Friday, 19 October 2007

You Were A Monkey And I Was A Pony

Friends Reunited can be a great website. I have had a few friends get in touch over the years and even managed to re-establish my closest friendship after having lost touch. However it does also bring the oddest people out of the woodwork. Three times now I have had a message from a girl called Julie saying “You were a monkey and I was a pony, get in touch” Naturally I was perplexed. What an odd thing to say – and how on earth do I respond to it? Well I didn’t, but I did recently come to realise what she meant.

I expect I would have been about six and it was the Christmas play at school. You know what it’s like, every now and then teachers get a bit over excited and do something a little different to the traditional nativity. This year we had a Christmas circus. So we had all sorts of acts - clowns, lions, acrobats and of course ponies and chimpanzee’s (not monkeys!). At the end of each act the participants would take a Christmas ring (actually a quoit covered in tinsel) and place it on a branch of the tree to see if it would light up. The clowns were unsuccessful as were the ponies – little girls in pink leotards jumping over bamboo canes. Then it came to the chimps. The mid seventies were a less pc time, the time of the PG Tips chimps and chimps tea parties at the zoo. A chimps tea party, was usually held at the zoo, twice daily, and was basically half a dozen chimps, all dressed up, at a dinner table and being given a meal. Invariably they would end up throwing the food all over each other and the first few rows of the audience. This was also the time that the TV series of “The Planet Of The Apes” was popular, and the shops were full of POTA action figures and masks. Now, if you remember, the apes had a very particular way of walking. I, yes that’s right me, was the best in the school at doing the walk, so along with a boy called Ian, who was a “bit of a monkey” we were the chimps. Our act was inspired by both “Planet of The Aoes” and a chimps tea party and of course culminated in us throwing lots of (paper) plates into the audience. We had great fun doing this and walking round going “Oo , oo, oo” like monkeys. Yes, I could walk the walk AND talk the talk. Then we proceeded to the tree with our festive quoit and threw it at the tree. For we were very naughty chimps! Needless to say it didn’t light up, this honour was left to the group of “Children” who went up to the tree last of all, hand in hand. Or, as I like to think of them, the untalented children who couldn’t do anything! However it seems that when the Leicester Mercury was looking for a photo opportunity it was me they spotted, along with Julie the pony. So somewhere in the archives of the Mercury from 1975 there is a picture of a smiling Julie along with me. Of course I am totally hidden by the “Planet Of The Apes” mask I was wearing so you can’t see me at all. My mum was most put out. Anyway, this would be what Julie had in mind – although I still haven’t replied!!!!

I was probably quite a precocious little boy in some ways, so I always looked forward to participating in school plays and nativities. However the holy grail of roles always seemed to evade me. I speak of course of Joseph (of ”Joseph And Mary” fame) I did come close on many occasions. I was told I was the best, but not tall enough, more than once. Of course I was an innocent young child back then so stopped short of calling the teacher a size queen! One year our head mistress had written her own nativity musical called “Follow That Star” , of which I can only recall the title song and “Three Wise Men” sung to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”. Yes really. Sadly I was stuck in the back row of the choir. The following year saw the piece being expanded and bizarrely we did it in a totally different school. I was so close to being Joseph. It was down to two of us – then they told me. “Sorry Markus, you really aren’t tall enough!” I did get to be understudy though, and had that most famous of Nativity characters to play. The Pig Farmer! Obviously the role of the pig farmer is crucial to the nativity story as it’s used to illustrate the fact that all sorts of people had to traipse all over the place for the census. On reflection I must have been quite magnificent in this part as these days it’s generally considered that I was such a hard act to follow that they don’t even bother to feature the role!

Anyway, shortly after this I moved home, from Swannington to the bizarrely named estate Agar Nook, and of course a new school. I was hardly there five minutes before my precocity set in and I started trying to get into all the school plays. Every other week we had to do an assembly which, as my teacher was a bit arty farty, was always a play. One week we were re-enacting the tragedy of Lady Jane Grey (queen for nine days) whose family home was in the local Bradgate Park, and the next we were re-enacting a journey along the Amazon where we were attacked by Pirahnas. Then of course there were after school drama clubs and shows like “The Wind In The Willows” and “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”, the latter saw me as Captain Nemo (height no issue!) and of course this being a school play I was captain of a “Yellow Submarine” . Then Christmas drew near and it looked like I was going to win the role I had dreamed of! Once again I was down to the final two and I was told “Sorry too short!” Yet again, my dreams of stardom lay in tatters. But then I had the call which changed my life (for December 1979 at least) . The Joseph who they had chosen couldn’t do one of the three performances, so for one night only I was to play the part I had coveted. Yes, I was going to be the alternate Joseph. The Aiofhe Mulholland of Warren Hills County Primary School. Opposite me as Mary was Michelle Allen. Michelle is actually the sister of west end performer Nicky Adams who has been in both “Phantom” as Christine, and “The Woman In White” . Incidentally , a couple of years ago I discovered that they are both distant cousins of mine. So anyway, I cracked it. I finally got to play Joseph. I had my moment in the spotlight.

I didn’t really pursue school plays after this. It all seemed a bit un cool. I did still end up doing a few things though such as “Mother Courage”, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and Stan Laurel in a school revue. Somehow though, these roles never seemed to reach the dizzy heights I experienced as a pig farmer and a chimpanzee back in the mid seventies.

Looking back, I can say hand on heart that I will never appear in a school play ever again! However I have a sneaky feeling that in the coming months I will get an email saying “You were a monkey and I was a pony, get in touch!”

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