We have a matinee this afternoon, so my free time today is limited, but I thought I might pop over to Tewkesbury at some point? I haven't been there since I was eighteen but I'm sure the memory of that visit will be heavily nudged by my return?
Tewkesbury was the starting point for a very important holiday for me. It was a treat for having completed our A levels succesfully, a canal/river trip with five other friends from school. I'm astonished, when I think about it now, that we were ever allowed to hire a river boat for a week at such a tender age? Three eighteen year old boys and three eighteen year old girls cruising down the river, alone? And I'm amazed the phrase 'cruising down the river alone' hasn't become a euphemism for a mass drunken orgy?
That's what we boys would have liked it to be. In reality it was just six friends going on holiday together and if anyone was going to get lucky it would have been an older, more manly, male stranger. And we would have had to stay off the boat for the entire evening while it happened.
Having driven up here the other day I realise how much roads have improved since then. In 1975 it took us ages. There was no M25 or M40 so our journey from Kent went straight through London and then along the A40, passing through Oxford. We started the journey first thing in the morning in two cars driven by generous parents. We may have been eighteen but we didn't own cars. The journey took so long that I am fairly certain we listened to the whole of the Wimbledon Final between Bjorn Borg and Ilie Nastase, Borg's first victory, during the journey? This means we must have arrived at about five thirty?
We were given a brief description of how to steer and moor the boat. The girls stashed their bags in the bow, we stashed our gear in the stern (again, sadly, not a euphemism) and we set off to find the nearest river pub.
The plan was to cruise from Tewkesbury to Stratford and back. We got to Stratford in a couple of days and moored our six berth cruiser on the far bank of the Avon from the Memorial Theatre. We were, as it transpired, directly opposite the balcony to the Green Room, and we could see groups of heavily made-up actors in costume, standing on the balcony, smoking in the late evening sun.
Now, I had always been interested in theatre, but I had had very little experience of it. My only previous involvement with Shakespeare had been through exams, so obviously, I loathed him. Watching these actors, laughing and smoking, so relaxed in their costumes, waiting for their entrance in the dying sun, I think I fell in love? Not with them, but with who they were and the lives they seemed to lead.
I suggested to my fellow travellers that we should go and see a show while we were there? My male mates looked at me as if I were mad, then they noticed that the girls seemed quite keen on the idea, so they feigned interest. On the way to the pub that night we went in to the theatre and bought six tickets for the next night's production of Romeo and Juliet. Very cheap tickets, I remember. We had elected to stand against the rail at the back of the stalls. I don't know if they still do that, but it was a great way for youngsters to enjoy the shows at a bargain price.
To, for once, be brief; we went to see Romeo and Juliet. Ian McKellen and Francesca Annis. God, she was beautiful and magnificent and stunning and I envied the future Gandalf so much. Why couldn't a girl, or preferably a woman - that woman on stage - declare their love for me in that way? Why would she go for him? He was far too old to be Romeo. My mate Kevin thought he was gay? I was the right age. She should have been forcing my face in to her heaving bos...... anyway, you can see how my teenage mind enjoyed the experience. I was completely hooked. So hooked that, despite a great deal mickey taking, I went back again the next day to see the matinee. I think it was the same play, I'm not sure. It didn't really matter. I just wanted to be in the theatre. Afterwards I went on the theatre tour and walked on to a professional stage for the first time. "Would anyone like to get in to Juliet's grave?" our tour guide asked. Once again this turned out, disappointingly, to not be a euphemism. My hand shot up though (nor's that!) and I stepped forward and climbed down in to the pit where Francesca Annis had been laid. (look, will you stop it?! You're just being smutty and juvenile!).
The point is, it was then and there that I became determined that I would one day act on that stage. I didn't know how to go about it, but I knew that I would - one day.
Despite all the things I've done, I'm still waiting. Next year, perhaps? xx