Each year in Swindon we go to the pantomime as a family – often on Christmas Eve – and it’s become part of our Christmas experience.
This year it was Cinderella with Keith Chegwin as Buttons. It was extra special for me as I’d had the privilege of interviewing Keith months before for Wiltshire Life magazine and found out more about him than I’d known previously. He’s an astute businessman, family man, entertainer, presenter – a man of many facets.
For people of a certain age Keith means Swap Shop as Noel Edmunds‘ sidekick, an associate of Mr Blobby and other childish fads for today’s grown-up children. But, of course, he’s much more than that. He’s a committed musician with his own studio, who often works under a pseudonym.
Great entertainment to invoke the Christmas spirit.....
I think my favourite comment from him was that pantomime is not hard work and when he hears actors’ complaints about it, he reminds them that others work much harder for far less money. Keith has a perspective of life that’s real, he appreciates good fortune and understands that many don’t have it – at least not in terms of money.
So I came to the pantomime, excited to see it. And it was very, very entertaining. My measure for this is to look at my four-year-old and my ten-year-old to see how much they are joining in. They were mesmerised, shouting, waving those light stick thingies, and jumping up and down when required. When the Fairy Godmother (played by Alex Young) wanted us to do something rather too complex every time she came on stage, only a few got it every time and my daughter was one!
Buttons (Keith Chegwin of course) talked to the children all of the time and they loved him. Parents were peripheral (though he did tell me my pathetic attempt at a star jump was well, pathetic) and the little people lapped it up. I did feel a bit sorry for him, as he’d clearly lost his voice and was struggling to sing. But this is pantomime, where much can be forgiven. And he kept up a patter of jokes (much like he does on Twitter) so there was a stream of laughter all of the time.
The singing all round was exceptionally good this year – there was no sense of people who couldn’t deliver. Especially Cinderella and Prince Charming – played by Sasi Strallen & Adam King. Perhaps the slightly weaker singer was Jenny-Ann Topham who played the Wicked Step-mother but her acting more than made up for that. She was a fantastic baddie.
For me, the stars of the show were the Ugly Sisters Wendy & Gail – played wonderfully by David Ashley & Neal Wright. One about seven feet tall, one much, much smaller but both big in personality. When they first came on stage, for us adults, they commanded the audience, you just knew that every time they appeared it was going to be a scream. They were fantastic, funny and saucy – all that’s required of the pantomime dame. And their audience victim? The man they pick on throughout the show? My lovely husband Steve – who apparently was off to Old Town for a night out with them! He’d go too, if they were paying!…..
The fridge is full for Christmas - at last
Today we did a mega-shopping day visiting four supermarkets in a single day to get all the things on my ridiculous Christmas shopping list.
I think that puts me in a good position to assess the supermarkets’ readiness for December 23 – probably the busiest shopping day of the year – in Swindon at least.
First stop, by 9.30am was a town centre Marks & Spencer. Already very, very busy and (is it me?) full of people who think it’s okay to push you out of the way, tut in your ear and be generally grumpy. Nevertheless, the choice was reasonable, there was plenty of stock and we were able to buy the basketful of items we like the M&S way (pudding type things mainly, plus their version of Walnut Whips!).
Then on to Tesco – probably my most hated supermarket in Swindon – as it seems to attract the most aggressive, anti-social shopper on earth. We just wanted a single item here – a prawn cocktail pot with a chilli flavour that they did about three years ago and which we have searched for ever since with no luck. Still, they did have a toilet so that made up for a lot! But no prawn cocktail, so a quick exit was in order.
Third Sainsbury’s – the venue for the main shop as we’d saved more than £100 in vouchers for the Christmas shop. However, I’ll think twice next year. We arrived here at about 11am, maybe a bit earlier, and the shelves were so empty it was almost unbelievable. I had the last few loose parsnips and carrots. We had to divide our efforts in the fruit & veg sections or we wouldn’t have been able to purchase anything. There were no sprouts (apart from those on a big stalk), no loose red onions, no Maris Pipers (my favourite for roasters). It was staggeringly busy with people in trolley jams all around but I couldn’t work out if it was phenomenal sales or really, really poor planning on the shop’s part. Around every corner as well as a zillion trolley-pushers, there were at least two large carts with frantic staff trying to fill up shelves. I couldn’t get any dips like potato salad, humus or Waldorf salad – the kind of stuff I love on Boxing Day. And the only fresh herbs available were parsley, probably the only one I didn’t want!
Hence a quick trip to Asda – where there was so much food it was spilling out of the front door. No worries about sprouts here. In fact, I’d be worried about what’s going to be left as it was 5.30pm when we got there and there was stacks and stacks of food. I also picked up my herbs and nutmeg and was able to tick off the final things on my daft list.
I do now feel like I can relax – the food is in, the turkey is fresh and free range (ought to be gold-plated for what it cost) and the gammon looks like it could feed an army – but four kids should make light work of it!
Tomorrow it’s a pantomime of another kind – shorter, more entertaining and a lot cheaper – bring it on Keith Chegwin!