Bonkers Bingo

I drew the bed covers up and raised my second Assam of the morning to my lips. I loved our Breakfast Club but equally enjoyed the decadence of a long lie in, particularly when the air has a glacial bite to it. I had opened one of my sliding wardrobe doors and was looking intently in from the warmth of bed. I had no idea what to wear.

I knew how to dress for an evening with Eve Ferret at Crazy Coqs, or a night at Polari Literary Salon at the Royal Festival Hall, but what would I wear to a charity bingo afternoon at the community centre? I wanted to make sure that Lil was impressed. It would take several more cups of tea before I was able to make a good decision.

It was ten to two. How time flies when you want it to stay still, and I was having a final check in the mirror; the hair was quiffed, and the combination of purple chinos, Amy Winehouse T shirt, blue/silver Prada trainers and a dark blue cord jacket said I’d made an effort but not overdone it.

Lil and Armando were waiting, arm in arm, outside the Café as I approached. Armando had seemingly combed his hair and applied some pomade, and wore a plain shirt beneath his coat, and blue jeans. Lil looked a picture; his lips were rosy, her cheeks rouged, the hair purpler (she’d been at the rinse again), and she wore a tightly buttoned woollen coat with oversized buttons – an animal print silk scarf warmed her neck. Her fancy court shoes matched her patented handbag. She’d pushed the boat out and I was glad I was wearing some glad(ish) rags too.

‘I hope you haven’t forgotten to take off your house coat today Lil,’ I joked.

‘Shut it Boulevardier. You could have made an effort,’ Lil retorted with shooting speed.

I took Lil’s other arm and we escorted her the short walk to our afternoon entertainment.

As we entered Lil spoke to the door staff; apparently called Tom and Ted. We didn’t get an introduction but paid our fees, handed over our prizes of wine and vouchers, and received our bingo cards.

‘I’m just nipping to powder my nose gentlemen,’ Lil said, and with that she was off. She reminded me of a peacock and we were her plume.

Upon Lil’s return her cheeks were re-rouged and her lips coated in an extra layer of liner. We re-linked arms like the front line of battle and shuffled through the double doors into the hall. Our entrance wasn’t as smooth as expected as Armando caught his sleeve on the door. Lil pursed her lips briefly and then switched as we entered the hall and let out an enchanting cackle as if one of us had said something funny. She was performing. We would have to oblige.

Lil guided us between a number of elderly patrons to an empty table near the front. She asked Armando to get us a Sherry each from the bar. This was out of habit. She was used to Armando serving us. While he completed his mission Lil steered me to the front where a portly elderly gent was bursting out of his chequered waistcoat.

‘I’d like to introduce you to my good friend who is a writer, Bill. This is Wayne and Wayne this is Bill.’

‘How do you do,’ I said trying to sound as much like a writer as I could.

‘Likewise. What do you write?’

‘A blog.’ Bill looked nonplussed. An online journal and some short stories.’

‘Good afternoon Lilian. Please move away from the bingo cage. We don’t want to be accused of fiddling with the balls now do we,’ came a familiar voice.

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‘Hello Mavis,’ Lil said through gritted teeth, ‘you seem to have forgotten to take off your pinny.’

‘It’s a pinafore dress Lilian as well you know.’

‘Are you sure? You look as if you should be in the kitchens.’

Mavis smiled politely but was not prepared to engage Lil further and moved to another table where we could hear her loudly exclaiming to other attendees. I coaxed Lil back to our table where Armando was waiting with the Sherries.

‘Lil, honestly, you and Mavis are like a pair of schoolgirls,’ I said.

‘She accused me of trying to cheat,’ Lil said in a low but firm defence, ‘and I’m not having it.’

We were interrupted by Mavis, booming through a microphone to thank everyone for attending. We were invited to help ourselves to a selection of sandwiches and cakes and a hot drinks as the bingo would be starting in fifteen minutes.

I left Lil with Armando and ventured forth to get a sharing platter. The sandwiches were varied and on large aluminium plates with doilies for decoration. I’d finished my Sherry and fancied a coffee and approached the two ladies who were standing on either side of two large stainless steel urns and made my request.

Back at the table I enjoyed the simple cheese sandwiches. Why do we go for fancy sundried tomato and Prosciutto when simple and traditional tastes just as good?  I’d also secured three slices of Battenberg. Our afternoon tea was cut short as Mavis announced the commencement of the bingo.

‘I’d like to pronounce this Bingo event open.’

‘She’s not naming a bloody ship,’ said Lil loud enough for Mavis to hear.

Bill stood. I hoped the buttons on his waistcoat stayed put as they were being stretched and could cause quite a nasty injury should they ping forth. Bill turned the handle on the metal bingo cage full of coloured balls before lifting the latch and pulling forth ‘number 23’ which he then placed in its designated circular hole on the large wooden board.

None of us had ‘23’ on our cards and regrettably this was to be a harbinger as we didn’t win anything. I came close once where I only needed one number but was beaten by a rather downtrodden looking lady at another table. I reasoned that perhaps she deserved to triumph more than me.

Mavis announced the end of the proceedings, thanked everyone for their time and contributions which totalled several hundred pounds for charity.

‘At least Mavis didn’t win anything either,’ said Lil.

I turned and looked at her and she appeared defeated and tired. Did she want or rather need to win a prize?  Lil looked vulnerable.

Mavis was still full of spirits and laughing loudly with some of the attendees. Lil looked upset and I felt protective. We needed to get her out of there and home as soon as possible. A nod from Armando meant that our thoughts were in sync.

We exited the venue quickly and without further incident. Mavis was still busy talking to some of the winners on the other side of the hall and Bill was focussed on putting his balls away. As we walked back to the café Lil relied more on the arm support.

‘Are you tired Lil?’ I said.

‘A little, but let’s get a nice tea together in Armando’s café before we separate.’

Our usual table was taken but Lil seemed too weary to mind and we sat next to the front window.

‘Thank you for coming with me, my lovely boys. You don’t know how much I appreciate it.’

Armando and I looked at each other. We knew.

 

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Because Laughing Matters

Exercise is an important part of the Boulevardier’s routine, and to comply I am a regular at Virgin Active, Crouch End. A few weeks ago I went to the Saturday morning spin class, as usual. I was, however, incredibly tired and after about ten minutes started to feel dizzy. Mia, on the bike next to me, looked at me and said I didn’t look great and recommended I stop immediately. I left the class feeling a little dramatic. As I walked to Waitrose I started to feel a pain right across my chest. There was a familiarity to it. It was not as severe as it had been in January and I hoped it was muscular pain rather than more pulmonary emboli. I took to my bed for the remainder of the weekend.

I hoped Monday morning would bring a refreshing spring to my step. Once awake I took a deep breath and could still feel the pain. Eleven hours later I heard those fateful words ‘I’m sorry but there are more clots on your lungs.’

I thought my January episode was a one-off, and with clots dissipated by the anti-coagulant medication, my only reminder was a degree of tiredness, which had been a feature of the year.

This chapter means anti-coagulants for life, a lot more tests and the return of the debilitating weakness and tiredness. I was determined not to let it affect me the way it had previously and tried to press on.

After seeing a preview of Laughing Matters starring Celia Imrie with Fidelis Morgan’s direction, I purchased tickets as soon as they were available. I had been looking forward to the show and wasn’t about to let the blood clots ruin my enjoyment. They would limit but not destroy it. The only challenge was that the performance was five days after diagnosis.

Saturday evening soon came around. I felt tired and weak and needed to ensure I used my depleted energy reserves sensibly. I made quick decisions regarding my outfit and settled upon Ralph Lauren painter’s jeans, All Saints T, and H&M jean and jersey jacket.

The Revue was held downstairs at Brasserie Zedel, which is just behind Piccadilly Circus.

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The Brasserie looks quite modest from the exterior. However, the downward sweeping staircase leads to a lovely restaurant, retro American bar, and an intimate and unique venue called The Crazy Coqs.

Crazy Coq’s oozes Art Deco with rich banquette seating along two sides, the stage and a Great Gatsby era bar occupying the others. The walls were lined with pictures from France in the 1930s. Chandeliers are draped richly from the ceiling. The room was filled with clusters of bistro style tables with red atmosphere lamps. 1930s Paris surrounded us.

Zedel - Crazy Coqs4

It was all very civilised, and while it was not possible to reserve seating, the  Maître d’ had our names and escorted us to our table. On stage were a set of drums, a coat stand and an ebony and sleek grand piano. The pianist enticed us to get into the spirit of the show with lots of Noel Coward numbers. I wanted to immerse and enjoy cocktails, served by blackuniformed waiting staff, but decided against it due to the state of my health.

I started to feel too tired already, but I was determined to ignore it. Stomach cramps were setting in too which added nicely to the way I was feeling. I was lucky to be surrounded by Michael, Alkan, Michael and Ange who looked after me.

Celia burst from the back of the room imprisoned by a straitjacket and launched into her version of Twisted made famous by Annie Ross which parodies the psychoanalysis of the protagonist’s insanity.

We were off and early signs were great!

The Revue combined music, dance and sketches perfectly and seamlessly. We were transported back to its golden years, the first part of the twentieth century.

This was going to be good and I wasn’t about to let my clots spoil the evening and popped a couple of paracetamol to lessen the pain.

The marketing for the show told us that Celia really believes that… laughing matters. It was true, she was clearly enjoying herself and we were too. Her classic training, pedigree and star quality shone through. However, she was not aloof. Celia was right there with us; yes on a stage, but if we were around a piano having a sing-song she would have been there too. And yes these evenings still occur. Only recently, after a few glasses of Prosecco at my friend Marina’s birthday, we retired to the home of her friends Patrick and Neil. They have a white, baby grand in the sitting-room of their terraced Islington Villa and we gathered around and sung show and popular tunes to our hearts’ content. Needless to say, we accompanied our singing with a few more refreshments.

One outstanding sketch for me was Common Talk by Alan Melville. It told the tale of a woman who had recently left the safety of central London and decamped to Wimbledon. Her vista allowed her to observe all the untoward (and mostly nocturnal) activity on the Common. It really is a common Common, or so she tells us a number of times.

I also really enjoyed ‘Smut’ where a rather well-to-do campaigner against double entendres tried to persuade us to reconsider hobbies to take our mind off of sex. She asked us to consider gardening and innocently delivered her own double entendres about her impressive melons and the like. I heard this piece, performed by Celia, earlier in the year at a Literary Salon where it was equally successful in having the audience guffawing out loud

There was a mass of nostalgia, of times lost, throughout the show and I for one would welcome back the Revue. We live in an age of auto tune and technical wizardry but none of that supplants the enjoyment received from raw and intimate performance.

I wish I had had the energy to laugh outwardly as loudly as I was inside. The show was all too soon over, but by this time I was really weak and needed to jump in a cab and straight home to bed.

The reviews of the Revue have been mixed, and perhaps I am not a professional, and therefore overlooked missing elements required to make the show a resounding success, but I thoroughly enjoyed its mix, and refreshingly new retro elements.

Laughing Matters

I can do no better in summary than to quote The Telegraph:

The evening is tinged with palest blue, but the allure is definitely more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic – saucy rather than sophisticated, more Marie Lloyd than Mistinguett, with overtones that are sexy, but also strangely comforting – as though your favourite auntie had dressed up in something sparkly and started twirling her knickers around her head.

We need more shows like this, and who knows, I might just be brave enough one day to put one on.

TNW