Saturday, 23 January 2010

A hair-raising, moving experience

Greetings from my sickbed, or sick-sofa, to be accurate.  I'm achy, weak and nauseous.  Tonight, I shall miss Burns' Night for the first time in 17 years.  So will my Filipino partner who splashed out £14 on a tartan tie for the occasion (see previous blog).  We are both beyond gutted.

I fear that three days of helping a friend clear 18 years' worth of clutter is to blame.  I inhaled huge quantities of ancient, filthy, black dust containing heaven knows what nasties, and became so cold and wet as I toiled at the skip that I lost all feeling in my fingers.  One or other has taken its toll.

The friend in question is professional pianist and all-round entertainer Bobby Crush who entranced the nation and became a serial winner of Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks in 1972.  Younger readers may not know that Op Knox, as it was affectionately referred to, was a long-running, much-watched TV talent competition, the Britain's Got Talent of its day.  Bob still performs constantly at the highest level and bills himself, with complete justification, as Britain's Top Piano Entertainer. 

Unfortunately for me, he is also Britain's Top Hoarder.  If the inability to let go of ancient gas bills, hideous gifts and adoring letters from fans, and yellowed showbusiness newspaper cuttings which aren't even about him were an Olympic sport, Team GB would have one gold in the bag every four years.

He may have accumulated an inexcusable quantity of rubbish over the years but at least it was intriguing rubbish: whilst blitzing his large, packed-to-the-rafters, cobwebbed garage where snails had colonised the walls, and the dusty loft crammed with boxes unexamined since moving-in day in 1991, we uncovered:

* Christmas cards received most years since 1980 plus hundreds of blank cards, bought but never sent
* mobile phones bigger than breeze blocks
* stereograms and cassette players
* a wind-up gramophone with 78s
* digs lists for places like Bridlington and Cromer, 20 years out of date
* 200 unused second-class stamps
* two dead mice
* two of Billy Dainty's toupees, and
* Mr Pastry's moustache

I realise those last two items in particular not only beggar belief but also require explanation for younger readers: Billy Dainty was a comedian and eccentric dancer, a big star in the 60s and 70s when I was growing up.  Mr Pastry, meanwhile, was a bumbling, elderly, comedy character created by the actor Richard Hearne, a master of slapstick and a fellow comedic dancer most famous for a routine called The Lancers in which he charged through a ballroom, dancing out of step with an imaginary partner.  Children, in particular, adored Mr Pastry, and I was no exception.  If you had told me then that, 40 years later, I would be holding his fake moustache next to a skip on a freezing January day in north London, I would have given you a most peculiar look.

So, how did my friend come to own that 'tache and Mr Dainty's syrups?  Bobby has starred in pantomime almost every Christmas since his talent show triumph in 1972.  A few years ago, he realised his days as principal boy were numbered and so became a dame.  Unlike the other pantomime roles, the dame is expected to provide many of his/her own costumes, wigs and props.  When Billy Dainty, a great exponent of the art, passed away, his widow, Sandra, generously gave Bob all her late husband's wigs to get him started.  As Bob delightedly examined the various vast and suitably hideous purple, pink and orange coiffures, he came across what appeared to be a pair of flattened gerbils.  They were, in fact, Mr Dainty's hair pieces, included in error.  Billy Dainty and Richard Hearne's Mr Pastry often worked together and, somehow, the latter's fake 'tache had ended up in the same wig box.

The surreality of finding such items in a garage in Hendon was heightened by the fact that we were playing a 78 by the Beverley Sisters on the wind-up gramophone at the time which kept wowing and winding down.  When we added to this unique scenario by each donning one of the late Mr Dainty's hair pieces, I became quite hysterical and had to lean against the skip for support until I could control my laughter.

After three long, hard days, the skip was taken away with the contents of at least 50 boxes of tat.  It was then that an email dropped: would Bobby like to appear on a celebrity edition of Cash in the Attic?  It's not only comedy that's all about timing, is it?


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