Welcome to the first in an occasional series of creative interludes.
As an obsessive when it comes to old British films, this extends to wanting to know more about the actors who starred in them. I read biographies and autobiographies and revel in finding out what went on when the cameras packed up for the day. Inspired by a piece that I wrote for ‘Pretty Nostalgic’ magazine (issue 13), where I “interviewed” my hero Margaret Rutherford, I have taken to writing some short creative sketches. These imagine ordinary people having brushes with the stars and while doing so revealing lesser known sides to their lives. Here’s the first one, I hope you enjoy it. A usual type of blog post will follow in a week or two, where I will be looking at some criminal attitudes.
I first saw him at confession. I had been away on my holidays – three weeks with my sister in Southsea – and he had apparently started using our church just after I had gone. So he was quite settled by the time I did see him. He was putting his gloves on near the porch – very methodical, one finger at a time. As he concentrated on that I was struck by how familiar he seemed. I wasn’t sure if it was his face or just the way he carried himself, if you know what I mean. But I didn’t want to look too hard and embarrass us both, so I carried on and confessed and concentrated myself on this. It was later that evening, while I was washing up my supper pots, that I started thinking about him again. I had seen him somewhere before, I was quite convinced. But he was too haughty-looking to work in any of the shops that I use. Too well dressed. Perhaps he worked at the council? Nothing came to me.
He was there again at the service on the following Sunday. This time he sat on the row in front of me so I got the occasional sideways glance in. There was nothing inhibited about him. He was not new to Catholicism that’s for sure and his faith obviously solid. You can always tell that. I liked the look of him but could not get past the feeling that he was not a stranger to me. He nodded his thanks to the priest and walked out of the church alone, striding off like he had some great purpose or a deed to perform. My near neighbour and friend, Peggy Anstruther, was waiting for me on the steps. She’d been late again that morning and I had walked in to church without her. Peggy Anstruther could represent
sleeping stakes. I heard her bolting in at the back as we were a good 15
minutes in and I also fancied that I heard her wheezing for some time
after. She’s getting too old for such
flying about. Well, as I mentioned, she
waited for me on the steps. We always walk home together and chew things over. Sometimes we come over all pious and discuss
the service, considering our own failings in the process. But mostly we gossip I’m afraid to admit. We
share our observations on our mutual neighbours and speculate on the lives of
some of the lesser known members of the congregation. I like to call it taking an interest. Of course, on this particular Sunday I
steered the conversation in the direction of speculation. England
“Who is that new man who was on the row in front of me, just to my right? He looks so familiar!” I said to Peggy, before she set off on one of her moans about the heating in the church.
With no thought to what she was saying she replied with this maddening statement: “I heard Josephine McLennan say that he was some sort of actor. Was it extinguished she said?”
“Why on earth would Josephine McLennan call him extinguished? What does that mean, Peggy?” I had to tell her she was talking nonsense again.
“Well I took it to mean that he was all done with it. That no-one wanted to see him anymore. They do say how cruel showbusiness is.”
“That’s very true.” There was some logic to her witterings, I had to acknowledge. “But we don’t have a name?”
“No, not yet. I expect Father Michael knows it.”
“Oh, I don’t want to appear nosy. That’s the last thing that I am.” I told Peggy. “But, you know, that actor thing would explain it. I’m sure I know him from somewhere so it’s possible that I have seen him act.”
“Why don’t you introduce yourself to him? Say you’re an admirer of his work. That might open him up.”
It did seem to be the only thing to do. But I felt that I just had to remember where I’d seen him first. He would probably be insulted if I said that I’d seen his work but didn’t remember it. Our new man got forgotten for a while. Peggy and I went on to discuss Josephine McLennan and her extraordinary methods of bringing up her children. I went back to her house for tea and scones and the next thing I knew it was the middle of the afternoon.
The information that I was seeking did however come to me at on Monday morning. I’m a light sleeper and Mrs Denton’s cat was at it again. I had a sudden vision of our new man in costume. Shakespearian. Now, the only time that I’ve seen any Shakespeare was Hamlet at Buxton Opera House. I went on holiday there with my cousin once, and she thought that some culture would do us good. But on the whole I found it quite depressing so I never bothered with the old bard again. I thought again and it seemed likely that this was where I’d seen him. Yes, I was convinced that Hamlet had been played by our poor extinguished actor. Well, I always keep souvenirs from my holidays and I felt sure that I would have the programme. I nearly got out of bed to dig it out, but the cat packed in and I nodded off again. The next morning I got my box down from the top of the wardrobe though and had a good rummage. It was near the bottom – Buxton had been one of my first holidays – but there it was. And there he was – an old photograph of him in his youth – but it was definitely him. Hamlet, played by Alec Guinness. So that was his name. I could collar him next time and tell him how much Hamlet had left an impression on me, and offer my condolences that his career had never gone beyond the provincial stage.