I thought it might be fun; get me out of myself. And so, when I had the chance to host the daughter of my good friend, Geraldine, when she visited The Hague to perform her one woman show, Le Foulard, I grabbed it with both hands. Two weeks on and I wonder whether I will ever be able to grab anything with two hands again. But let me back up…
Lucy Hopkins is a trained clown, comedic performer and actress. While in town she was also running a workshop on The Art of Being an Idiot and I signed up with some trepidation. It would be way out of my comfort zone, that, like the rest of me, could have done with a stretch. Lucy came to stay with her boyfriend, whom, we soon discovered, was a stand-up comedian called Bob Slayer. My first sighting of Bob was when he blundered up our stairs, blond, beardy, bag-laden and bubbling with unbridled joy behind the walking grin in a beanie that is Lucy.
With Bob and Lucy around the house was filled with laughter, warmth and nonsense. I’d been feeling desperately tired since Pa’s Thanksgiving Service a week earlier. A bit down even and would have chosen staying home with telly, a box set and an early night over going out. Le Foulard forced me out of the trough of sloth and knackeredness that I know is a common reaction to a recent bereavement. The show was a triumph and boy, was I glad I went. A real tonic. The following afternoon her workshop forced me to leave the house for the second day in a row and I knew it too would do me good. I rocked up two Saturdays ago now, nervous.
Give me a stage and a topic on which to talk, even one about which I know nothing, and I’m in my element. There were no scripts here, though. No talking. We were able to move and make a noise, which was a relief. I was intrigued… and terrified.
“Three of you are going to leave the room,” she told us. “Then, when they come in again you are going to tell them what to do. The trouble is, all you are allowed to do is clap.”
What?? This was typical of the nutty improvisational exercises Lucy set us, but you know we embraced the challenges and for the next few hours we had a whole heap of wordless fun. Soon it was my turn to be herded into a group of four.
“Congratulations. We are honoured to have you here with your award-winning worldclass band. Thank you for agreeing to play your famous hit for us now. Go!”
Now one of my biggest fears is singing in public. Worse than that is having to find a rhythm on a tomtom or to clap in time. I’d hate to take part in Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and have to strum an imaginary guitar or beat-box. But there I was and I had an audience. An expectant audience. I had been forced into the farthermost reaches of my comfort zone and I didn’t like it one bit so I made a few desultory ‘bedoo’ powpowing noises and lurked on the periphery.
“Excellent!” enthused Lucy. “Encore!”
Then I had an idea… “Can I use words?” I asked sheepishly.
“Sure,” said Lucy.
Then I’d improvise a rap! So I did, gaily striding to the front of the stage and imparting an inane four-liner about bread and yeast. Now this I could do. I knew I was cheating, but, buoyed by my real moment of fame, I began to relax, loved the workshop and vowed to do more of them. Give me some words and I’m fine.
Later, Ian and I decided to go see Bob doing his stand-up at The Hague Laughs. It was a gorgeous sunny evening and we cycled happily back into town via a pizza and a glass of Valpolicella. I realised I actually felt good. Really good. Hmm, I thought, as I navigated the tramtracks, am I supposed to feel happy just six weeks after my father’s died?
And with that thought… BAM! My front wheel hit the kerb and I fell sidelong splat onto the pavement. Like magic Bob appeared to push my bike for me while I walked to the venue where I spent the evening with ice wrapped in a beer towel dripping against my left arm. It seems I’d hurt my elbow, though not so much that I had swelling or a bruise. Maybe I’d just been an idiot and done my usual trick of not looking where I was going? Pa, well-known for his clumsiness, must have been laughing his heavenly socks off.
After a week of moderate pain during which I managed to work long hours at the computer I realised the pain was getting worse. At the hospital they told me that I was “not Dutch enough – fancy falling off your bike?” and had fractured my radius. Now I have a leaden L-shaped plaster cast that means I can no longer wash my own armpits nor button my clothes, let alone go near a keyboard with my left hand. I’m well and truly grounded.
I am exhausted again. I ache and feel tired even on waking. Lugging a plaster limb around doesn’t help any, but even now, I see the funny side: whooping with delight when I manage to fix a binbag on my arm with a hair-scrunchie and take a bath; resort to using my nose to turn on a light switch when I’m carrying a cup of coffee; realise how lucky I am to be able to write this blog one-handed.
You see, there is always a funny side, isn’t there, Lucy? Isn’t there, Bob? Isn’t there, Pa?
I wonder who is having the last laugh?