Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lady Agatha’s legacy

Crichton the butler had assumed leadership of a small group of survivors shipwrecked on a desert island; Lady Agatha was one of three sisters who hoped to snare him in marriage; and I was Lady Agatha. I was too bad an actor to be a star in The Admirable Crichton, and except for singing in the chorus in H.M.S.Pinafore in the New Hebrides in my 30s, I never trod the boards again.

Why on earth a drama teacher at an all-boys boarding school would choose a play with female characters, God only knows. We stage-females were extremely self-conscious. This was the 1950s, in the most conservative state in Australia, for goodness sake. Looking back: our director must have been a skilled persuader indeed, to keep us rehearsing for weeks without any of us drifting quietly off into the night.

Why is it, that school plays are included in the education of young children? Children’s stage skills aren’t important in later life, although there are exceptions. I encouraged Ross (my son) to volunteer for school concerts when he was young, and I wept with love and pride when at the age of four he brought the house down with his recital of The Hare and the Tortoise.

The local radio station interviewed him afterwards, but he didn’t have much to say. He liked being on stage, though, and did a fine Mowgli in The Jungle Book (Disney's version) nine years later. I coached him to identify with his character. It’s an axiom of show business that acting is all about sincerity, and that if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. True, that!

His various stage appearances did prove useful when he arrived in Mexico City, barefoot and penniless. Well, not literally barefoot and penniless, but his first job in the City was washing car engines for a dollar an hour. By a fluke of circumstance that’s far too unlikely to be worth relating, he was offered a job modelling clothes.

That morphed into catwalk shows and TV commercials at $100 an hour (!), and occasional TV interviews in Spanish. Unfortunately for his parents’ hopes of a well financed retirement, he got bored with the job after a few months and hit the hippy trail in Guatemala and points south. Ah well, what can you do?

His experience of TV interviews came in handy for me when I came under siege by Cayman’s political establishment in the year 2000. (My blog-post Confessions of a Subversive in October 2012 tells how I became persona non grata to the politicians; I won’t repeat it here.) On this occasion the Immigration Board took exception to some strong-ish criticism in my newspaper column, and invited me to explain why I shouldn’t be deported as a public nuisance.

The owners of our local TV station at this time were staunch freedom-of-speech advocates, and had me interviewed three times in a week. After watching the first one on the evening news, Ross said I must always look into the camera, not at the interviewer. Watching myself, I appreciated what a world of difference the change made.

The interviews made the political gangsters look like the bullies they were, at a time (by happy coincidence) when they were being secretly subverted in our local mini-parliament. My sound-bites may conceivably have been a factor in the success of the coup d’état. But, whether or not, my chief persecutor was fired from the Board immediately after it, and I helped her replacement draft a public apology for the threat made to me. That was nice.