I've been spending every morning with my 96-year-old father recently. I'm his carer now, and while I get him washed and dressed – something he hates no longer being able to do for himself – I've discovered a way to divert his attention. We reminisce. His recent memory is very poor. But his recall of events of fifty years ago is crystal clear.
A few days ago we were talking about the St Mylor Players, our village's local drama group. From the 1950s into the late 1970's the Players put on dramas, comedies, pantomimes and variety shows.
In the late 1950s - when men were the wage-earners, women remained at home raising the family, and Women's Lib hadn't been invented yet - a particular 'turn' in one variety show nearly brought the house down. It was Dance of the Flower Fairies.
The 'fairies' wore white tutus, white socks, and headdresses of white crepe-paper roses. Each carried a white lily made out of crepe-paper. So far so unremarkable. What stunned the audience was that the 'fairies' were my father, District Surveyor on Cornwall County Council (top right); John Garvin, a stocky Scot who managed to keep the Church hall's ancient and unpredictable electrics operational without catching fire or causing a power cut (well, only once); Frank Roscora, a telephone engineer as round as he was tall; and Rodney Prout, plaster technician at Falmouth hospital and the Society's producer.
The music was played on a gramophone in the wings, and my mother – a dancer in her youth – had worked out the choreography. The introductory music started, the curtain rose to reveal the 'fairies’ – two with moustaches they had refused to shave off - in graceful pose. There were several moments of shocked silence then the dance began.
Mum had threatened the ‘fairies’ with dire consequences if they hammed it up. They played it absolutely straight and it worked brilliantly. Within twenty seconds the audience were crying with laughter and stuffing hankies in their mouths so as not to miss a moment.
When the dance finished there was uproar as people clapped, stamped and hooted. The 'fairies,' who had all been extremely nervous beforehand and boosted their courage with a strong whisky each, swept into deep if ungainly curtseys, gave the audience dazzling grins, then lumbered off the stage streaming with sweat and greasepaint.
The photograph above was on the front page of all the local papers. All except Dad are dead now but remembered with fondness and admiration. I treasure these morning chats as Dad is happier and I am reminded of things I had totally forgotten.
Taken To Heart pub. Robert Hale, October 2011 £18.99