Thursday, 8 November 2012

Coming in 2013

At the theatre in 2013

Ladies and gentlemen of the ensemble: 2013 is going to be a bumper year at the theatre!

Legally Blonde

You've seen the movie(s), now see the musical! Following lengthy, successful runs on Broadway and in the West End, Legally Blonde is currently playing its out of town tryout in Sydney to generally positive reviews. The lovely and hard-working Lucy Durack, best known for her big break in the Australian tour of Wicked, brings all of her charm to the lead role. Also starring are: Rob Mills and David Harris (ladies: two reasons alone to see this show, and Lucy's former hunky cast-mates from Wicked), Helen Dallimore, Erica Heynatz, and Cameron Daddo.

With a fun score and many laughs to be had, hopefully LB will transfer to Melbourne mid-2013. They're also running a lottery before each show — which has become a trend for Australian musicals in recent years — where you can score two $30 tickets to the show by putting your name in a barrel two hours before the curtain. Count me in!

The Lion King

If you haven't seen, or at least heard of, this show, then surely you have been living under Pride Rock! Disney's The Lion King returns to Australian stages in 2013. The show last toured from 2003 to 2005, and will return to Sydney before no doubt coming back to Melbourne for an extended season.

You can say what you want about the Disneyfication of musicals and their theatrical dominance, but Lion King remains as one of the most entertaining evenings you'll experience in the theatre. Between the winning score and the breathtaking puppetry, take your grandmother and any stunt children you can find: everyone will enjoy themselves. Hakuna Matata!

Sunday in the Park with George

Victorian Opera is bringing back the classic Stephen Sondheim musical to the Victorian Arts Centre from July 2013. Featuring a superb theatre score, with some of Sondheim's most memorable songs, this is an excellent choice for this opera company.

Act one is set in 1884, around real-life painter Georges Seurat and his memorable canvas, 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte'. Act two jumps forward to twentieth century Chicago, with the same principals playing descendants of those in the nineteenth century, again in the world of art. This Pulitzer prize-winning show promises to be a highlight of the Arts Centre's program next year.


Having celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2012, Magnormos, Melbourne's own musical theatre company, looks set to have a big year in 2013. They will be remounting the new Australian musical about The Mamas and The Papas, Flowerchildren, at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne.

With a book by local theatre maven, Peter Fitzpatrick, and featuring many of the hits of Mama Cass and The Mamas and the Papas, this show was a hit at Melbourne's Theatreworks in St Kilda in 2011. Casey Donovan, a former Australian Idol winner, and in her first musical theatre performance, channelled Mama Cass to perfection. Hopefully, she will return with original cast members Matt Hetherington, Laura Fitzpatrick and Dan Humphris, for this encore season.

Stephen Schwartz Triptych

At the OzMade Musicals concert in August, it was exciting news to hear that Magnormos will be staging a trio Stephen Schwartz musicals in 2013 at the Melbourne Recital Centre. This follows the success of their Stephen Sondheim Triptych in 2011, and their Jerry Herman Triptych in 2012, at the same venue.

The three Schwartz shows to be presented are still under wraps and will be announced, along with casting, in the new year. There is much speculation as to the musicals that will be chosen. I'm voting for the shows Rags, Personals, and The Magic Show. I strongly suspect, though, that the program will include The Baker's Wife, which has a wonderful score, and Godspell, of which I'm not a big fan. The shows will be presented as one-night only performances over three Monday nights in September 2013, and Stephen Schwartz himself will be coming out to Australia for the season.


A play, you ask? Why yes: I do see straight theatre!

Warhorse has seen a number of incarnations. It started as the popular 1982 children's book by Michael Morpurgo. It was then adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford, and has seen huge success in London and New York. Most recently, it was made into a popular 2011 film by none other than Stephen Spielberg.

But the beauty and uniqueness of the stage production of Warhorse lies in the stunning portrayal of the horses, by actors using life-sized horse-figure puppets. We're very fortunate to be receiving this production from January 2013, based on the original London show. This engaging tale of a boy and his horse, and his adventures in the conflicts of World War One, is sure to move Melbourne audiences, if not by the story itself, then from the wonderful staging. This is a hot ticket show; I'm glad I booked mine ages ago.

Driving Miss Daisy

Speaking of hot theatre tickets, I've also already got mine for this tour of the Broadway play, Driving Miss Daisy. When you hear the names Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones in the same sentence as 'Australian tour', well, I didn't even really need to be told what the play was!

You'll no doubt be familiar with the Oscar-winning 1989 film, Driving Miss Daisy, starring the equally wonderful Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. The film was based on the play, which has had a sell-out revival on Broadway recently. Set in the deep south of America, it's the story of an older woman and her black driver. With the consummate skills and star power of the two leads, and a by-turns moving and amusing story, this show will sell out very quickly in it's tour of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

One Man, To Guvnors

This is an Australian production of the comic play One Man, Two Guvnors. I've previously written about the filmed stage version of the original English production of this hilarious piece here. As Molly Meldrum would say: do yourself a favour! Honestly, this play is hilarious. It should be a stand-out of the 2013 Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) season.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

A reminder to get in and book for this Chitty, which I've previously written about here. This heart-warming musical is sure to delight. Who doesn't like a flying car on stage?!

King Kong

Another reminder to get in and book for Kong, which is have its world premiere in Melbourne next year. I've also previously written about this show here. Excitement is definitely building for this show, especially since the large signage went up at The Regent Theatre, and after they released a lavish promotional video clip for the show.

The Addams Family

Addams Family is another show which will no doubt tickle our collective funny bones. I've previously written about here. Da da da da click click!

I Dreamed a Dream

People, three words: Susan Boyle musical. I've previously mentioned it here. Take your mother and your grandmother; thank me — or curse me — later.


I've previously written about Ghost here. Sadly, is appears that this production has been postponed indefinitely. The London production did quite well, but not so the New York one. And with a large budget required for the effects essential to the show — and that any professional musical staging is a hugely expensive affair — we may not see this show for some time.

Strange Bedfellows

I fear that this long-delayed/postponed stage musical version of the Australian movie may have disappeared from the theatrical radar. Strange Bedfellows had, by all accounts, a successful preview season in Albury, country Victoria, in 2011. I do wish now that I'd made the effort, and the long drive out, to see it.

Starring John Wood and Peter Cousens — in a humorous story of two men pretending to be in a relationship for tax purposes — the Bedfellows cast was rounded out by the equally wonderfully Lucy Durack and Melissa Langton. The website for this show has been taken down, and there seems no new word from actor/producer Spencer McLaren that this show will be staged in the near future. It's a pity, because this was to be a new Australian musical work, which showed much promise in its score and amusing storyline.

Les Misérables

Like myself, many a show-tune queen has been waiting for an update on this long-rumoured new Australian production of Les Mis. Cameron Macintosh is still to make any further announcements about dates or theatres for a national tour. I would have thought 2013 would have been excellent timing for this show, if only to capitalise on the impending film version of the musical, featuring our own Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.

Strictly Ballroom: The Musical

We've also been holding out for further information on a mounting of the stage musical version of the classic Australian film, Strictly Ballroom. A workshop was held in Sydney in 2010/2011, but news has been quiet since then. With Baz Luhrmann having been extremely busy with his film adaption of The Great Gatsby, it seems that the development of this show has been held up.

Latest word, though, is that producers for Strictly Ballroom are eyeing a September 2013 opening in Sydney. It seems the NSW government has been putting quite a bit of money and effort into encouraging musicals to open their runs in Sydney. Of course, this is wonderful news for Melbourne theatre fans, yet only if the shows get legs and tour. This hasn't been the case for a recent Australian premiere production like An Officer and a Gentlemen, which opened and closed in Sydney after a short run, apparently without recouping much of its investment.

And Afternoon with Stephen Sondheim


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

My last theatre outings for 2012 will be Sondheim-related, which is wonderful news! Stephen Sondheim, musical theatre legend, is coming out to Australia for the  Melbourne season his comedy musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Forum is currently playing at Her Majesty's Theatre. On Friday, 23 November, Sondheim will take the Forum stage, to be interviewed by Ray Martin. A variety of performers will also be on-hand to dazzle us with songs from his various shows. After two postponements of this event — Sondheim apparently suffered an injury and had to delay his flight out — there are many show-tune-queens poised with their autograph books for his arrival. Myself included!

Photo credit:

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


The writer's life

Boy, have I learned some things about writing this year. And I don't think I'll ever stop learning about writing.

Here are a few of the biggies.

Just write. Turn up at the keyboard on a regular basis and just write. It doesn’t matter what I write. The act of writing itself is learning. And I will get better the more I write. I know I have this year. As Dean Koontz says: ‘Say it as simply and clearly, and shortly as possible.’ I have a way to go on this, of course.

Write what I see. One of the reasons my writing is large on detail is that I write what I see in the movie in my mind. All of it. And it’s often a tad too much.

Check for ‘-ly’. Keep those pesky adverbs under control. As Editor O’Connell says: ‘Adverbs are the devil.’

Check for ‘—ing’. Passive forms of the verb too often creep into my writing again and again. They're useful, but used to excess, they can take the punch out of my writing.

Commas. Commas: commas for everyone! I think this is my mantra. They help my readers more easily digest and make sense of my writing by allowing those essential pauses to breathe mentally.

Check for ‘its’ and ‘it’s’. I often let these slip by in my pieces.

Writing is hard work. But it's also very rewarding. And when I get into a state of 'flow’ whilst writing, the writing really does just flow.

Watch out for mitigating words. ‘Somewhat.’ ‘Appears.’ ‘Like.’ ‘Seems.’ etc. They take the punch out of my writing.

The biggest one: fail better. If a piece of mine doesn’t really work on one or more levels, next time it may not work either, but even if it still fails, it will fail better.

Monday, 5 November 2012

New musicals

Coming soon to Melbourne theatres

Hot off the press: Melbourne's 'The Age' newspaper shared the goss this week about some new musicals coming to Melbourne.

Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert

This new local show about the doyenne of the kitchen, Margaret Fulton, opens at Theatreworks in St Kilda in just a couple of weeks. Starring the talented and gorgeous Amanda Lehpamer as Fulton, it looks very promising and very Australian.

Devo: The Musical

It seems that everything old is new again for 80s band, Devo. They're in the midst of writing a musical, and are aiming for Broadway. Hmm ... I'll believe this one when I see it.

I Dreamed a Dream

A new English musical about the rise and rise of Susan Boyle, featuring a jukebox catalogue of her famous songs. This will do huge business, even moreso if 'La Boyle' comes out to do some concerts around the same time. God bless you, 'SuBo': keep releasing those albums, because it keeps me covered for Christmas and birthday gifts for my mother.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


Pantone authority

A little colour humour for the weekend.  ;  )

We've been feverishly working on our student publication, INfusion 47, in recent weeks. The print version will be in black and white (we're on a budget, doncha know) but the cover will be in colour. Oh, the discussions the Design team has had about colours and tones and resolution and images. I'm mighty glad to have been on the Editing team (I was on the Management team for last semester's INfusion 46, making good use of my PA skills).

That said, I did a copyedit of the entire manuscript this week, o sole mio. Man, that was a learning curve. It was great experience for when I get out in the big, wide world of editing and writing. But it was also a bit scary. I'm hoping that my previous 'serial-killer' penmanship — all in my red editor's pen — is clear for our Design team, who are keying the changes into InDesign in coming days. Dearly beloved: pray for me that I have picked up all of the small corrections to be made!

I'm going to be working on the ebook version of INfusion 47 in coming weeks, too, which we'll be uploading to the NMIT website soon thereafter. I'll include the link here on the blog when it's all done and dusted. I've got four photos and two stories in this issue, which is a little bit exciting. I'm also currently working on the process of converting last semester's INfusion 46 into an ebook, so we can upload that as well. I had two stories and four photos include included in that one, which was loverly.

And wish me luck, folks, as I head into the final curve of my course!

To find out more about the Pantone Matching System for colours:

Image credit:

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Mmm ... books ...

Ko-Ko: 'I've got a little list, I've got a little list ...' ('As some day it may happen' from The Mikado.)

I think it's great to keep lists. I didn't used to, though. Oh, I keep 'to do' lists. I'm a veteran of those. It's the only way I keep myself organised. I have many, many 'to do' lists: daily, weekly, monthly, by theme, college-related, home-oriented, things to buy or see or read, people to send flying monkeys after ...

But my long-time friend James introduced me to the idea of keeping lists about books that I've read. I resisted for a long time — partly because he's a voracious reader and I felt intimidated! — but then I embraced the idea, and I haven't looked back.

I then extended the concept to lists of movies and TV shows. And when I was finally going through my theatre programs list several years ago, I put together my theatre-viewing lists over the last thirty years or so, too. I can't tell you how happy I was to finally have all of my theatre programs, divided up by year, in magazine stands on the shelf. Ah, the life of an obsessive-compulsive.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. So, each year now, I keep a running tally of all of everything I 'consume'. I thought I'd share my current list totals with you for a chuckle. I'll pop back at the end of the year with the complete totals and we can compare and contrast then. I might even put up the full lists of all of the titles, too.

Books read: 35. This includes 5 novellas and 19 books I've read for college.

Short stories read: 10. I added this list in 2012 because I'd started reading individual short stories for college.

Movies viewed: 25. This includes 10 at the cinema.

TV shows followed: 5. This list is fairly lean this year. Because I've been studying, I just haven't had the time to watch TV. Indeed, my TV often remains off for weeks and weeks at a time nowadays. (Thank God my mother keeps me up-to-date on current affairs.) I have a long list of TV shows I want to catch up on.

Theatre attended: 28. I would love to have gone to more theatre this year, but I just didn't have enough time. And living on Austudy and savings this year hasn't help. I still have a couple of more shows to looks forward to this year, though.

When it comes to books, please pop over to and have a look for me. I've become a big fan of theirs in recent months. I've listed all of the books that I've read this year, along with a one-to-five-star rating for them, as well as the book that I'm currently reading. It's a fun website, and a great way to keep in touch with friends and their reading habits. Think of it as a 'Reader's Facebook'.

What are you reading at the moment?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Venn diagrams

Remember in primary school when you learnt all about how important Venn diagrams were? Then you never saw one again?

Until someone created internet memes ...

This one's pretty awesome, though, and appeals to the new-found sense of creativity that I've discovered in my writing this year. If you're like me, you're aiming for that red sweet spot. I was thinking today: if I could create a balance amongst the elements of my life — my relationship, my friends and family, my work, my health, my finances, and my writing — then life would be pretty damn good.

Here's hoping!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


Box Hill Institute of TAFE

It's nice to have a win occasionally!

So, on Friday evening I was catching up on my mail, which had gotten away from me during the week a bit, because it was my first week back at college. I was clearing out the spam folder in my Gmail account. Amongst all of the emails there — many of them strongly suggesting that I purchase vast quantities of industrial-strength Viagra — I happened to stumble across the following ...

'Dear Aaron

Congratulations! "Where There's Smoke ..." has won the $150 2nd Prize in the 2012 Avant Press-Box Hill Institute Short Story Competition.

Your story will be published in the 2012 Avant Anthology. You will receive a complimentary copy when it is launched on Thursday 6 December (at a venue to be decided).

Can you please email us the Word file of "Where There's Smoke ..." so we can edit it for house style.

We will email you an approval copy before going to press.

In November, you will receive an official letter from the Box Hill TAFE Administration requesting your banking details for electronic payment of your $150.

Congratulations once again!

Best regards

The Avant Press Team'

How exciting! This is my first competition prize! I mean, I had a piece published earlier in the year in the NMIT 'Time to Write' anthology — which was fabulous — but this is my first cash prize! And it's from another TAFE. Whoo and hoo!

I'm afraid I'll have to keep you in suspenders about the story until the anthology has been published, but then I'll post it here for y'all to read. But what I can tell you is that the theme of the competition was 'disasters'. My story was about a woman coming home to her house on fire, and the heroic efforts she then pursues. It was based on an exercise for my Novel class, so a big thanks goes to my Novel teacher, Louise, for setting that assignment!

Needless to say, all of the fame and wealth has gone to my head, and I've become insufferable to live with.

Here's the link to the Box Hill website with the announcement, too.

Photo credit: Box Hill Institute

Monday, 15 October 2012


Big name authors = big advances

Just popping my head back in the door of the blog. I'll be back again soon; hopefully more regularly!  :  )

In the meantime, an interesting article from 'The Age' about authors who take advances but don't deliver the books that they're contracted to write. If you're a well-known celebrity, you can often score yourself a substantial advance on a book.

But in more a more competitive book market, publishers are focussing on the business of making money and have to recoup their losses. I wonder what the ratio is between famous people not delivering on their promises, compared to all the hard-working writers out there trying to actually earn a crust from writing, and who do the right thing?

Photo credit:

Friday, 5 October 2012

'The Next Day'

To ease you into your weekend, here's a creepy little story from yours truly.

This was my very first piece of fiction writing for my course this year. It was published in 'INfusion 46', our NMIT student publication. I've tweaked it a little for this version. It's short and sweet. Indeed, it's the shortest thing by far that I've written for college this year!

I think I could adapt this into a longer work for young adult readers. I'm intrigued by the ideas behind it, which I'd like to explore. I'll let you know how I go.

Please to enjoy.


‘The Next Day’

She was awoken by a sudden white flash. The thin blanket of sleep slipped away. She held her breath against the rumbling of the early dawn.
She counted, getting as far as five. Another flash. She counted again, only getting to four.
It's coming quickly this time, she thought.
Her cold skin prickled from the ozone. She was completely awake. On the bed that had been his, she pushed back the stained quilt. She never slept deeply these days. No-one did.
She glanced up towards the sound of rain tapping on corrugated iron. She hoped she had sealed the roof tightly enough. She’d used all of the resin that she could find in his workshop. You couldn't trust the rain. You couldn't let it touch you. And you couldn’t let it in. Not anymore. The days of carefree walks in the rain with her father were past now. The days of trusting the rain — of trusting anything — were long gone.
The initial silence was replaced by a sudden roar. The rain was very quick. It was getting quicker each day. It could sneak up on you if you weren't careful. The rain could hide other noises if you weren’t careful, too.
Her gaze shifted to the door. She strained to hear over the storm. The old-fashioned key was still in the lock. She should still be safe, even if he came back. But, like many things in this house, the lock wasn’t very strong.
Myself included.
She stared out the window. She ignored the faint reflection of herself — a skinny, unremarkable girl with long brown hair. It was her mother’s hair, but with some of her father’s copper highlights through it. It was a face of dark hollows, and darker, empty eyes. She looked past herself and allowed her mind the rare luxury to wander. No-one let their concentration lapse for too long, not if they valued their safety. But the locked door was a measure of protection — for the time being, anyway.
She stretched out her awareness to the roiling sky. Her eyes widened, taking in the view.
Weather is too large to be concerned about someone’s death. Weather is vast. Weather stretches across countries, across the planet. The weather here is just a tiny part of a pattern within patterns within patterns. There's a reason The Scientists can’t make rain, or make it stop raining for that matter. The Forecasters might be able to give some vague predictions about weather based on years of gathered information, but you can’t ever reliably say what the weather the next day — or the next hour — will be like. And you can never create weather or try to control it. The Rainmakers had tried that once and everyone now knew the disaster that had become.
But life goes on. So too, it seems, does death. Sometimes death goes on in a cruel parody of life. That happened quite a lot these days. Life and death go on, and so does the weather. The million small dramas people wake up to every day doesn't matter to the weather. It doesn't care about what happened to you yesterday. It doesn't care about your sanity, or your safety. It's weather. It's just too damned large to worry about you. It’s too damned big to care. But we have to worry about the weather and life and death.
Today, she had to worry about all three. Especially death. In particular, his death. She hoped his death would be permanent, and that her life would continue.
I don’t want to have to kill my father again.
Across the room, the doorknob rattled.

© Aaron Hughes 2012

Photo credit:

Friday, 28 September 2012

I know this to be true

Today was to be my return to the blog. After a recent bout of unwellness, which has laid me low and kept me from posting for much longer that I had hoped, I had wanted to come back with something lightly amusing and entertaining for you all to ease you into the weekend.

But, like many Melbournians today, I'm feeling quite deflated. For those of you who are interstate, or if you choose not to follow the news — and after today, I'm thinking more power to you — I'm talking about the tragic death of Jill Meagher.

I haven't known what to do today to channel my sadness. Then I was in the shower a little earlier and I thought: write it out, Aaron, just write it out.

So here I am.

Firstly, I talked with my Mum today, and that helped us both. Mum's a bit of a homebody, and so she's been following the case all week on TV. She needed to talk it out, too. Now I need to encourage her to step away from the TV and radio a bit to get some perspective.

You know — and I know this sounds a bit macabre, but go with me on this — Ma even got me to check the fenced-off alleyway, which runs down next to our house, early in the week. It hadn't even occurred to me, but we're not that very far from where Jill was abducted. Like me, Ma was worried for Jill, but realistic enough to know that there was little likelihood after several days that she would be found alive. She wanted closure for Jill's husband and family. It strikes me as incredibly sad that closure could come from something like checking an alleyway. But somewhere out there in Melbourne in recent days, a series of good, helpful people checked and re-checked things and places, and asked the right questions, and now Jill's family has closure, tragic as it is.

My partner's been busy at work today, and we won't get a chance to chat until tonight. When I do, I'll be saying to him the same thing that I said to my Mum earlier: I love you. Because that's all you can do; actually tell the people you love that you love them, and then hope for the best for them in life. I can only imagine what Jill's husband and family must be going through. The only consolation I can think of is that she knew she was loved, and that she loved them. They will always carry that love with them.

As I sat on the tram on the way to college today, it started raining. I thought that even Melbourne's weather has been affected by the sadness of Jill's death. I could feel it in the mood of people on the tram and at college.

I managed to chat with a couple of friends and a teacher at college today. That definitely helped. It was some consolation that other people are feeling like this; that vague sense that all really isn't right with the world today, and a great tragedy has occurred amongst us. Moreso, that the many people who knew Jill are now in unspeakable pain, which will take a long time to leave them. To those people, I send whatever good metaphysical thoughts and love that I can.

At the end of class today, my teacher made the excellent point that, in 2012, in a capital city, in Australia, any woman should be able to walk down the street at any time of day and feel safe. Hell: she could be naked, and she should still feel safe. To think that a woman isn't safe like that is part of the enduring tragedy of Jill's death. As a gay man, I know that it's not even necessarily safe for a man to walk down the street on their own in certain circumstances.

I don't have any easy answers for this. I wish I did. Instead, I encourage you to have a quiet word with your sisters and girlfriends and wives, your mums and aunts and grandmothers, and remind them to take that little bit more care when they venture out. Walk your friend to their tram stop or to the train station. Ask your friend to text you as soon as they get home safely. If they don't, then text them to check. For the rest of us — guys and gals — also remember that if you see anyone being hassled, or if you see something not quite right, be the one to step up and say something. You could help to save a life. It's like they say on the many motivational blogs that I follow: be the change that you want to effect.

We lost one of our own today. A bright, lively, intelligent, beautiful woman, who was loved by many, and whose memory is now known by many, many more. A vibrant, young Irish woman, come to Melbourne with her husband for a new life. I can only hope that she found great love and happiness in her life.

If you are as sad today as I am but you can't shake it, then talk to someone — talk it out — and soon. A friend, a colleague, a neighbour, a relative, your partner. Or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Don't ever be ashamed of reaching out for help.

Now go and tell your family that you love them. Do it: right now.

Vale Gillian Meagher.

Photo credit:

Friday, 21 September 2012

‘It’s My Birthday and I’ll Die (of Embarrassment) If I Want To’

As threatened — I mean, promised — here is a little story from yours truly.

Please to note that this is not memoir! Because it's written in a voice very much like mine own, quite a few fellow students in my course thought that it was a real occurrence! Yes, I did faint at one of my early birthday parties, but the rest is purely invention. Mostly.

Well, my father, was known on occasion to dress in a frock. And he did give me my first wig. Let's just say that, in some ways, this apple did not fall very far from that particular tree ...

Oh, and this was published last semester in our NMIT limited-run student publication, 'INfusion 46'. We're soon to convert it into an ebook and release it on an unsuspecting public, so stay tuned.


‘It’s My Birthday
and I’ll Die (of Embarrassment)
If I Want To’

I fainted at my twelfth birthday party. Quite embarrassing, really. Strapping boys don’t faint. Fainting is for little old ladies in Miss Marple novels who have an ‘attack of the vapours’, as they used to call them. Men could faint in the olden days, but it was called ‘melancholy’ then.
I’m rather sure that my grandmother thought I was a melancholic child. She never said as much, but she never needed to. Old people can say a lot just by giving you the once over and narrowing their eyes. That’s why old people always say: ‘Come here, let’s have a look at you.’ They really only need to give you an x-ray stare for a moment and they have all the information they need. They don’t even have to ask you anything, and you certainly don’t need to speak. Old people have their ways. I know: my grandmother was one of seventeen children (well nineteen, if you count the two who died early), and so I grew up around many, many old people. Clever, old people.
The fainting thing: I remember that the cake had just come out — a fabulous iced rainbow confection. Rainbow: now there was an early irony. Ma had done a sterling job. It was a fresh sponge cake covered in mock cream; with not one, but two, layers of plum jam in the middle. Divine!
Does anyone make mock cream anymore? I’ve only come across it once or twice since I left my hometown. Ma got the ‘family’ recipe from Mr and Mrs Royal of ‘Royal’s Cakes’. Both of the Royals are now long gone, probably due in no small part to all of that mock cream. I remember Mr Royal well. He would go on to make my eighteenth birthday cake some years later, when Ma wanted something ‘fancy’. I remember him eying me up when I collected the cake. I was well on my way to the husky man that I am today — or a ‘man of heft’ as I like to call myself — but I still had some youthful muscle back then rather than just ‘pudge’ (as my boyfriend, Rupert, bitchily refers to it). Mr Royal took one look at me and I could tell he liked what he saw. I got a sizeable discount on the cake, I might add. I think I might have gotten a sizeable gift of other sorts, too, if his wife hadn’t been in the shop with him that day.
Back to the fainting: there were the requisite twelve candles on the cake. In the middle was this candle monstrosity playing ‘Happy Birthday’ in an off-key, Hammond organ tone. I was wedged at the dining room table, surrounded by scads of family. The air in the room was rather close, as I remember, and I was overly warm. Ma, in a Bex swoon — as she had been that day — had dressed me up. I wore a woollen skivvy, heavy flared denim pants and a knitted vest over the skivvy. I mean, this was the seventies, after all. There were too many people huddled around me, with too much alcohol in them and not enough fresh air. They’d turned the lights off minutes before the cake had begun its slow, stately procession down the hallway, so it was quite dark.
You know, I don’t think any photos of that birthday party survived. Good thing, really. My uncle Duncan, the family photographer, was lousy at chronicling our family affairs. He was always pissed (albeit in a good-natured way) and so the pictures from his Pocket Brownie were never really in focus. God, I remember my first Pocket Brownie. That was when the film cartridge could fall out of the camera; you would just pop it back in, and you wouldn’t lose a single photo. Not one. I’d had that happen plenty of times at the school Party Dances. All of my photos came out beautifully, though. Mind you, they say I had an eye for photography even back then. I was one of those ‘creative’ children, as my grandmother would say.
‘He doesn’t play sport. He doesn’t go on dates with the neighbourhood girls. But he can decorate the school Party Dance within an inch of its life, and he can whip you up a darling little diorama at the drop of hat.’ She was always narrowing her hooded eyes at my dioramas. Bitch.
The famous Birthday Fainting (unsurprisingly, they always capitalised it when they spoke of it years later). There were flickering shadows on the hallway wall as the cake began its stately progress to the dining room. I hadn’t eaten much all that day, not even at the party. Particularly not at the party. As the family fat boy, I didn’t want to confirm everyone’s long-held belief that I ate everything in sight. They were right, of course, but I refused to give them the satisfaction of confirming it.
So, recapping: too warm, too many people, not enough air, and nothing to eat. And half a glass of my grandfather’s Tawny Port and dry ginger ale, which I’d secretly sculled while he was fixing his hearing aid. It was a recipe for disaster. A recipe with lashings and lashings and lashings of frosting, it turned out.
Then suddenly there he was. The Main Event. My Father. All the ingredients for the scene were about to be mixed in.
Entrance: kitchen door.
State: inebriated.
Height: six foot nine, resplendent in six-inch stiletto heals. (Gorgeous they were: black patent leather, with a cunning little ankle strap, and diamanté clasp.)
Dress: well, a dress, of course. It was the colour of the old song, ‘Midnight Blue’. With ruffles from here to eternity, Deborah Kerr.
Face: heavily made-up. His close ‘companion’, Leslie, had done a marvellous job on his make-up. Clearly though, that had been several hours earlier, before Father had started on the margaritas (his favourite drink). Now his Max Factor was a little worse for wear. It reminded me of the hoary old line, that drag queens are like classic works of art: best enjoyed from a distance.
Gift: a medium-sized box, covered in white satin wrapping paper, festooned with ribbons that had been hand-curled with a pair of scissors. (My father, a former carpet salesman, who’d left the family home two years earlier, was then a ‘performer’ in his own ‘cabaret’ show and had always been handy with a pair of scissors. So, it turned out later, was my mother; a former florist.)
Apparently I took one, long, mortified look at my father and his maniacal smile (my cousin, Melinda, says she fully counted to five during this moment). Then in the best tradition of the theatre, I’m pleased to say my eyes rolled back, I started to tip, and I went down for the count. Right onto my grandmother.
And so it began. The rest I heard — in excruciating detail — from my many, many cousins in the following months.
I collapsed on Nana Patrice, who started shrieking for (a not unreasonable) fear of being crushed. Father’s smile started to slide, along with his make-up. Ma looked at the cake, looked back at my father, and took aim. The cake exited stage left — most of it onto my father’s plunging décolletage. Ma shrieked and took up the scissors. (She’d rather foolishly left them on the bureau earlier in the day when she finished trimming the flowers for the table decorations: once a florist, always a florist. She was very Mrs Dalloway.)
And she went after him.
Father, to his credit, made it into the back garden, but his gorgeous high heels were his undoing on the moist grass. Down he went, a bedazzled sack of potatoes. He managed to turn himself over just in time to see my mother, now with her own maniacal grin, bearing down on him. The shriek she uttered will apparently haunt certain members of my family — Sharelle, I’m looking at you, dear — to the grave.
The casualties?
Father — amazingly — only needed four stitches. Ma had only caught him high on the right cheek as she, too, went down on the grass, martyr to her own stiletto frou-frou slippers. I ended that day with a fair-sized grapefruit on the side of my head from where I’d hit my grandmother’s wheelchair frame. Nana displayed the bruising on her forearms for some weeks afterwards as her battle wounds, accompanied by an awful lot of her patented eye-narrowing, of course. The cake was the unluckiest of all, though. The family dog, Macleod, finished off the last of it from the front of my father’s dress.
And that is the story of the famous Birthday Fainting episode, starring Yours Truly.


© Aaron Hughes 2012