The school concert was Mrs Whiplash’s idea and she announced it at a staff meeting one morning. It would be an annual event to be presented by the top juniors. Several important people were to be invited to the concert including the school governors and the mayor. A reporter from the local paper would attend and it would be useful publicity for the school. The Martin Bormann Academy was often in the paper but not usually for the reasons that Mrs Whiplash would like.
Miss Lovelace was to organise the different acts, and Mr Flowerdew would be in charge of the music. Although he could play the piano to Grade 2, he was better at operating the music system in the assembly hall. Our class teacher, Miss Battleaxe, was too busy with other duties to help, but we knew, that with her ability to see through walls, she would never be far away from the action.
One Friday lunchtime, Miss Lovelace started to plan the programme. To be honest, we were all quite keen about it. She suggested that we started and ended the concert with a jolly song that everyone could sing, including the audience. The songs would be selected later with Mr Flowerdew’s help. In the meantime, she said we needed some individual acts to show that the Martin Bormann top juniors had talent. First to volunteer, to our surprise, was Greta Grunge and her tongue poking pals. They had recently joined a drum majorette group and were keen to show off their baton twirling skills.
‘That sounds very exciting and colourful!’ said Miss Lovelace.
‘I can do some conjuring tricks, Miss,’ added Basil Burlap. ‘I’ve learnt a very good trick at making money disappear, and I can also spin plates.’
‘Can you make yourself disappear?’ muttered Thomas Tarbrush.
Petal Patel and Omar O’Shea volunteered to play a duet on their ocarinas. Miss Lovelace, who was Australian, didn’t know what an ocarina was, but thought it sounded delightful and rather exotic. To add to this musical extravaganza, Winnie Wickers offered to play a violin solo. She thought that she might be able to manage Beethoven’s Pathetique if Mr Flowerdew was kind enough to accompany her on the piano. At this suggestion, Mr Flowerdew developed a nervous twitch and edged slowly towards the escape door.
‘Why, that will be wonderful Winnie,’ gushed Miss Lovelace.
‘It will be pathetic,’ muttered Thomas Tarbrush.
Lily Lasagne offered to recite a sad poem about the Titanic and that was soon added to the programme. Danny Dingbat, the class dunce, said he could ride the family pit bull across the stage wearing spurs and a hat like a cowboy, but Miss Lovelace wasn’t too sure about that one. After some further thought, Danny said he might do a poem in praise of mothers, though he would have to read most of it. Miss Lovelace was beside herself with joy.
‘Now, do we have any dancers in the top juniors?’ asked Miss Lovelace. A few girls raised their hands and said that they could do one of their ballet routines though it might not be very good. Their names were added to the list, as was Fred Frisbee’s who said he had learnt a new routine from his brother who was a dancer in the West End.
‘Yeah,’ muttered Thomas Tarbrush, ‘He works outside theatres, not inside them.’
‘Well, with one or two contributions from the staff, I think we’ve got a very full programme here,’ said Miss Lovelace. ‘Mrs Whiplash will be delighted. Well done!’
And so the days passed and the entertainers practised their party pieces. The group acts got the most attention as they stomped around the stage to sound tracks provided by Mr Flowerdew. The individual acts were left to sort themselves out. Unfortunately, Miss Lovelace fell ill and would have to miss the show. This meant that there was no proper dress rehearsal and Miss Battleaxe was far too busy to organise one. Instead, she drew up a running order and we trooped onto the stage, said our first line, or performed our introduction, and were then dismissed with ‘Next!’ Mr Flowerdew said it was just like ‘speed dating’ as he dashed backwards and forwards between the piano and the sound system. According to Miss Battleaxe, things that were over-rehearsed soon lost their magic sparkle.
The evening of the concert was upon us. As the guests arrived, they were invited to inspect some of the work in the classrooms and, after some refreshments, take their places in the hall. The Lady Mayoress wore a large blue hat which blocked the view of people sitting behind her. Everyone was on small chairs, of course. As well as the official guests, there were lots of parents in the audience, and grandparents with backache. Some boys from St. Beckhams managed to get in, but Mr Lockjaw, the PE teacher, kept a close eye on them in case they started throwing rotten fruit.
The concert got off to a good start with a rousing song that Mr Flowerdew had taught us. It was called ‘The Mermaid’ and had a chorus that went:
And the raging seas did roar
And the stormy winds did blow
And we jolly sailor boys were up, were up, aloft
And the landlubbers lying down below, below, below
And the landlubbers lying down below.
This was followed by the girls from the ballet class and they hopped about the stage doing their pirouettes and all that stuff. In fact, they were rather good but they looked a little unbalanced because some of the girls were quite large and some were very tiny. Occasionally, they all collided with each other and the little girls came off worst, but were soon pushed back up onto the stage. The boys from St Beckhams started to wolf whistle but Mr Lockjaw sorted them out.
Then old Mr Longbrush, the school caretaker, came on stage wearing a French beret, a string of onions around his neck, and playing a piano accordion. He played lots of jolly French tunes and we all shouted ‘Bravo!’ and ‘Magnifique!’. After that, however, things started to go downhill. Petal Patel and Omar O’Shea played Kumbaya on their ocarinas. An ocarina is like a plastic shell with finger holes and, when it is blown, the sound is quite nerve-stripping. Two ocarinas together can be painful, and if you heard several of them, you could lose the will to live. The Lady Mayoress looked as if she was adjusting her large hat but I could see that she had her fingers stuck in her ears. Petal and Omar left the stage to warm applause, but I guess that the audience were just relieved to discover that the racket had stopped.
Our star conjuror, Basil, borrowed a £10 note from the Chairman of the School Governors. He then proceeded to tear up a piece of paper in an envelope, though it looked as if he was tearing up the £10 note. Unfortunately, Basil got a bit confused and it was the £10 note that got shredded; the piece of paper was unharmed. It must have upset him because when he did the plate spinning act, the plastic plates slipped off their poles and bounced into the audience who caught them and threw them back like frisbees. One dislodged the Lady Mayoress’ hat. His act probably needed a little more work on it. Well, quite a lot more work. Several years work, to be exact.
To great applause from the boys of St. Beckhams, Lily Lasagne stood on the stage to recite her sad poem about the Titanic. The audience fell silent and Mr Flowerdew played some ocean music over the sound system. There were several verses but the ones here will give you an idea of how it went.
Wrecked and stranded on this iceberg
Steady boys and do not fear.
I have sent an SOS
and know that help will soon be near.
Wrecked and stranded on this iceberg
Steady boys and don’t despair.
We shall soon be wrapped in blankets
and a change of underwear.
Wrecked and stranded on this iceberg
Even though our ship has sunk
We shall soon be drinking cocoa
In another sailor’s bunk
Wrecked and stranded on this iceberg
Steady boys and do not panic.
To our rescue come a ship.
Oh praise the Lord, boys, it’s Titanic.
At this point, several of Lily’s friends standing backstage shouted ‘CRUNCH’ very loudly. After a brief pause, Lily continued:
Wrecked and stranded on this iceberg.
Steady boys, without a moon,
They had difficulty docking
She’ll be back again quite soon.
The noisy visitors from St. Beckhams laughed and cheered, but it was clear that Mrs Whiplash did not share their enthusiasm for Lily’s poetry. She exchanged a rather strained look with Miss Battleaxe and wondered what was to follow next. Her heart sunk as she saw Danny Dingbat, the class dunce, approach the microphone. Danny, you recall, was going to read a poem in praise of mothers and that is what he did.
M is for the million things she gave us
O is only that she’s growing old
T is for the tears she shed to save us
H is for her heart of purest gold
I is for her eyes forever shining
R is right and right she’ll always be.
Put them all together, they spell MOTHER,
a word that means the world to me.
A particularly noisy parent then stood up and shouted:
Put them all together, they spell MOTHIR,
a word that makes no sense to me!
Danny didn’t blink an eyelid and left the stage punching the air in triumph; he should have punched that parent. Maybe he would have done better if he had dressed up as a cowboy and rode the family pit bull around the stage. Danny was followed by Winnie Wickers and her violin solo. Beethoven’s Pathetique has probably never sounded quite like it did that evening at the Martin Bormann Academy. The piano and violin were completely out of tune, a gust of wind kept blowing the music off the stand, and each time either Winnie or Mr Flowerdew fingered a wrong note, they said ‘Oops, Sorry’. The Lady Mayoress started to finger fidget under her hat again, but Winnie’s performance wasn’t really as bad as those ocarinas. Nothing is as bad as an ocarina.
‘See,’ said Thomas Tarbrush, ‘I told you it would be pathetic.
With only a few more acts left followed by the big chorus number, Mrs Whiplash started to relax. Dressed in their colourful majorette outfits, Greta Grunge and her tongue poking friends marched across the stage to the tune of ‘Blaze Away’. They had worked hard on their routine and twirled the metal batons skilfully to create exciting patterns and shapes. I was just wondering why their act hadn’t been saved until last, when a cry of pain arose from the centre of the hall and the show came to a standstill. Someone had been struck by a loose baton flying off the stage. Mr Lockjaw moved swiftly to identify and escort the patient to the medical room. He was closely followed along the main corridor by a stern looking Miss Battleaxe. Naturally, the girls were very upset and stood around the stage wondering what to do next. At that moment, Fred Frisbee decided to take control of the situation and asked Mr Flowerdew to switch on his dance tape. Waving aside the majorettes, he leapt onto the stage and got straight into a break dancing routine to wild applause from the audience. This was his big moment; his fifteen seconds of fame. He knew that he had saved the day, but he didn’t know that one of the batons was still rolling around the stage. Just as he switched from a power move to a suicide drop, he skidded on it and went spinning over the edge of the stage, knocking the Lady Mayoress and several other important guests to the floor. Fred had remained on the stage for exactly twelve seconds.
Then, all of a sudden, a fire alarm went off in the main corridor and we were all ordered to leave the hall. That was the end of the show, because Mrs Whiplash stood by the emergency exit and thanked everyone for coming. Mr Lockjaw returned with the patient who had a small bruise on his head. Greta Grunge and her tongue poking friends lined up in their majorette outfits to apologise to him, but he was very charming about it. Outside, the fire engines were roaring into school car park. Bored with watching Thomas the Tank Engine down at the fire station, Blue Watch eagerly swung into action with their hoses and hatchets. Needless to say, it was a false alarm and Miss Battleaxe blamed it all on those ’horrible boys’ from St. Beckhams.
And that was the first and last time that the top juniors put on a school concert at the Martin Bormann Academy. There is, however, one thing I forgot to mention. When the fire engines had left, some of us returned to help tidy the hall. While clearing away the chairs, I found a small shiny hammer with a broken chain under where Miss Battleaxe had been sitting. As I stood there inspecting it, she appeared from nowhere, and lifted it from my grasp.
‘I’ll take that, young man,’ she said and disappeared down the main corridor.
I then went home feeling a bit disappointed because we never got to sing our big closing number, ‘There’s no business like show business’.
Tony Crowley (c) 2011