There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of us have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. Will Rogers
My admiration for Scheherazade has grown as the size of her achievement is now apparent with 1000 to go. Of course her tales had quality and legacy. I am mainly just aiming at the arithmetic and hoping I can bring something to someone somewhere. One advantage though is 1001 tales gives me the opportunity to start more than once. And there have been many beginnings. Long may these mini-births keep unfolding into new possibilities. These days it’s called ‘emergence’.
And these days it’s the kitchen of an Italian Restaurant in Totnes. Back then it was our workshop in which we made a crucial discovery. I had moved from South London to Devon. The ancient walls and streets of this Devon town made every day seem like a holiday after the hazardous journeys to work in Brixton after the uprising. I had to negotiate my way past the dealers and the victims of Thatcher’s “care in the community”policy for the mentally ill. Don’t get me wrong I love Brixton but Totnes was a daily stroll in the park type place after a stressful time in South London that came to a head one night.
I had worked as a youth worker, started a day care nursery in Brixton, sold fire extinguishers door to door, been a college lecturer and a milkman before I was found by puppetry. All in all I was pretty strung out and exhausted. One night we decided to turn in early. I fell into an immediate deep sleep. I was woken with desperate loud thumping on our front door. Outside the door was a neighbour. He must have been seventy years old and he was in his underwear with a head wound bleeding down onto his vest. As we opened the door he implored us to help repeating the phrase, “she’s gone mad, she’s gone mad!” We invited him in. Apparently, he’d offered temporary accommodation to a young African woman. I say apparently because later other neighbours told us that this taking in if Young African women was a regular occurrence and very temporary. He explained that he’d been woken up by strange chanting in his kitchen. He got up to find the woman incantating with dilated pupils to a bottle of water. Upon him disturbing her ritual, she went wild and attacked him. The urgency of his fear heightened, “Call the police, call the police.”
We called the police. And even though it was January we went out into the street in our dressing gowns. Some neighbours appeared from two doors along. There was a skip outside there house. Suddenly the woman appeared. She had a towel wrapped around her waist. Apart from that she was named, tall and angry as hell. She ran towards the five of us who were standing near the skip. The neighbours who’d responded to the furore tried to calm her down. To no avail. Her pupils were dilated and she grabbed a brick from the skip and was about to attack the seventy year old man. At that moment a siren sounded and a police car flew up the road towards us. The woman turned tail and ran, her towel flew off, the police officers jumped out of their squad car and gave chase to the poor naked woman.
I went in and sat on the edge of our bed with my head in my hands. This was not how I wanted to live. I never wanted to be woken like this again. It was the proverbial last straw. I sat on the bed and told my partner that I simply had to move out of London.
A friend, Patrick, needs introducing. Patrick had spent many years going back and forwards between England and India, backwards and forwards (like me) wondering what life was supposed to be about and what one was supposed to do with the gift. And when he returned from India he often stayed in our flat. On one return I had begun work on the Tomato and the Condor, Patrick returned just as the company needed a technician to work the ridiculously complex home-made lighting and sound systems that were integral to the show. So who could fit the bill than a disorientated wanderer who was , at the time, technically dyslexic. Patrick got the job. The results were often joyous mayhem and hilarious – soundtracks jumping, bonfires from the shanty appearing in the mountains, old people sounding like condors – but no more anarchic than what occurred behind the play board as we near crippled ourselves scrambling from side to side of the wide screen.
Patrick decided to move to Devon. We decided that we could start a puppet company together. And after the briefest of dalliances with the idea of moving to Bristol, we too made the move and followed our old friend to Totnes, Devon.
The London company was called Teatro Travesura ( roughly ‘theatre of a little mischief’). Patrick and I have a way of being together. It sounds to all and sundry in earshot that we are vehemently disagreeing. In fact, we are invariably passionately discussing an agreement. We agreed to honour our time in Travesura by finding an English equivalent. We reached the conclusion that our creation of puppet theatre was a small gesture in the world. Little Jest Puppets was born.
Our search for an image we could use as our logo. The search took us to a catalogue of Victorian drawings that Patrick owned – representations from an ancient church in Herefordshire called Kilpeck. Neither of us had ever visited the church but one image stood out as a picture of a jester. Many years later we visited the church together and we were slightly shocked, very amused and happy to find that our little jester was actually the Sheelanagig.