Article: A Winters Tale

High Jinks at the Christmas Concert

It was Wednesday, 10th November 1999 and my wife and I talked turkey over breakfast this morning. Apparently, frozen turkeys had put in a sudden appearance at the local super-market and this posed the usual Christmas problems which needed to be addressed with some urgency. Like, how big? Had we sufficient room in the freezer? But a further complication this year was the fact that this was to be the last Christmas of the Millennium and we debated whether or not to put on something a little more special. The last Christmas of the Millennium; this set me thinking.

I like Christmas, always have done, always will and I soon found out that my most memorable Christmases fell into three distinct time slots. The early 1930s – when I attended Moseley School: the early 1940s during WWII most of which were spent serving in HMF, and the period from the early 1950s until the present day when the family enjoyed a more or less continuous succession of young members. Present day, the oldest youngster is 47 and youngest 4 years of age.

So what made Christmas at Moseley so memorable. To answer this, let me pose a typical Christmas style quiz:- what do the following have in common? Dormouse, Mole, Lion, Princess Tua Heeta.

Answer:- They were all parts played by me in successive Christmas plays at Moseley. The respective plays being, of course, Alice, Toad of Toad Hall, Androcles and the Lion and Make Believe. The most memorable of these, for me, was undoubtedly playing “Mole” in “Toad”

Rehearsals usually started during October and involved attendance at school outside normal hours – evenings and Saturday mornings. I found this no hardship, in fact, it had positive advantages which most of my friends would willingly have given up a terms pocket-money to enjoy – unlimited, unsupervised access to explore those parts of school which were normally “out of bounds”. For example:- the hand-pumped organ in the library (choc full of dust), the tower and its environs, the swimming pool under the assembly hall and much more. Then there were the visits during school hours to the theatrical costumers on Broad Street accompanied by the producer, always looked forward to. Two performances were given, on the Friday and Saturday evenings before the Christmas recess – Saturday being the “big night” and always played to a full house. Curtain-up was at 7.oopm prompt and the pupil cast assembled in the make-shift dressing and make up room at about 5.30pm. The room was in fact the chemistry laboratory in the new wing- more perks, all those Bunsen burners, the weighing scales on their glass cabinets, unlimited water supplies with which to make water bombs. On the Saturday evening an impromptu roll-call of the pupil cast was held at 6.0pm. at 6.30 the cast required for the opening scene was preparing to move back-stage in the Assembly hall, when disaster struck. Badger was missing! Badger had gone to earth!

After a short search Badger was found by Chief Weasel, ensconced in his sett at the corner of Windermere Lane and Wake Green Road. Curtain up was delayed by half an hour and by this time the school orchestra and choir, who traditionally entertained the audience prior to curtain up were in an advanced state of exhaustion. Having repeated their limited repertoire many times over. Eventually, at about 7.30 scene 1 act 1 got under way.

Ratty and Mole were first on stage and after the opening greeting (“Hello Mole”, “Hello Ratty”) we retired to the rear of the stage to rest on what was supposedly a grassy bank, but was actually Badger curled up asleep. As we sat on him he rose suddenly and catapulted us half-way across stage and at the same time let out an ear-splitting roar. I glanced across at Ratty and we both knew that from that moment on the script could be “scrapt”. All ensuing scenes involving Badger were almost totally ad-libbed.

The climax of the play involved the whole cast. Toad and his followers planned to recapture Toad Hall from the Weasels by force. I never knew who was responsible for the stage props, but it usually on art oriented sixth former. This one, however, was a budding genius with perhaps family connections in the meal butchery business, for that Saturday evening performance only, we were given a secret weapon with which to attack the Weasels. It was a pigs bladder inflated rock hard and attached to 3 feet of garden cane. Needless to say the Weasels were utterly routed but only after a fierce, prolonged battle involving Master v Master; Master v pupil and pupil v pupil. Many an old score was settled that night and the claret flowed profusely (please excuse that descriptive reference but, as the editor well knows, I have a penchant for fine wines, particularly red).*

The final scene had lasted much longer than planned and as we trouped off stage I found myself last to leave, or so I thought. As I entered the wing I felt a sharp thwack to my right ear. I turned round smartly and there was Badger, good old Badger, with a huge grin lighting up his face and still clutching his pig’s bladder. Down came the final curtain to tumultuous applause, of course, and the Christmas play was over for another year.

Finally, I have no doubt that someone, somewhere is bound to have spotted minor inaccuracies, inconsistencies and possibly gross exaggerations in the telling of this little anecdote. All I ask is that you bear with me; after all it was 70 ago.