A night at the Opera
Not quite the stuff of the Marx Brothers but a few Groucho wisecracks would probably help. I was in for quite a full day of strict appointments, the first being at Kettering General’s dermatology department. My doctor had referred me with a mystery place on my right leg, something like a growth trying to escape from within, hopefully not as horrific as in the Alien films. It was a case of on the bus again to arrive for my appointment 20 minutes early at 13.10. The area was deserted so I sat down to wait.
At about 13.25 an elderly couple arrived, the man grim faced at the prospect of having some dreadful disease diagnosed. “Where is everybody?” he asked me. “I assume they’re at lunch,” I replied, “when is your appointment?” “Two o’clock,” he said. The receptionist appeared at 13.35 and, almost before she could sit down, he was up at the desk. I looked at the wife and she said, “He’s impatient.” “Patience is a virtue I do have,” I replied before taking my turn at the desk.
It wasn’t too surprising that I was the first to be ushered into a treatment room. “We want you on the bed,” the specialist nurse announced, “with both shoes and socks off and your trousers rolled up over your knees”.
“It’s just me leg,” I protested lamely. “We know,” she said, “we still want you on the bed”.
Doctor Vorster, from South Africa unsurprisingly, gave me a very quick examination and swiftly diagnosed that the problem was poor circulation and that my mystery pain was caused by blood vessels becoming restricted. He left me with the nurse who told me, “I recognise you, I used to be at Rothwell Medical Centre”. Shades of the previous day when recognition provided me with a free scone. Now the purpose of the bed became clear. Blood pressure readings were taken from both arms and both ankles with a device that made squishing sounds like a washing machine in torment. There was noticeably less squishing from my ankles than from my arms. The next stage was to measure my feet, which turned out to be different sizes, for compression stockings. Altogether out of kilter since my lower leg diameter doesn’t suit the size of either foot so, if I shortly appear looking like Max Batty I challenge you not to laugh. I managed to avoid the dreaded stockings when I had my leg ulcer last year but the chickens are coming home to roost after all. I’m also to use double base moisturiser so the vision of rubbing my legs up and down a large musical instrument is material for a cartoon.
I left the hospital in a snowstorm, having been there for two hours and had just missed a bus, so another 20 minutes to wait. Arriving home at 16.00 I had time only for a pot of tea and a bowl of soup before rushing out again for my evening appointment. Before leaving, with snow beginning to lie, I phoned Thrapston Plaza to ask if they could fit me in for another night, but I was persuaded to chance it and go. The female driver of the bus back into Kettering was the same one from my earlier ride home. I could visualise the recognition bubble appearing over her head as she must have wondered about my very brief visit to Rothwell. The snow had tempered to sleet as I boarded the last Raunds bus of the day at 17.20 thinking that anyone from points east of Kettering must either have other transport or just work part time. I felt sympathy for a young woman who alighted on the approach to Woodford. Her dainty ballet type slippers hardly seemed up to the puddles that she stepped out into. Another passenger received a phone call and shouted so loudly at the instrument that I feared it might explode. He stepped off with me at Thrapston and disappeared into the night.
There’s not a great deal to do in Thrapston at 5.50 pm on a Wednesday evening but I had been informed that the Plaza would be open, although the opera was not due to start until 7.00 (It’s 24 hour clock for buses and 12 hour for opera, in case you’re wondering). It was raining by now and, dodging the puddles, I entered the hall with one immediate objective. Well over an hour on buses on a cold night is not too good for an ageing bladder and, relief, there just inside was the sign “Toilets” at the base of some stairs. I rushed half way up before I was brought to a halt by a lady demanding to know where I was going. “I’m desperate for the loo,” I managed to gasp through the motions of the dance I was performing on the stairs. “Alright,” she said, “we didn’t want you to go into the dressing rooms up there”.
“You must be the gentleman from Rothwell,” she said when I entered the main hall, as though the expectation of anyone coming from Rothwell was a novelty. I was offered a cup of tea, not available for other patrons and my seat turned out to be one of the few padded ones at the rear of the hall. I was in Row L and it soon became clear that it would be a full house, with the exception of the two seats to my left and one to my right. The gentleman from Rothwell had achieved another distinction. I was in the last but one row and each row was comprised of 13 seats so an audience of well over 100 people (I’m no mathematician, work it out). There had already been a performance the previous night and the remaining two were already fully booked, so work that one out too. I caused a small commotion when I offered a £20 note for a programme and some raffle tickets but my change came eventually from different boxes after at first being owed £5.
The opera? Verdi’s Aida, which is a pretty big opera, with triumphal marches and, in principal opera houses, a huge chorus and even live animals, would appear to be rather ambitious for Thrapston. In fact the scaled down production was very well done and the 22 piece orchestra made quite enough noise. It was sung in English, which is what I should have expected, and the principal singers were professional or semi-so. I had not realised that Thrapston could produce so many ladies with long dark hair for the chorus of Egyptian priestesses. There is no back-stage at the Plaza so the cast had to pass to and fro through the audience to access the stage which could only accommodate them by having tiers of steps which ladies and men in long gowns managed to ascend and descend with unexpected grace. I feared that a trip by one might cause an avalanche of screaming singers but this did not happen. I was impressed by the whole thing and regretted missing their previous two productions.
The interval came, during which those who fancied an alcoholic drink were expected to scamper along to the Bridge Hotel and return within 25 minutes. One of the organising ladies tapped me on the shoulder to ask if they owed me a fiver, but I decided to uphold the honour of Rothwell by remaining honest. When it came to home time I produced my mobile phone to ring for motor assistance and discovered, to my alarm, that it had died, like the opera principals. What to do now? I went back into the hall and approached the lady of the fiver to explain my predicament. She handed me an all singing and dancing instrument which flummoxed me completely until she manipulated a keyboard onto the screen and I was able to call my much appreciated benefactor.
The Marx Brothers could have created far greater chaos.