of Eleanor’s doggerel she rang just before lunch to ask if there were any changes I felt she should make.  Oh, the temptation to put the cat among the pigeons and tell her the whole thing was worthy of a nursery school nativity and that nobody was going to take such a puerile script with childish rhymes seriously.  It would, of course, have been too unkind to have been so bluntly truthful – but I was truthful, after a fashion.

“It’s very much your work Eleanor,” I stated honestly.  “It’s always hard for an author to alter the work of another.  Everybody’s minds work differently.”

There was a slight pause and I realised she was wanting some ego massaging confirmation as to the work’s perfection.  I couldn’t do that.

“You don’t think it’s too mundane in parts?  I didn’t want to overegg the pudding and make it too artistique [her word] as I felt it would be wasted on the general population of the village.”

“It’s certainly not mundane,” I said with justification for the whole affair is unspeakably awful.  “I’m sure the village will love it.”  And they will.  They will be beside themselves with unintentional merriment on the night.   I determined at that point that I will take every opportunity between now and the night of the performance to stress the sole authorship of Eleanor.   This lands at her feet not mine and, like all the participants, I shall simply play my part in the affair and let her take the undoubted backhanded compliments.

“Yes, I’m sure they will,” she said, taking my comment as the compliment she was begging for.  “Thank you for that dear.  You and I are very much the creative lights of the village, so it’s good that we are in accord and can show the others how a show should be put on.  Now, ahead of our first rehearsal, I do need to sit with you, as my assistant director and check that we both understand the moves and cues.  If we are confident then our cast will be likewise.  Lunch at mine next Monday to go through it?”

I was mercenary.  While the fewer rehearsals and pre-rehearsals I have to attend the better, I decided that this would save on a lunch so I accepted.

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Tuesday 12 November

I knew it!  My lovely new radio less than a week old and this morning, in digital stereo, Jane Garvey was addressing the health of the cervix!  I know it’s Woman’s Hour and I know it’s about women’s issues but, honestly, that woman is obsessed with anything below the waist and Jenni Murray isn’t much better.  I also am a woman and I don’t want to spend most weekday mornings fixating on cervices and all things gynaecological.   I switched over to Radio 3 and listened to a nice, chatty man introducing some pleasant music with no mention of private parts whatsoever.  Radio 3: cervix free – it even rhymes.

Having been rather lax over Eleanor’s presentation I decided I really must sit and read through it, so settled down with a cup of Camp this afternoon and a digestive.  What can I say?  I cringed at times; it’s so twee and derivative.  It’s as though she’s found some old Sunday school books and cobbled them together and I can’t help wondering if that’s what she’s done.   I can’t believe she would truly do that but she’s definitely basing it on something of the sort.

One of the Wise Men, probably Chastity, has to say:

Upon this night, divine, unique The animals themselves shall speak. Come donkey with thy shaggy coat For on the Christ child you must dote.

This is doggerel and I can hear the Yuletide sniggers as I write this.  I wouldn’t normally care, as it’s an Eleanor Snailbeach production except I am down as assistant director which drags my name through the stable mud.  I really don’t want to be associated with this and wonder what those taking part think.  I can’t imagine it’s just me seeing it for the rubbish it is.   I can’t say anything to her as there she will take umbrage but it feels as though we are all in some dreadful school production where taking part is compulsory.  It will be interesting to see what happens when rehearsals begin in a week or so.

On such a cold wet day it was nice to draw the curtains and shut out the gloom.  Wanting some comfort food on such a day I had eggy soldiers for tea with baked beans and an iced fondant for afters. 

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Monday 11 November

Just as Tilley was going there was a cloud burst.  I had opened the door and was about to shut it again when Goggin came haring in with a something in his mouth.  It was too late to shut him out.  We turned to look and he stood in the middle of the carpet, fur soaking wet, and dropped his gift on the floor, a sparrow which immediately took flight and flapped panic stricken round the room.

“Open the window,” Tilley cried but the rain was lashing against it.

“The room will be soaked if I do,” I said.

I could see that something was going to get broken as the poor thing flapped and Goggin, jealous of his gift, looked set to spring and re-catch it.

“Here,” Tilley said, taking charge, “you take him into the kitchen and I’ll sort the bird out.  I’ll make sure the room doesn’t get wet but it will be if the cat starts leaping everywhere.”

Grateful, I snatched Goggin up who wriggled angrily in protest and bundled him into the kitchen like a child having a tantrum and shut the door.  I got the old towel from under the sink and proceeded to dry him off while, from behind the door I hear noises – flutterings and the occasional ominous bang with Tilley saying, “It’s all right – nothing broken.”

Goggin eyed the door anxiously, listening intently.  “No!” I said firmly.  “You are not going in there.”  I found some cat biscuits and flung a few in his dish and, while the inevitable lure of a foodie treat diverted his greedy animal attention I slipped back into living room shutting the door behind me.  Tilley, bless her, had moved everything off the side table under the window and laid one of her cloths over it and had opened the window. She had pulled the left hand curtain up by its hem like the train of a wedding dress and was cornering the bird, stopping it from getting back into the room.  She was gently shouting, “Shoo, shoo!” and then, suddenly, it flew out into the wind and rain.

“Oh, well done,” I cried.  “Thank you.”

There was no lasting damage.  Tilley got one of her window cloths and dried and polished the inside of the window that had been open and we put the items back on the table.

“Little blighters at times, aren’t they?” she said.  “Lovable, but difficult when they want to be.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“Hmm, give me a dog any day,” was her parting shot. Tactless I felt but I was grateful to her.