Monday, 13 July 2009

The Dance of the Mesopotamian Fire Goat

I’d been limbering up for something close to an hour before I heard my name called. Not one to shun the limelight, I gathered up the loose lamé frills of my outfit, threw a few more silks over my arm, before I shuffled out onto stage, wondering if this would be last time that Judy’s enthusiasm for volunteer work would leave me in the full glare of public humiliation.

As soon as they saw me, the crowd went wild. Yet their ovation wasn’t so loud that I couldn’t hear laughter mixed with their gasps of surprise as I took my proper place in the middle of the stage. That is the difficult moment for any professional entertainer: those empty few seconds when you don’t have the familiarity of your act to make you feel secure. Back when we had our show on ITV, I would often feel nerves during the first few seconds after a commercial break. My mouth was never dryer than when I’d be saying words like: ‘And welcome back. Have you or your partner ever confessed to having an affair with a member of the Belgian royal family?’ Or: ‘Just before the break, we saw Alice here inflate her own intestines with a foot pump to impress Leo Sawyer...’

On this occasion, I ran a finger down to probe my tantric centre, to make certain that my ruby hadn’t been worked loose during my warm-up. Just the touch of that stone helped me focus, as it also made me think back to the moment, 24 hours earlier, when I’d been told that I’d be performing, semi-naked, to a crowd of local leisure tourism consultants in the town hall...

‘I’ve been reading your Twitter account,’ Judy had announced sometime after we’d settled down in front of the TV for the evening. Like most Friday night’s, her knife had already whittled a block of walnut into shavings piled on an old copy of ‘The News of the World’ spread out across her lap. ‘It makes me realise how little I really know you, Richard.’

Instinctively, I looked towards the door. I have no objection to Judy spending her spare time hand-carving mythic woodland creatures which she donates to charity but I do wish she wouldn’t look to start arguments when she’s holding eight inches of Bowie knife.

‘Does it?’ I asked, trying to concentrate on my copy of Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ which I’ve been annotating ahead of my plans to transfer it to documentary form later in the year. ‘And what have you discovered that you didn’t already know?’

‘Oh, just about the free belly dancing classes you’ve been giving people on a Friday afternoon.’

I lowered the book and peered nervously at the newly retired right side of the R&J ampersand. I had managed to keep my Friday afternoon dance classes a secret from Judy, who takes as dim view of my Twittering as she does the male belly dance, which she first saw performed by Russell Grant in the early eighties. However, I could see that were was no use denying it, though the calm look on her face did suggest that she didn’t know I’d been wearing her favourite broach in my navel.

‘Oh Richard!’ she laughed as she no doubt saw me edging away from her. ‘Come back! And don’t look so frightened! I’m not angry. I’m delighted that you’ve found yourself a hobby. It’s certainly more practical than that idea you’ve had about farming organic molluscs in the garden pond.’

That was a typical Judy remark: one part gentle praise, another part deep insult backed up with cold steel. The plans for the mollusc farm had still not been presented to the council but Judy was already there with her objections. And she was wrong to call it my idea when the proposal was originally put to me by Bill Oddie, who happens to be looking to get all his friends involved in the organic shellfish movement.

‘So, my belly dancing doesn’t make you angry?’ I asked, hoping to keep the mollusc debate for another day.

‘Of course not,’ she laughed and sliced away at the haunches of her barely formed faun.

‘So you don’t think it strange that a man approaching forty should instruct strangers in the art of the belly dance via the medium of social networking? I know you had qualms about my playing my banjo on MySpace and my posing for live art classes via Facebook...’

‘If you enjoy belly dancing, Richard, I’m not going to stop you,’ she said.

‘Only, I find it has helped with my back spasms...’

‘I’m sure that it would strengthen your pelvic floor considerably,’ she agreed.

I thought it best to mention that I wasn’t born with a pelvic floor, just an abnormally high anal ceiling.

‘And my abs have tightened up since I’ve started to shake them regularly,’ I added.

‘They would have no other choice,’ she smiled.

I relieved myself of a sigh and picked up my book. I was settling myself back into Kant’s solution to the knotty problems of existence and being German when Judy cleared her throat.

‘Of course, Richard,’ she said, ‘I might have mentioned your belly dancing to Judith. She’ll probably ring you about it later...’

‘Judith? Judith?’ I repeated. Then my heart did one of those strange things it does which makes you think it’s suddenly escaped your body and is already thumbing for a lift somewhere near Watford services. ‘Not Judith Chalmers?’

There was evil in Judy’s smile. I felt like I’d been picked up by a trucker with ‘Hate’ tattooed across one set of knuckles and ‘Hate’ across the other.

And that’s when the phone rang.

‘Judith!’ I cried, moments later as I nestling the phone under my chin. ‘Judy said you might be in touch.’

Admit it: I did a good job of hiding my displeasure. It’s always been one of my better qualities, praised by the head of ITV no less. I remember, back in the eighties, we had Robert Mugabe on ‘This Morning’ showing us how to mix his favourite fruit cocktails. The man actually thought I liked his pineapple punch so much that he wrote me out the recipe.

‘Oh , I need your help,’ said Judith Chalmers with the hushed ease of a woman who knows how to manipulate men to her will. I confess that I have something of a weak spot when it comes to Judith, who originally introduced me to the way of the commando. You might say that I owe her a lot and you’d be right. She saved me from underwear and I would be happy to save her from any equally tight or poorly ventilated spot.

‘You are my last hope,’ she said. ‘We’ve organised a Festival of Britain at the town hall tomorrow night and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has dropped out. He was going to demonstrate hen thatching but now he says his pigs have developed trenchsnout. I was hoping that you could fill in with some of your dancing. We’ve got a hundred leisure tourism consultants coming and I won’t be happy if we can’t provide entertainment worthy of the great good they do for the country.’

‘I’m honoured that you thought of me but my dancing is a very private thing known only to a few people,’ I explained.

‘Oh, that’s alright,’ replied Judith. ‘I’ve taken care of that.’

‘Taken care of what?’

‘I’ve put up posters...’


‘The posters announcing your hitherto hidden talent.’

If my heart wasn’t already being propositioned by a trucker stuck in a lay-by somewhere north of Watford services, it would have sank to its knees – had it knees, of course. I slouched against the wall and let my forehead to crack against the doorframe. The game was up. I was backed into a corner, taken out at the ankles, without a leg to stand on. In other words: I was arse naked to the shagpile without a stump to call my own.

‘Okay,’ I sighed, ‘I’ll do it.’

‘Oh good,’ said Judith. ‘I’m sure we’ll all have a simply smashing time!’

Time is a strange thing. It’s taken me half an hour to type these reminiscences but I recollected them all in the time it took me to click a pair of thumb cymbals.

The noise focussed my attention back on the audience. I could feel the hot lights over my body; the thin fabric of the veils and sashes doing nothing to keep me cool. Yet centred in my navel was the large lump of Judy’s best jewellery, a cool reminder that the belly dance begins in the karmic centre of our being and ends at the tips of our fingers or Ipswich, depending on which school of belly dance you follow. I placed my hands above my head and looked to Judy, standing at the side of the stage, waiting for the signal.

I could put it off no longer. I nodded and she raised her trombone to her lips and began to play the old familiar seductive melody as my body began to writhe in the hypnotic fashion of The Dance of the Mesopotamian Fire Goat.


Lin said...

Brilliant...Absolutely Brilliant!!! There is no end to your talent and Judy is such a loving, supporting, understanding wifey! Well done! : ) I love the head movement!!!

Spudsy40 said...

Fabulous! U just crack me up, but in a good way. Spudsy

Uncle Dick Madeley said...

Lin and Spudsy40, if you'll both permit me, I will just stand here, my arms stretched out in a Usain Bolt pose, glorying in your praise. I know that I'm worth all this praise but it's different when it's not coming from a reflection the bathroom mirror.