The Cost of Art

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the art that I have made over the years. I am proud to be able to say that for over fifteen years now my work has been my art.

It has paid the bills. Put food on the table. Turned a profit. It is a significant watershed moment in the life of the artist when they can say that they have found, finally, after much trial-and-error, a way to diversify their artistic talents enough to say goodbye to the Day Job for the final time. Farewell, call centre! Bon Voyage to ironing other peoples clothes! Don’t let the door-to-door selling of dusters hit you on the way out!

I do not mean for my levity to belittle that moment. Because it is very rare, and some are never privileged enough to experience it. For others, it is a birth-right. I am amongst the weary warriors who have hacked through the brambles and thorns to a clearing in the woods where making art is possible. But, even if you do get there, mighty warrior, there will inevitably be compromises.

I remember when I first met my husband, who did a degree in Economics at University many moons before, he asked me whether I had created a Profit & Loss (P&L) for my current creative project; at the time I was putting on the UK premiere of an award-winning Canadian play at one of London’s finest fringe venues, The Finborough. Now, until then the extent of my experience with any kind of sums to do with my creative output was strictly reserved to that of the back of the proverbial fag packet or beer mat, let alone an Excel document. It’s a wonder I had survived creatively at all the previous decade and a half prior to meeting him. So he patiently sat me down at the computer, and together we worked out the potential profit and the potential loss of the show and I have included this ritual in my work ever since.

I do not live in a world of infinite financial resources, and I never have. If I want my art to be my work then I have to create art that pays for itself. And in order for that to happen, I need to make art that somebody wants to buy. And so , to compromising. Do people want to hear the songs I desire to write or the stories I want to tell? Is my screenplay part of the current zeitgeist? Am I a voice that the nation wants to hear from right now? Must my art be the size, shape and length of a TikTok video in order to push through the millions of other voices, opinions and hearts calling out today? And will whatever platform I choose to share my art on ultimately strangle it to death?

I often tell my students the story of the writer Jeannette Winterson’s experience of adapting her novel ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ into a six-part television screenplay. She says it was a little like someone coming into your art gallery and saying ‘I love that vase in the window. Can you smash it up and make it into six cups and saucers for me?’

I am not proud of all of the pieces of work I have created in the past 30 years. Which artist can say that they are? I’m particularly saddened to admit that the P&L-of-it-all has all too often had a much larger voice than the creative ones at the table. How many times have we heard that the BBC is run more by accountants than creatives these days?

As I write this I am going through the grieving process of losing my mother, along with the all the things so many of us have lost in the past twelve months. Adverts for funeral homes and restorative yoga flood my News Feed. I’m expecting a catalogue for Doctor Scholl sandals to plop onto the door mat any day now. It stands to reason there be a shift in my values right now. A questioning of who I am, what I want to say and my contribution to the world outside. And, of course, the world outside is going through some pretty enormous changes itself. Tectonic, some might say.

So, along with the regret of certain art-works comes a desire to leave behind the style and substance of some others, which were perfectly acceptable at the time but which no longer serve me, and would leave a sour taste in the mouth of today’s audiences. We’ve all seen how television shows like ‘Friends’ have been greeted by a younger generation thanks to Netflix et al, and how that younger generation has been left feeling cold by that which we once lauded as the best comedy for a country mile.

As an audience, we want a piece of art that speaks to and of us, in a way relevant to today. And as an artist, I want to create work which nourishes both myself and my audience, wherever they might be found. Compromise will always be a part of the equation, as will an Excel spreadsheet of some kind. But I hope as I navigate these fresh waters in the coming months and years that I strike the right balance and do not sacrifice the integrity of my art in order simply for it to be seen.

One thing is for sure though, first there must be a piece of art before it can be rejected. And rejection has always been a part of the process too, sadly. My fears around rejection and how much more of it my artist heart can bear will have to be the subject for another day.

See you next time, if we’re saved.

Paulus

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Talent, Skill & Practice

I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between talent and skill.

A talent, the world seems to suggest, is something that is God-given, perhaps from birth, for some of us. A skill, however, is something that you have to work at. For many artists, their daily grind is to hone a talent into a skill over time. This is where practice comes in, of course, and with it the tricky matter of discipline.

I appreciate that nothing about the above paragraph is exactly mind-blowing, and yet it is only now at the age of forty-five, with 30 years of work as a creative behind me and the backdrop of the last long ten months of coronavirus-induced career paralysis, that I have really had the chance to unpack these notions and ask what they mean for me and my art.

Until relatively recently, I had been in Survival Mode. Most certainly this was the case since moving from a sleepy village in Kent at the age of nineteen, to study musical theatre at a London drama school. Survival Mode means grabbing. Saying yes to every opportunity, no matter how ill-advised. Survival Mode is filling your pockets with canapés at that event where you are supposed to be impressing people, because you don’t know when you’ll next eat. Survival Mode demands that long-term goals are approached, when even possible, via the circuitous routes of day-jobs, side-hustles, rash decisions and less-than-perfect compromises. And outcomes.

For isn’t that what we seek through art? – The Perfect. Something genius.

‘They were a genius’

Were they? Or did they work really hard, stay focused and instil their artwork with a depth and richness that wholly satisfied the consumer? Maybe that is genius for some?

Survival Mode does not give the artist the luxury of genius. Of perfect. There is nothing romantic or aspirational about being a struggling artist. The hungry painter in a heat-less garrick high above the eighteenth arrondissement will starve. Or freeze.

And die.

For some, the survival mode period comes to an end. Sometimes this ends with the artist in a ditch, looking up at the stars. I know. Isn’t it a wonderful life? I’ve always wanted to sit in a pool of other people’s dirt on a filthy pavement in the freezing cold and gaze up at the passers-by in their new winter coats that I cannot afford because I am an artist.

Star-gazing.

And sometimes, if you work hard enough – duck here, dive there, get given a lot of support and love from believers of what you do and who you are – sometimes Survival Mode morphs into a more comfortable, less perilous daily existence. After decades of chipping away at debt, doubt and disinterest. One where there are opportunities to breathe. One day, filled with daffodils, you realise you have the luxury of saying ‘NO’ to someone. Or something. Anyone. Any thing. But the option to say no. The very option. Mind-blowing.

And the strangest thing about moving from survival mode to what we might then call Denial Mode is that it can take years for you to notice you’ve shifted modes, and longer still before adjusting your relationship to practice, to skill, and to art and how they fit in to your new, breath-taking, option-laden life.

It would be easy for me, at this point, to suggest that the last ten months have been a gift from the artist-Gods. The longest ‘Artist’s Date’ in history; divine intervention with collusion from Julia Cameron herself. But the reality of the situation is that we have been scared. We have been blind-sided. Days and weeks and months that should have been filled with the dusting off of our teenage acoustic guitar; that long-awaited self-imposed internal yoga retreat for your soul; or the tenacious goal of sitting down each day simply to write, have instead been punctuated by fear, by being disenfranchised and told we are ‘unviable’ and should ‘retrain’ and, for some of the unluckiest, a lack of financial government support so total that it has destroyed the artist within us completely.

If the arts and artists are unviable, it is purely due to the decisions taken by our government during this pandemic that have made them so. An artistic genocide amidst a global pandemic. You have that on your hands, Messers [sic] Cummings, Johnson and Sunak.

And so, it has been only in the past few weeks that I myself have managed to hack my way through the emotional brambles of self-doubt, financial worry, health fears, loss of worth, mixed messages, contradictory signals and blanket disregard for our artistic death at the hands of this mis-managed crisis to emerge, slowly, cautiously and with no track record whatsoever for practice; skill-honing; art-perfecting.

There is an opportunity here. This is a moment we won’t get back.

Hack through the thorns and twisted, blood-soaked vines to find your art.

And always remember to never confuse output with input. With creating content vs building something significant. This month I will ask what my art is worth, and not what I can get for it.

I shall leave the final word to the British screen and stage actor Katherine Parkinson, on giving advice to her younger self from a recent article in the Evening Standard:

‘It is not fanciful to try and do something you love; you are not being indulgent to try and pursue something that fits. Any truthful voice is valid.’

See you next time, if we’re saved.

Paulus

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A Victoria Wood-filled month!

Fans of the late, great comedian Victoria Wood have a lot to look forward to in October, with news of new TV compilations, the release of the long-awaited official biography and yes, my own tribute show to my idol back on stage at long last!

Biographer Jasper Rees is the lucky chap to have bagged the gig of writing the official biography of Victoria Wood, entitled ‘Let’s Do It’, which fans like myself have been itching for for literally decades. Out later this week, the book follows some (in my opinion rather lame) attempts at biographies of ‘Our Vic’ from both Neil Brandwood in 2006 (mostly quite mean-spirited, I felt) and her own brother Chris Foote-Wood shortly after her death (barely readable frankly; like someone with a large bottom had brush past a word processor). Let’s hope that ‘Let’s Do It’ succeeds where these two failed.

Now, I don’t have many details so I don’t have many details, but there are whispers of both Channel 5 airing a show celebrating Vic’s life and work in the coming months as well as real telly presenting a new compilation show based on personal notes of Victoria’s that have recently been uncovered which suggest which her own favourite sketches are. As much as I love them, it would be nice if it isn’t just the same old ‘two soups’ and ‘acorn antiques as a leisure centre and sun-bed centre’ clips AGAIN!

Perhaps most terrifying of all, though, is the news that, if 2020 hadn’t been bad enough for the nation, I am going to be allowed on-stage once again! And this time I shall be sharing the show I originally created for the cancelled Edinburgh Festival, celebrating the music of her highness Miss Wood.  Entitled ‘Looking For Me Friend: The Music of Victoria Wood’, the hour-long show features myself and pianist Michael Roulston of Fascinating Aida sharing 12 of Vic’s songs and exploring the musicality of her sketches and phrasing also.  We kick off at The Two Brewers (its gay, but we ask for the other menu) on 22nd October and are going to Cambridge, Norwich and Birmingham this side of Christmas, so do check out the webpage for more details and come along to see us.

Until then, stay warm, take care and don’t whirl a chip pan above your head; you might chip your nail varnish.

Paulus 💋

Back In The Saddle!

After six long months away from live events, last weekend I ventured onto public train for a seven hour journey – that’s 6.5hrs more than any other since March! – to the North East in order to host a mini-festival in Brotton, on behalf of the Festival of Thrift.

Each year, my badge-loving ringmaster events host presides over this award-winning festival which is usually held in two massive fields in Kirkleatham, welcoming over 45,000 visitors over two days. This year, of course, that cannot happen and so we worked with Redcar & Cleveland council to put on this mini version, with social distancing guidelines, in order to show you how you can ‘Thrift Your Place’ with handy tips, tricks and inspiration from the FoT team!

One of the lovely things about my work is getting to know different parts of our beautiful country, and staying in Saltburn over the weekend, was a real treat. I walked on the pier, had chips, and enjoyed ogling a surfer in a wetsuit braving the elements.

Footage of our mini-festival was shown as part of the digital edition of Festival of Thrift, which we called #ThriftFestUpcycled, and which took place on Saturday 12 Sept. I hosted the five-hour live-stream event from the window of the Palace Hub in Redcar, and my what a learning curve that proved to be! With a producer in my ear and a floor manager flapping their arms as we attempted to link up to multiple outside locations, zoom workshops, DJs from their home and BSL interpreters in studio with me, it required lots of patience – and tea!

Working alongside the brilliant Festival of Thrift team each year really is a pleasure, and they have all bravely embraced the new world of zoom calls, safety protocols and online streaming with the same spirit of calm and professionalism that they deliver the festival each year. However, meeting my new bestie at my B&B was, if I’m honest, the very best part for me…

You can meet him and find out how the mini-festival went, by unlocking my latest #BehindTheScenes Patreon video, where there’s loads more pics, videos, discounts, exclusive and free gifts for as little as £3 per month. And you’ll be doing your bit to #SupportTheArts too! Why not check it out? www.patreon.com/thecabaretgeek

See you next time, if we’re saved.

Paulus 💋

Plums For Patrons

As many of you know, Harley the Cat and I have been very busy in the garden these past few months. Collecting and preparing the rose petals that eventually become my Artisanal Potpourri (available at www.thecabaretgeek.com/shop) has taken a lot of our time, but there are also plums, pears and greengages to pick from the fruit trees too.

I started making plum jam two summers ago and after destroying no less than three expensive saucepans by burning it, I think I finally got the hang of it!  Plum jam is a particularly simple jam recipe for a beginner, not least of all because the plums have natural pectin, and so you are really only dealing with the fruit, sugar and a little water (there’s a couple of minor other ingredients that help, but I’m no Delia Smith so I won’t go into it here too much!)

Suffice it to say, that what I lack in saucepan retention I hope to make up for in plum preservation: the idea of perfectly good pieces of fruit rotting on their branches or falling to the ground and going to waste horrifies me and so no matter how busy I am, I will do my darnedest to get that fruit used somehow. Harley likes to ‘help’ wherever he can.

Now, it hasn’t been the greatest of harvests, and I don’t own orchards full of trees, sadly, so I have decided that this year Paulus’ Plum Jam will be available only to my Patrons, without whose support this entire year would have been tougher both financially and emotionally.

Patreon is a platform where, in return for a monthly fee of your choice (starting from £3) you can receive exclusive updates, discounts, free gifts and all manner of other goodies from your favourite creative. if it helps, think of me as a Giant Panda and Patreon as the WWF.

At the moment, my patrons are eligible to receive:

10% off my products in my Shop
15% off my training courses
Exclusive ‘Behind The Scenes’ videos
Exclusive Musical Performance videos
Weekly photographs of Harley the Cat
Weekly ‘Throw-back Thursday’ images from my archives
Exclusive ‘Tuesday Talks’ monologues
…and a FREE pot of Paulus’ Plum Jam!*

And all of that from just £3pcm! You’d make your money back (and then some) immediately signing up for a one-day course with me.

It’s a crucial time for The Arts and Artists, and this is one small way that I can thank you for all your support over the years, so do head over to www.patreon.com/thecabaretgeek and find out more today.

See you next time, if we’re saved!

Paulus

Zoom Presentations

One of the upsides to not being able to perform live at present has been reconnecting with my audiences via Zoom. Since lockdown began I have given four half-hour presentations of chat, comedy & song (accompanied by my trusty ukulele, Betsy) to audiences I have previously met and reached out to at the start of our isolation period.

The half-hour presentation is followed-up by a Q&A session for anyone who wants to participate, and the entire experience has been a tremendously enlightening one for somebody who’s work is so intrinsically linked with there being ‘no fourth wall’ between the audience and performer.

I have had to find new ways to include audience participation, find ‘stooges’ for the purposes of comedy, and create the alchemy I so long to create with a group of disparate people who all choose to congregate in a room together with myself at the helm.

There have been some steep learning curves – don’t use your phone as the device you Zoom from if you can help it – find out why in my recent vlog: https://youtu.be/baAULFm1Wbs.

However, overall I must say I’m delighted to have the opportunity to connect with people via the Zoom platform and, hopefully, bring some fun & laughter into living rooms during this difficult time.

Not that it’s any kind of replacement for live entertainment, of course. And today, I am buoyed by the discussions about trialling live theatre indoors once more from August 1st.

But in the meantime, and for those that wont want to venture out to a theatre just quite yet, I would be delighted to hear from any other groups – big or small – that would like me to help bring them together online.

 

The Cabaret Geek

Dear Friends,

As you may have noticed, we have been making some changes to the website and my overall brand in an attempt to create some cohesion across all social media and online platforms – no mean feat, let me tell you. Nevertheless, after three weekends of mind-maps, spider-graphs and lots of big fat felt pens on A3 paper, I am proud to bring you Paulus – The Cabaret Geek!


(Photo credit: James Millar)

I hope that a visit to my YouTube channel www.youtube.com/PaulusTheCabaretGeek will show you how much beavering away has occurred within my wonderful team, in order to better showcase who I am and what I do. Essentially, Paulus is an entertainer and educator who has been passionate about cabaret to the level of geekdom ever since the age of fifteen – that’s 30 years.


(Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne)

So, with some of my original plans to celebrate 30 years in entertainment having to be shelved due to COVID19, I hope that this little re-brand goes some way to mark the occasion and stand me in good stead to entertain and educate for another 30 years!

Paulus, The Cabaret Geek

 

The Blue Angel

Dear Reader, I am sorry to not be able to bring you Chapter 9 of ‘The Blue Angel’ as planned this week. In truth, I am over-stretched with the amount of online content I am currently creating and to continue with the story in this way would be to jeopardise its quality. I hope that we can revisit the antics of Clara Pin & Quentin Treadwell together one day, but it may be a while I’m afraid. Thank you for reading my story, and please do visit my YouTube channel where I will be focusing my attention in the coming months & weeks. Paulus

The Blue Angel, Chapter 8

Clara followed Quentin and Betty down the corridor towards the double doors leading to the auditorium, where the rest of the company were waiting. She hung back from the pair, lost in her own thoughts over what Betty had just revealed. Clara could not remember any kind of trap door in the stage when they had been rehearsing, but then she had been rather more preoccupied by having been flung into her first ever – and hopefully last ever – fan-dance rehearsal, with time very much a factor. Was it possible that one of the girls could have dropped through the floor unnoticed by her? And even if they had managed this astonishing sleight of hand, they would have to be replaced by another body instantaneously. Then again, sleight of hand was all part of the cabaret’s allure, wasn’t it? What would be the point of a trap door that was glaringly obvious? Could someone have really employed a cheap vaudevillian trick in order to – to do what exactly? As the double doors swung open, Clara watched Betty and Quentin join their people. What on earth had Aunt Terri got her in to? If Clara thought coming to London was going to solve all her problems, the events of the past few hours had left her in some doubt as to whether she might not have been better off facing the music back home in Meltcham. She turned her attention now to the assembled group before her, feeling very much apart from them. Draped across a corner banquette upholstered in that undefinable blue, the four remaining chorus girls seemed to present a tableau of the stages of grief. Lola, her gum-chewing gone into overdrive, was clearly embodying Anger. Clara watched as the girl performed a pantomime of outraged arm movements; insisting on justice here, incredulous as to the lack of accountability there. Fifi, propped up beside her, had turned from the sobbing, inconsolable creature that Clara had last encountered in the hallway, and slipped into Depression with a similar swiftness of reaction. Her slumped demeanour accentuated quite how thin the young woman was; her clavicle prominent, her shoulder blades acute as a maths problem. She sat with her head slung low between them picking the cherry red nail polish from her battered fingernails. Next to her was the girl who had been hanging around Quentin during rehearsal. Had she fetched him a drink at some point? Sukki, Quentin had called her. She seemed to be intent on Bargaining at present; comparatively bright, mentally scrambling to find some kind of sense or reason to all that had happened. And then there was Ginger. Clara could remember her name easily enough because, perversely, she was not the red-head of the group. What was Ginger displaying? One might call it Denial, Clara supposed. But it might just as easily be mistaken for indifference. Touching up her make-up in a small, gold compact with a face any poker play would long to have in their arsenal, Ginger’s demeanour seemed to be more that of a passenger experiencing a slight train delay. A nuisance yes, and probably some disruption to the rest of her day incurred, but nothing that couldn’t be handled with a slight rejigging of appointments. Business-like, Clara thought. Ginger’s form of Denial was most business-like, if indeed Denial it was. And this was, after all, a place of business, wasn’t it? Perhaps there was no love lost between Ginger and the deceased? When she had arrived, Betty had told Clara they were a family. Clara was beginning to wonder quite how much that rang true. Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Denial. What was missing?
“Looking for a motive?” Betty was suddenly beside her.
Acceptance, thought Clara, almost instantaneously.
“Just…looking,” came Clara’s feeble reply. She was relieved at least to see Betty was no longer grinning. Now that they were alone the grinning was gone and in its place a stony defiance had appeared on the beautiful, painted doll-like face.
“Do you suspect foul play?” Betty asked abruptly.
Clara hesitated, before replying “I was thinking back to something you said to me this afternoon.”
“Me?”
“Yes. When I arrived you told me ‘You’re home now. We’re family’. Is that what this place is to the girls?”
Betty took a long look at the outsider, as if seeing her for the first time, before saying “What is a family? A group of people thrown together, often against their own will. Who try to make the best of their circumstances, sometimes raising one another up, but often letting each other down. My own biological family consists almost entirely of liars, cheats and dead-beats, and you can write that down in your notebook and quote me.” Clara felt the gloves had now been well and truly taken off, when it came to Betty’s opinion of her.
“I told you something else when you arrived too,” added the blonde. “I’m surprised you don’t remember.”
But Clara did.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” she almost whispered.
“We are a bright spark!” said Betty, folding her arms. “And that might make your job here a teensy bit difficult.”
“Job? I don’t know what you mean,” blinked Clara.
“Don’t you? Well, dear Clara Pin, if you are looking for motives and suspect foul play, then it’s clear to me even if it is not to you, that you’ve taken it upon yourself to solve this mystery.”
And with that, Betty turned on her heels and walked back towards a table near at back of the auditorium where Quentin Treadwell and Willie Tell had already gravitated.
Is that what Clara was doing? Scanning this room and its inhabitants for a motive for…for…she did not want to say the word she was thinking. Inspector Peebley was clear that cause of death would be pronounced in a day or two after a post-mortem were conducted. This one was of the few things the man had been clear about. And yet, it certainly was a mystery, that was a word Clara could get behind right away. A young woman found dead in an otherwise empty room with no obvious signs of being attacked, and each of the other people – her eyes scanned past the four dancers to the three musicians together at a table in the second row, and on to the final three more senior staff members at the back. Ten. And she made eleven, yes. Each of the eleven people in the locked building at the time each other’s alibis for the thirty minutes unaccounted for between the young woman last being seen alive and the discovery of her body. That was a mystery, certainly.
Yes, she was happy with mystery as a word, now.
“Someone in this room is a murderer!”
Clara turned to see Quentin Treadwell floating towards her through the empty tiers of tables, chairs and banquettes, fanning his robe out behind him like a train and relishing the audible reaction to his statement from the rest of the company. He reached the floor and, turning, stood close to Clara.
“Now come on, darlings, we are all thinking it. And in my role as Master of Ceremonies, it is often the job to point out elephants in rooms. Why not rip off the band aid, as our friends in America would have it?”
“Who said anything about murder?” Ginger cried out indignantly, as if she had a sudden portent of further train delays disrupting her day.
“Exactly. Maybe it was an accident,” said Troy
“That would suit you very well, wouldn’t it?” Lola called backed to the drummer.
“What do you mean by that!”
“Everybody knows you had a thing with Ruthie!”
“Who didn’t have a thing with Ruthie?” Betty’s tinkle this time, was slightly discordant.
Sandy, who had been quietly polishing the lens of a serious and expensive looking camera, set it down gently and stood up, clearing his throat.
“Perhaps we might also consider the possibility of suicide. Ruthie was very highly strung. ”
“Being highly strung should be reserved for perverts who photograph women without their knowledge – highly strung up!” Lola was standing now too.
The sandy-haired pianist pinched the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger and took a long, deep breath, “We have been over this time and time again…”
“Did you think time would erase what you’ve done?” Sukki this time, up on her feet.
“I haven’t done anything,”. Sandy again, steadying his voice. Keeping level.
“Happy now, Clara?” Betty called from the back of the room, “There’s two motives for your collection, right there!”
Lola crossed her arms, “Collection?”
“Oh yes,” tinkled Betty, warming to her subject matter, “Didn’t you know? Our Clara Pin here has taken it upon herself to play detective.”
“Her?”
“We don’t even know her!”
“If we should be suspicious of anyone it’s her.”
All the girls were up out of their seats now, even Fifi had been roused by this new revelation. Troy was still vaguely attempting to defend himself from arrows of accusation, as Willie limply appealed for calm. To one side of him, Betty’s eyes sparkled at the mischief and mayhem she had created.
Just then, Fingers slowly lifted the trumpet that had been lain in his lap throughout, and put it to his lips, blasting the group with one defeaning note that had them holding their ears and taking their seats again. His work done, he gave a curt nod to Quentin Treadwell, who gladly took the baton.
“Thank you Fingers,” began the Emcee, “This young woman is a stranger to you all, yes,” he put his arm around Clara’s shoulder in a gesture of defiance, “But she comes with the highest of recommendations from someone known to both myself and William, not to mention Leonora Lewis herself. She is the niece of my old stage partner and I have every faith in her. As an outsider, perhaps she’s exactly the one amongst us to play Judge Judy and Executioner.”
Having tipped his head, an awkward silence followed where Clara assumed Quentin was used to some kind of ovation under normal circumstances. And whilst the assembled group grappled with yet another of his more confusing remarks, Clara – still held tightly in the older man’s arm – took the opportunity to speak up.
“Thank you, er, Quentin. It’s true that I am a stranger here. It’s true that you have very little reason to trust me. We don’t know whether your colleague Ruthie was…murdered, yet. She may have taken her own life, for reasons we cannot fathom. It may be that we are all innocent bystanders of a terribly accident. But one thing is certain, and that is that we have a mystery to solve and I would like to provide my assistance in solving it. From what we’ve seen of Inspector Peebley and his men, I do not think we can wait around and expect them to help save your jobs or the reputation of this club. And if names shall need to be cleared, a little further down the line, I’d like to have the data at hand to clear mine. Wouldn’t you?”
Sensing a general warming of her previously cool audience, Clara ploughed on. “The last thirty minutes of Ruthie’s life are currently unaccounted for, and each one of us was in this room rehearsing…”
“Is that what you call what you were doing?” Lola piped up once more, a wry smile this time by her constantly grinding jaw, “I’ll give you an alibi to any court in the land!”
Clara smiled, in spite of herself, “I suppose I was rather a spectacle.”
“Spectacle?!” Troy joined in, “it’s lucky my drum kit is insured.”
“And your hands,” added Fingers.
People were laughing. Gently, warmly. A couple of heads were nodding. Where was all the anger and the outrage of moments ago, Clara wondered. These theatre folk were a strange lot indeed – flying from one emotion to the other without any warning. Life in Meltcham was not like this. People were steady. Emotions not welcome. Except for Aunt Terri. These truly were Terri’s people. But were they Clara’s also? She realised she rather liked the warm sensation creeping up from her tummy to her chest, and the feeling of Quentin Treadwell hugging her closer with one arm. She wondered if this was their idea of family, here at The Blue Angel.
She wondered, too, which of the family was a murderer.


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.

The Blue Angel, Chapter 7

Inspector Peebley had no chin. Or, to be more precise, Clara could see no differentiation between the man’s neck and head. He had been talking – droning, really – for some time now, and it was all Clara could do not to yawn in his face. “We shall have to wait for the post-mortem, of course, before a cause of death can be confirmed. Shouldn’t be more than a couple of days.”
“But you must have some idea, Inspector? An early hunch?” Clara cajoled.
“I’m not in the business of speculating,” sniffed the man. Clara’s brow knitted, surely that was exactly the business he was in? The Inspector resumed his droning and Clara drifted off once more. All in all, he was little more than an oblong with arms, she concluded. As if someone had dressed up a runner bean in a police officers uniform and sent him out into the world to protect the public. His lack of physical stature might not be quite so discouraging had a vibrant personality shone through. “The body may have been removed, but this is still a crime scene, little lady.” Peebley sniffed. Clara’s eye twitched. Still stood in the backstage environs of the club, Clara had been in the company of the man for a fair while now, and patronising was, finally, the one personality trait she had managed to glean from him. Well, he may be offensive but at least he’ll be efficient, she thought, “You’ll want to interview everyone as soon as possible, I assume? I told them nobody should leave the auditorium,” she said.
“All in good time,” sniffed the man, “This is not an Agatha Christie novel, you know. My boys have taken down everyone’s particulars.” He briskly pulled down his buttoned up jacket and prepared to leave.
“So, what’s next?” Clara persisted.
“Forensics next. Photographer. Fingerprints. That type of affair” Was the man being charged by the word? Like a money-saving telegram, perhaps? Just as Clara was deciding whether to shake some life into him, or simply tug on his tiny, black moustache in order to elicit some kind of emotion, she heard Quentin Treadwell approaching down the echoing corridor. Quite how he managed to make such a theatrical entrance in an empty, soulless line of breeze blocks was both impressive and baffling. Treadwell advanced on his prey like a satin-clad panther and draped himself over the door jamb, “Still with us dear Inspector? Whatever have I done to deserve such attention from our boys in blue?” he purred. Clara had never seen a person without a chin retract said chin with fright before. It was a curious, fleeting moment that she wished she could watch on replay to better observe the ticks of the man’s face and the tightening of his orifices as the shock of Treadwell’s voice – less a purr, really, than a bunch of rusty nails rolling around inside a bucket – penetrated through him. The inspector sniffed again, “Right, I’ll be off then. Don’t,” he mustered one final declaration of pomp in the face of his predator, “Enter this room until forensics are done.” Clara watched with barely concealed glee as Peebley performed an unbidden pas de deux with Quentin, the latter refusing to move from the doorway as the former affixed ‘scene of crime’ tape across the threshold. “You must come to the cabaret Inspector, once we reopen,” Quentin persisted, warming to his theme now, “As my guest, of course. Front row seats – that’s the splash zone!” he winked “Perhaps you’ll bring Mrs. Weebley?” And as the Inspector was opening his mouth to reply, Quentin grabbed him by the shoulders and frogmarched him back up the corridor towards the auditorium. “So wonderful to meet you. Thank you for all you and your colleagues do. Don’t be a stranger now.” The doors swung behind the inspector, “Odious little man,” declared Quentin in a voice no less booming as he turned back to Clara. “I suppose odious does count as a personality trait, does it? I was beginning to think he was devoid of them.” She smiled wryly at her partner. Were they partners? She thought it best to be direct,
“So, am I vouched for?” she asked.
“You are in the clear. My dearest Terri, – what a joy it was to speak to her again after all these years – she confirmed your story one hundred percent, although I’m sure I still don’t understand why she sent you here with orders to speak to William, they were never as close as she and I. Not by a country mile!”
“How is he?”
“Willie? Not good. I think the word I would use is catatonic. When I went into the office to telephone Terri, he was just sat slumped. Staring ahead with a pile of paperwork slowly sliding from his hands onto the floor.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, indeed. He kept talking about her skin. Ruthie’s, I mean. Remarked on how unchanged it was.”
“Yes, I thought something similar,” admitted Clara.
“He said ‘Still so life-like. Creamy and smooth,’” Quentin shuddered at the thought.
“You called her Ruthie,” smiled Clara.
“Well, of course I did, my dear. You don’t think this old fool is as foolish as he makes out, do you? She was one of our own,” his voice dropped to a whisper, as he bowed his head “One of my girls,” and then, just as suddenly, he snapped back into action “If your aunt thought William was the more reliable of the two of us, I’d hate to think what she’d make of him today.”
Clara was beginning to realise that, behind the bravado, Quentin Treadwell may well be really quite offended that her aunt had sent her here in search of someone other than her erstwhile partner. “Perhaps she didn’t want to bother you?” said Clara as gently as she could.
Treadwell shook off the mood like a dog shaking off water, “Bother me?! Terri is family, and therefore, Clara Pin, you are family also.”
“So we are in business?” Clara brightened.
“We are!” Quentin put out his hand and Clara shook it.
“Right, now tell me – this dressing room. What do you see?”
Quentin sighed his most theatrical of sighs “Oh, we’ve been through all this before the Inspector arrived. I don’t know what you mean darling!”
“You have worked here for thirty years, yes?”
“So what? So has William.”
“But Willie doesn’t spend the same amount of time in here as you. You have to walk through this dressing room to get to your own. After all that time, there is no-one better placed to tell me what is out of the ordinary here?” Clara wheeled the man around so his chest was pressed against the big cross of tape Peebley had left in his wake. She waited. Clara tried to follow her partner’s gaze as he scanned the dressing room. Ruthie’s coat was still lying on the floor near to where her recently removed body had lain, the first aid kit and its detritus still spilling from work surface to carpeted floor. Clara saw stains on the threadbare, municipal grey carpeting. The bags, coats and costumes of all the girls were flung around. The one long work surface was teeming with glasses, wet wipes, towels and the make-up bags and their contents of at least six people. Headdresses, wigs and props lined a high shelf the length of one wall, the sporadic blank faces of bald, unseeing wig blocks peered out, punctuating the whole. If they had eyes they would have seen something. Something happened in this room.
“This is impossible, darling! I simply don’t know what I’m looking for.”
“But there has to be something not quite right.” Clara persisted.
“Other than the bin having been emptied, it’s the same utter chaos as always, my dear.
“What about the bags and coats? Do they all belong to the girls?”
“No,” said a voice behind them.
Clara swung around to find Betty standing in the hallway. Was this the first time she hadn’t tinkled as she entered a room?
“These things don’t all belong to the girls?” Clara clarified.
“Of course not,” Betty smiled a beatific smile, “Some of them, at least, belong to the Spesh Acts.”
Clara blinked “Ah yes, of course. The Spesh Acts.” Clara was beginning to wonder how much longer she could go on pretending she knew what the blazes a ‘Spesh Act’ was, and why on earth she didn’t she ask. There was something about Betty, something that intimidated her. For all her smiling and tinkling, Clara felt the persona didn’t ring quite true.
“Of course, none of them were here at the time of the – incident,” said Betty discreetly.
“Are we certain on that?” Clara asked
“Absolutely. The boys were gone to their other gigs, or to eat before their appearance here. I saw them off just before rehearsal began. Each and every one of them. The floor staff were out on break, also.”
Quentin interjected, “Since we stopped serving food, the barmen and waiting staff tend to abandon ship for their final chance of sustenance and fresh air before submerging themselves underground again until the wee small hours.”
Clara could not argue with that logic. “Are we certain then,” she persisted, “That other than Ruthie herself, everybody left in the building was involved in the rehearsal?”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I was involved darling, but I was there, wasn’t I?” Quentin rolled his eyes, dramatically.
Betty, flexing her fingers and arching her back in the most lady-like way imaginable spoke clearly and concisely. “All my other girls were on the stage with you,” she indicated Clara, “And the band. Quentin was by the double doors. I was on the floor in front of you all. Willie was in the sound booth.” She finished, staring Clara directly in the eye and smiling a mannequin-like smile. Clara blinked, but did not look away. “And that’s everyone.”
“That’s everyone.” Betty’s smile widened.
Quentin, thundering through the tense atmosphere like a camp knife at a fancy dress party, added, “If William is otherwise engaged the doors would be locked until it’s time for the floor staff to return from their break.”
“And on that occasion, I locked them.” Betty stood firm.
Clara swallowed. “And none of the floor staff can get into the building until break is over?”
“Not unless somebody lets them in,” confirmed Quentin.
“And we were all busy rehearsing.” Betty’s smile seemed to be taking over her face, very much like the Cheshire Cat. Clara wondered, not for the first time, if perhaps she really had fallen through a looking-glass earlier that day. Why was the woman still smiling at her? Why could Clara not look away. Never one to allow dead air for long, Quentin broke the silence once more, “Any chance we could get out of this godforsaken hallway, darlings? I’ve experienced more ambience at one of Lionel’s dinner parties…”
“Just one last thing that you two could help me fathom out for now,” smiled Clara, refusing to move her gaze from the blonde woman smiling back at her.
“Anything to help!” tinkled Betty.
“Yes, anything to help,” huffed Quentin, “But enough with the bloody grinning.” He slapped the hands of the two women with each of his own, “Honestly, I’m having flashbacks to being on the Generation Game!”
“Were you on the Generation Game?” shimmered Betty.
“I was! At it’s peak, of course. Had to bob for apples wearing a rubber mask of Richard Nixon.”
Clara coughed.
“Sorry. You were saying?”
“I was wondering the possible ways of getting from the auditorium where we were all rehearsing, to this room?”
“Well that’s simple, darling! There’s three.”
“And they are?”
“You can come through the double doors from the auditorium and walk up this corridor.”
“As I just have,” added Betty.
“Or you can come through the rat run behind the stages back curtain…” continued Quentin.
“Like the band explained,” nodded Clara.
“Or,” Quentin ploughed on, miffed that his soliloquy was being interrupted, “you leave from the back of the auditorium and come down the side corridor that links to this one.”
“Side corridor?”
“It’s how you get here from the foyer, darling. We haven’t got a stage door – and not all the acts are here before the doors open. Can’t have them running through the auditorium half-naked in front of the punters now, can we?”
‘“That’s three,” Clara agreed.
“But the trap door makes four,” tinkled Betty.
“Trap door?” Clara repeated.
“Of course! The one in the stage, silly.” smiled the blonde.


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoy my story ‘The Blue Angel’ as it unfolds week-to-week. Like my daily vlog & fortnightly podcast, it is free at the point of consumption, but I welcome one-off donations (or ‘tips’) to www.paypal.me/paullmartinpay or you might consider becoming one of my Patrons with a monthly pledge from as little as $1 via www.patreon.com/PaulusFabulus. Thanks for reading. Paulus.