Operation Smile's Christmas Carols - A Burketeer Special!

I read somewhere that writer's accomplish their best work when tired or drunk. Bearing in mind I've had 11 hours sleep in the last three days, today's entry should be a work of pure genius, although I suspect it's more likely to be delirious ramblings! Whilst I think on, I'm combining three days into one post, you may wish to make a nice cup of tea, or coffee if you have to, before you start reading. On second thoughts maybe a nice bottle of Russian vodka, or something else to take away the pain, might be better!

Monday 14th December

I'm all packed and ready to go to London, if I'm honest, I've been packed for several days. I have been given a lift to the railway station, however, the bonus of the lift is negated by having to sit for over an hour in the freezing cold as my train isn't due until 10:30. Still I buy something that vaguely passes as tea to the uninitiated and I sit with a spot of light reading until the train arrives. On the train someone has pinched my seat so they are politely ousted and my journey continues southwards. Pencil in hand I continued to read my book, The Conspiracy of the Human Race, content in the knowledge that there is at least one other person on the planet who thinks that the human condition is generally somewhat as grim as I think it is!

As I slipped deeper into my catatonic state of blissful dreariness, my 'phone buzzed and I entered into a conversation with a Burketeer about a play we would be seeing the next day, The Doctor's Dilemma. Now I didn't really enjoy reading it as much as I had hoped to, so it was interesting hearing the angle she was coming from and that she was enjoying it. My phone buzzed again and another Burketeer who I was meeting for lunch advised that she'd forgotten her ticket for the carol concert and would now be on a later train. Nikki and I  managed to meet up, only a little bit late, then realised that neither of us have any definable map reading skills, but as fortune favors the brave we head off and miraculously find The Sherlock Holmes Pub for our lunch. Beer and Gin is required, afterwards we head off to try to find the tube line which will take us to our flat, and hopefully more alcohol, it is required, it has been a rather stressful day so far, but not as stressful as it's about to become.

We manage to take the tube in the right direction, seriously the two of us should not really be allowed out together, and as we fall out of the tube station someone has thankfully marked our flat with a huge figurative arrow and we spot it immediately. As we drew closer, we saw our friend Angie patiently waiting for us outside the pub, and as it would be rude not to...we headed inside for another little drinky poo! On reflection, again this sustenance was required as we were about to embark on the Krypton Factor/Crystal Maze challenge. We get out the instructions to gain us entry to the flat. We manage to get into the building, make our way up to the flat, and then the fun begins. How many people does it take to get into a key safe? "OMG we've finally got the crystal" (key) and we open the door to find light switches "not as we know it Jim". There are panels in every room with eight buttons for every sodding combination of how you would like your room to be lit. What happened to on/off and maybe if you're posh a dimmer switch?

Fortunately my spidey senses kicked in immediately and the tea cupboard was located in a nano second and the kettle switched on. That was probably the only thing in the entire house that did not need to come with instructions...and probably the only thing any of us could use! Nikki and Angie needed milk for their tea (heathens) so they popped to the shop and left me in charge of the futuristic flat. I was having a disco (I'm from the 70's...shut up...I still say disco) with all those light switches and didn't notice flatmate number four was trying to ring me, tweet me, even desperately holding a seance, to be let in from off the street! Eventually I do let her in, and then I let her back out again so she could meet the final Burketeer to make up our happy home for the next couple of days.  Once we were all together, we thought we should entertain a few friends who had arrived in the city, and so we went to Tesco. Yes, all five of us in a Tesco Metro at rush hour, carrying a basket each, and hopeful that someone would take charge as to what should be put in each of our baskets. My basket was easy, plum tomatoes, a cucumber and some Prosecco. Not entirely sure what Freud would say about that. We amused (bewildered) the man at the cigarette counter, no we were not going to attempt self-service, we are Burketeers - calamity follows us wherever we go, the totting up of  several baskets required the skills of a professional! Then back to our easy to use flat.

Back at the flat we attempted to understand the instructions left for us under the heading of  "How to Use the Oven". Switch on and put on correct setting was not the most adequate of instructions, so we stood watching an oven stay resolutely cold until we had tried turning the knob to every setting imaginable. During the course of our escapades, we also realised that the flat was lacking in bedding, so emergency 'phone calls were made to the owners to bring duvets over. Still we finally ate, bedding was delivered, and as we are amazing hostesses, we proceeded to ensure our guests left "Enlightened"for the evening. Funny how once the film finished everyone grabbed their coats and left, still it meant we could change into our pyjama's and enjoy a nice bottle of Champagne as we sat around the table gushing over the photo's that had appeared on Twitter showing Tom at the War & Peace premier!

Tuesday 15th December

The big day has arrived, today we see Tom twice, once on film and once in the flesh; unless he has had the sense to grab his pack-a-mac and run for the hills. Our guide for the day arrived at the flat bright and early and we headed off to the tube to make our way over to the watch The Doctor's Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw. On our way to Waterloo (I bet Wellington never got lost) I disappeared into my infamous wormhole dragging, Angie, Cheryl and Lesley with me. Somehow we managed to get to Waterloo station without our guide, but trying to find the right exit from the station was becoming time consuming, and by now we were getting very late for the start of the play. We managed to confuse some station workers whilst trying to get directions from them, but eventually we started singing from the same hymn-sheet (at least that's one thing we'd get right on the night then) and we headed out of the building to find Nikki and Fiona patiently waiting for us. Like schoolchildren we were herded in to the National Theater Archives and we sit down to watch the play. Now, I have to be honest, I was a bit disappointed when I read the play, I found it a little tedious, not like Shaw at all, so I was hoping that the stage production would bring it to life. It was amazing! I will update my "Tom's Plays" part of the blog at a future date with the details, but suffice to say the actors brought great characterisation into each of the doctor's roles. Tom's character, Louis Dubedat, is rather unlikable in the play, I did not have too much empathy with him, however, Tom's performance turned him into a lovable rogue, and you realised that really the worst scoundrel of the lot was the Doctor (Ridgeon) who was in love with Jennifer Dubedat! In a heart wrenching scene towards the end of the play, Louis lies dying. Anyone who has had to sit at the side of a bed with a loved one waiting for their final breath will know how difficult it is, but as Walpole checks to see whether Louis is dead, Tom of course manages to turn this into a comic highlight of the play by suddenly sitting up and announcing "Not yet, dear. Very nearly, but not yet!" How I loved those shifts of light and shade throughout the play! It was an enjoyable way to start the day, leaving us with plenty of material to discuss as the Burketeers headed off to find a bus to take them to lunch at The Teahouse Theatre.

"The Burketeers on the bus go up and down..." yes, we practically took over an entire London bus, and then infiltrated the tea-house for sandwiches, tea and cake. Pots of Yunnan flowed all around me, however being of an exacting nature I had plumped for the Pu'erh, which turned out to be an awesome decision as it meant I had an entire huge pot to myself, and no I wasn't sharing because this is tea we are talking about. Tea and food finished the Burketeer quiz came out, and so did my bottom lip. All these questions that needed me to remember names, I've written about all (bar one) of Tom's plays, could I remember their titles...nope, the characters names...nope, now if the question had been describe what happens in Scenes From An Execution I would have had a fighting chance, just so long as names were not required and I could say "thingy" painted a big picture in Venice! One of my flatmates had a bad head, so we disappeared off a bit early so she could have a lie down and be ready for the evening. The taxi driver had other plans though and we sat for what seemed like years in his cab until we got fed up and walked back to the flat. Five ladies, one bathroom and sixty minutes to get ready; sod it, I got changed in the kitchen! We then walked to the church, obviously taking a couple of scenic detours, in the pouring rain and we sang an impromptu rendition of the 12 days of Xmas on the church steps. I'm surprised Simon Cowell didn't arrive and sign us up on the spot.

After standing in the rain for an hour and a half we were let into the church and force-fed whisky to warm us up. Tom and some other famous people were already sat at the front of the church and so we made our way in and sat down.  I didn't get thrown out of the church for crimes against singing, which was a shame for Tom really. As I trotted around the church filling myself with mince pies, I noticed Tom was surrounded by smiling Burketeer's, but as I said hello to a few new faces and asked if they'd spoken to Tom yet, I realised that the way things were going, they were unlikely to speak to him if they remained quiet and polite in the background. Surprisingly I do know what it is like to be a shrinking violet, I wished there had been people in my past to push me into the unknown, so I bellowed at Tom and as he caught my eye I said there's someone over there from France who would really like to speak to you. I then left and hoped for the best, I think she had a good time speaking to him, and I think it made her trip worthwhile. I did some more mingling and mince pie eating (well that was basically my dinner for the evening) and saw someone else I'd sat next to during the service hiding in the background hoping Tom would get left alone for two minutes, it wasn't going to happen, so I shouted at the poor man again and told him I had another European cousin wanting to see him! I said I'm doing this a lot, and as he said "yes you are" I refused to look too long into his eyes just in case I registered that he wanted to kill me! Ignorance as they say is bliss!

The rest of the evening started to become a bit of a blur, which is a shame as I'd only had two mulled wines, and if I'm going to forget things, I'd prefer for it to be after an entire bottle! I left Tom alone and started on Lesley instead - "Lesley take photo's" - she just looked at Tom and said "she's such a bully", I don't know what his response was, I disappeared again! I chatted to a few more bewildered people who were too polite to tell me to get lost and then I remembered I had a present for Tom. He had said something at Newcastle, and I'd thought of something he might find interesting, so I quickly handed it over and said, "Oh by the way I read those books you suggested, they were very good". Tom said "what both? Even Conspiracy?" to which I admitted I had ten pages left to read, but yes both read, both very good! In some respects it would have been better if the church had been quieter and I could have found out if it was the fact I had bought and read the books in a relatively short space of time, or just the fact that I can read something more formidable than Dr Seuss that surprised him! On that note though I did point out it's the first time in 20 years I've needed to sit with a pencil and a dictionary annotating a book as I read through it! I've not had to give my little grey cells a literary workout in a longtime and it's hard work trying to understand what the author is trying to tell me, (secretly I'm rather pleased to be challenged in this manner, Tom could have told me to read the Mr Men like he did with Luke!)  Anyway, rather than asking him for a photo I disappeared again which saved him suffering the ignominy of smiling in a photo when he may have preferred to throttle me instead! Note to self...when you meet famous people, don't tell them off, remain coy at all times!

The night drew to a close, and a few of us headed off to a rather nice pub where we had some fizz and more chatter. Then we grabbed a taxi homeward bound and sat around the table gossiping until 2am!

Wednesday 16th December

Oh dear God we need to pack, we need to clean the flat, we need to get to V&A to watch A Design for Living (and I can't miss it, it's one I read and loved and desperately needed to watch!)  So we sit in bed and tweet each other deciding what we shall have for breakfast instead! Our exit of the flat is just as complicated as our entering; that damnable key safe! But we head off and get to the tube where we meet up with a couple more Burketeers and head towards Kensington. We get to the V&A where we need to have our cases searched, I open mine and the security guard asks if there are any knives or sharp weapons in my case. I say no. He tells me it is a tidily packed case. I say thank you, then he tells me to go in, no rifling through my knickers required. Bemused, I go inside thinking I look either trustworthy or just too stupid to commit crime; probably the latter! Cases dumped in the cloakroom, we head towards where the play is on, obviously getting lost on the way, still we arrive, we watch, we laugh like hyenas all the way through, and all of us lament that we can't buy the play, which is a shame because it is brilliant. I was in physical pain from all of the laughter. How they could perform that play every night with straight faces is beyond me, although when you watch the recording you can see bits and pieces where the actors are desperately trying to hold it together. My favorite line must have been Andrew Scott talking about the Sherry "It ought to be good; it's real old Armadildo." I know that's how it is written in the play, but how they managed to continue their lines afterwards was beyond me. It was utterly brilliant watching the chemistry between the two actors as they got steadily drunker and drunker throughout the scene!

Play over, and we head down to the V&A cafe for lunch, I am starving and my stomach is on a mission for food so I didn't hear people shouting their goodbyes. We head for our tables and then grab some lunch (and of course tea and cake) and then I realise how many people have left and I feel bad for not saying goodbye. My train was not until 6:20, so there was plenty of time to kill, we stayed in the cafe and drank tea for the rest of the afternoon, chatting, laughing and reminiscing over what an unforgettable experience everything has been. As the numbers reduced, brief moments of despondency set in as we noted we had nothing planned for next year. How bizarre that a TV programme could be responsible for so many strangers coming together and having the time of their lives! Then we remembered that next year will be Box Clever Theatre's 20th birthday...I'm sure we may be able to organise some shenanigans based around that then!!!!