Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Shrewsbury Theatre And Honest Betty

A little access tip for you, since that is allegedly one of the functions of this column. If you turn up at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool with a wheelchair under your behind you are not going to be sitting next to the person you go in with. You will be sat behind them. Possibly in front of them. I can’t remember which. But certainly not next to them. You might aswell go by yourself. It’s reminiscent of two very strange young men who used to go into the Springy together on a Thursday night for the karaoke, buy their pints together at the bar, and then go and sit in completely different places as if they didn’t know each other at all. No, I don’t know either….

I mention this because Emma and I like the theatre. You can suggest that is because I have become middle class if you like but then I’m not the one drinking Pimms and watching fat hairy men shout ‘heave’ at each other at the Rugby World Cup. So anyway to get to the theatre we had to take the slightly drastic measure of travelling to Shrewsbury. When we were last in Shrewsbury we visited the Severn Theatre just to have a nose around, but there was nothing much on. We resolved to come back one day, especially given the access limitations closer to home, and so when a Sherlock Holmes-related play hit the stage we thought we would take the opportunity.

With the doors opening at 7.30pm an early evening meal was required. We had been out earlier for a couple of relaxants to watch Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge at Liverpool, a catatonia-inducing 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. Even that presented a dilemma with Emma’s Sheffield Wednesday playing Hull City on half of the television sets in The Salopian, reminding us again of our friends from the Springy karaoke. The Salopian is a dinge-hole of a bar but one which is sufficiently 21st century to know that subscribing to BT Sport will be a profitable exercise. One or two others in the town had failed to realise this.

On our travels we had noticed a nice looking pub restaurant type place on the river close to the theatre. In the event it looked far nicer from the outside than it did on the inside. It was far more pub than restaurant. There were some booths (inaccessible unless you are able and inclined to vacate your wheelchair) and just one large round table in one half of the room. There was another rectangular table or two on the other side of the room but one was full and the other had a notice on it indicating that it had been reserved. Not that this stopped the customers on the full table from stealing the empty chairs from the reserved table. We were left with the large round table, so we settled in and picked up a menu.

It was not exactly a rip-roaring success. We only ordered sandwiches with a side order of chips but Emma complained that the chips were not cooked properly on the inside. She got a fiver back for her troubles, which is first of all an admission of guilt on their part and secondly the value of two portions of chips in this place. It is not my local chippy. I didn’t even like my ham sandwich, which Emma said was because it was ‘proper ham’. I ate it anyway but it wasn’t to my tastes. Still, good job I was eating ‘proper ham’ now that other types of ham apparently give you cancer. Aswell as sausages and bacon of course. I read somewhere that these things pose the same risk of cancer as cigarettes, which strikes me as slightly hysterical. I haven’t done the stats, but I’m almost certain that the percentage of bacon, ham and sausage eaters who have developed cancer is much lower than the percentage of smokers who have. Otherwise there would be government health warnings on packets of bacon, wouldn’t there? Who knows, perhaps that’s next. All in all I’m reminded of a scene from The Young Ones in which Rik complains that Neil had kept him awake all night ‘pacing up and down and ringing bells’ to which Neil replies ‘sleep gives you cancer man, everyone knows that’. Everything gives you something and you will die. This is not news.

There was time for some liquid refreshment before the show but predictably this meant fighting through the queues at the bar. In a brilliant initiative geared towards saving time they were taking orders for interval drinks aswell, so we blatantly pushed our way to the front and did the deal. The barman assured us, after scanning our tickets, that we would be able to take our drinks into the theatre. We had to make sure of this before we bought them as it was getting a little close to performance time. The last thing you want to be doing if you have a hiatus hernia is downing a bottle of Budweiser in 10 seconds before you settle down to watch anything as lengthy as a stage play. I’d be thrown out once the wretching started so it was important to know that we would be able to take our time.

Having scrambled around for a few minutes trying to find the right theatre (there are at least three in the building, probably more) we arrived at the door to be advised by the lady on the door that we would not be able to take our drinks in after all. A sense of panic began to take hold at this point, as I faced the prospect of either not drinking a hugely expensive Budweiser (imagine!) or forcing it down and exposing myself to my ailments and subsequent ejection from the premises. We argued that we had been told that we would definitely be able to take our drinks in by the barman but the lady on the door was not budging. The best she could do, she said, was to get the manager up to speak to us about it. We waited a few minutes more before the manager appeared. But all she did was confirm that we would not be taking any drinks into this auditorium any time that night. She mumbled something about accessibility which I didn’t fully understand, probably because I was so focused on the fact that I’d apparently been conned by the barman downstairs.

I was just about to go into a rant about how the only accessible theatre was the one which customers were not allowed to take drinks into. The injustice of it all was sure to fill these pages with months of rants just like this one. And then Emma said;

‘Is this ‘The Game’s Afoot’?’

It wasn’t.

We were in the wrong place. This was Abba or something. I quickly apologised and then pushed away towards the other auditorium at the end of the corner as fast as possible. In mitigation, shit like this always happens to us so it was a natural conclusion to jump to. The idea that we would be misinformed by a barman and that an accessible theatre would turn out to be an alcohol free zone seemed, and still seems completely realistic. But perhaps it would have been prudent of us to ask if we were in the right place before we got into a debate about rules around alcohol. You live and you learn.

‘The Game’s Afoot’ is not strictly a Sherlock Holmes story. It’s about an actor who plays Sherlock Holmes on stage. During one performance he is shot in the arm by a mystery member of the audience. Subsequently the action switches to his large house on Christmas Eve where he and his actor friends contemplate the riddle of who tried to take him out. When of course there is another murder. But all of this bloodshed is done in the right spirit, if that is possible. The deaths are funny and meant to be. There are running jokes, knob gags, slapstick and general silliness aplenty. And the interval drinks thing even worked out well. It was a hugely enjoyable evening from the moment I stopped blushing about the wrong auditorium scenario.

Later, we were in the nearby Wetherspoons having a few to finish the night off. We noticed a bag had been left unattended. It was hanging from a chair at a table which, until a few minutes previously, had been occupied by a large gang of women. We weren’t sure whether they were coming back or not but working on the assumption that only some kind of crazy woman leaves her handbag unattended like that, we told the bar staff about it and they put it behind the bar. Just a few minutes later a panic-stricken woman wandered in and started looking around for something. When we told her that the bag was behind the bar because we weren’t sure who it belonged to and whether they were coming back she wore the look of a woman who had recently won a large sum of money on a hugely unlikely outcome. She must have had a bit of money as it happened because she insisted on giving us some of it for making sure the bag was safe. She had somehow forgotten about it, which I didn’t think women were capable of given that they seem to keep their entire lives inside their handbags. Or maybe that just shows what I know about women. Anyway, despite our protestations she would not take the money back. So we spent it on more beer.

That incident brings me nicely on to the story of how I spent my lunch hour today. I say hour, it was more like two and a half hours in the end. I’d been out of cash for a few days. Not because I’m skint but because I’m lazy. It’s too easy to wave my card at the man who works in the cafe over the road, even if he does charge an extra 75p for admin on card transactions. Today I decided that since it was one of the less freezing days of the week enough was enough and I was going to finally get out there, get some cash and get my hair cut. It was going through that awful bog brush phase that it gets in when it hasn’t been shaved for more than a month. Think John Terry without the mysterious ability to attract women. The whole thing was a bad idea, as it turned out.

I stopped at Sayers to buy my lunch and somewhere between there, failing to find a space in the canteen and getting back up to the office I managed to drop both my wallet and my phone from the bag underneath my chair. This was no doubt largely due to the fact that in the first place I had forgotten to zip up said bag, and in the second place I was playing my MP3 player (which won’t play three quarters of its content in the car but that is another story) at a volume that no sensible hearing specialist would recommend. If all you can hear is Ed Sheeran, you are not going to hear your phone drop on the floor, concrete or not. So I didn’t.

I didn’t realise this until I got up to the office and reached into my bag for my wallet, which contains my staff card which opens the door. Regular readers will know all about what fun I can have with the doors at work, but we won’t go over all that again. There were more pressing matters at hand, like the whereabouts of my wallet and phone, and consequently my cash card and the £85 or so that remained from what I had withdrawn earlier after spending some of it on my hair cut and my lunch. Only slightly panicking I went back down exactly the same path I had travelled between Sayers and the office (including a lap of the canteen after remembering my failed attempt to get a table there). Along the way I asked everyone in the canteen and all the security staff if anything had been handed in and nothing had. I asked the staff at the cafe just on the off chance because they seem to know me there (three visits a week on average will do that for you) and I asked at Sayers. I even asked at the bookmakers next door. Nothing.

So I rolled down towards the bank resigned to the fact that I needed to cancel my card and that I could pretty much kiss goodbye to the money in the wallet. On the way down the hill an extra dimension to my sorry predicament was added when a total arse of a man decided to walk right in front of me on the pavement. Stopping suddenly, I over balanced and hit a crack in the pavement, throwing me forward and on to the ground. If I had taken stock at that particular moment I might have concluded that since I had lost my wallet and my phone and fallen out of my chair I might just aswell stay there on the floor and give up on the whole day. But that would have been embarrassing and potentially expensive since the card had not been cancelled at this point. I got up, brushing away the attempts to help me of a well-meaning passer by. Incidentally the actual culprit merely glanced in my direction and walked on as if the whole thing were my fault. The man was a total, total Jeremy Hunt.

You have to cancel your cards on the phones in the bank. I didn’t know this, and it took quite a long time for anyone to answer. I had considered that the staff there were winding me up and that whoever does Jeremy Beadle’s job these days would soon come bouncing around the corner giggling uncontrollably at the hilarity of it all. Finally I got through and did the necessary, before trudging back up the hill to the office. Whereupon I discovered from my friends and colleagues that the wallet had been found. Now you might think a wave of relief would have swept through me at this point. Yes it is an inconvenience to have to cancel the card and wait up to five days for a replacement but at least I would be getting my money back. But it was just the beginning of another absurd saga in the longest lunchtime on record.

I spoke to security downstairs. They said that actually they did not have the wallet, that a woman called Betty had it. Betty doesn’t work for the same company that I do (you know the one that does a lot for charity and saves puppies from drowning but who unfortunately we can’t name?) but she did leave a number for me to contact her on. But she also left instructions that she must be texted and not phoned, because they are not allowed to receive phone calls where she works, a place called Armstrong’s Solicitors just off Dale Street in the city centre. Am I allowed to mention them? Fuck it, I just have. I couldn’t text Betty, because I had lost my phone, so there then ensued a quite ridiculous three-way communication between myself, Betty and the lady who works on the reception desk downstairs in our building. In the end I decided to just have a stroll down there and just ask for Betty. Waiting for the three-way communication via the receptionists phone was going to see us all off.

Armstrong’s Solicitors (sue me) is set back from Dale Street a little so it is not the easiest to find. I had to ask someone, but when I eventually got there Betty came bounding out all smiles. She handed me my wallet and, it turned out, my phone (which I was half hoping had gone missing forever if I’m honest) and told me that the former had been at one end of Dale Street and the latter at the other. It was all very embarrassing, particularly since it wasn’t just me and Betty in the reception at Armstrong’s but two of her co-workers. I thanked her endlessly for her trouble and tried to offer her some cash for her honesty. She wouldn’t accept any money of course. I can’t even buy a round of drinks for people I have known all my life. I’ve got fuck all chance of convincing a total stranger to take any of my money. All of which led to an amusing discussion in the office during which the girls tried to think of the many, varied and most expensive ways I could thank Betty for her good deed. They concluded that I should send flowers or chocolates but not cakes that are unwrapped because then I could be trying to poison her.

I may yet do this. There aren’t many people left in the world it seems who would find a wallet and return it to its owner with the contents untouched. Good on you Betty, then. You have restored some of my faith in humanity at the end of what has been a total and utter disaster of a day. So thanks Betty, wherever you are tonight.

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