Saturday 30th April
As a child I was a fan of Jules Vern and H.G Wells. I enjoyed reading their books very much and once I was old enough to sneak into the pictures or stay up late enough to watch the stories unfold on TV or film, it became obvious what I was going to become.
Probably a U Boat captain, uncovering a secret undersea cave to a land that time forgot inhabited by Dinosaurs or more likely a traveller in time, able to stop off here and there and witness historic events unfold. Even as a child I had little concern for the future. I’m much more interested in histories than the stars. I believe the measure of a person is what they have achieved rather than what they insist they are going to get round to one of these days.
I have also had a lifelong love of performing or as My Mam and Aunties would say, “showing off again”.
Thanks to Uncle Bob, I was able to recite Stanley Holloway’s Albert and the Lion long before I was taught the Lord’s Prayer at Ramsden Infants. I was performing the story with sock puppets out of Auntie Peg’s backyard door for pennies in advance of my first paper rounds, so you might say I have been a professional showman for 38 of my 42 years.
On and off….
I left school and, like most of the lads in Barrow, started working for the MOD on Nuclear Submarines. I wasn’t keen and quickly walked the plank seduced by the projects of Welfare State International into a life of street theatre, concert parties, puppets and Pierrots. In my time I have performed all over the world, firstly busking and later professionally, working at festivals, theatres, seasides and streets.
A profession that I am proud to say I have managed to survive in for over 25 years. I still enjoyed reading of other artist’s adventures – how they proudly battle against all elements, economics, audiences and odds.
My shelves bulge with biographies; mostly showmen, clowns and punks, but also adventurers. On the rare times I find myself lounging by a pool on a package holiday, I will usually have my nose buried in Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon or Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks. Fine and funny accounts of travelling the world, living off your wits and the goodwill of others.
By far my favourite showman and traveller was Walter Wilkinson.
I have all his books and have read them many times. Uncle Tacko bought me my first copy of ‘The Peepshow’ and he would often read accounts of Wilkinson’s journeys by candle light as we settled for the night in our small tent after performing our own puppet show during the many Poppets Puppets summer seasons.
Walter Wilksinson was not the first showman to tramp the country making a living from performing and passing the hat, nor will he be the last, but I love to study his accounts of walking around Britain between the wars offering his shows in return for conversation, commendations and cash. To a showman like me, these books are every bit as exciting as the adventures of Armstrong or Hillary and all the more exciting as we prepare to set off on our Wilkinson inspired adventure.
We know that every inch of our route around south Cumbria is beautiful. We know our audience and we know the show. We are well supported by our families and partners at Lakes Alive a huge thank you to all at Lakes Alive for making this adventure possible.
Most importantly of all, we have Janice watching our backs and lighting our way forward from her myriad of mobiles and Mac books constantly shepherding us along from her cyber command centre in Dalton.
We are about to embark on the kind of adventure I have only ever daydreamed about. This journey has been the very top of my list of things to do before I die for many years. Three weeks of live performance, all outdoors, free to anybody. Just myself and Lord Gregg, living off nothing but the goodwill of our audiences, our belief and trust in each other and our humble Vagabond show.
I’ve packed my underpants, deodorant and some wet wipes. I’ve dyed my head so the make up can last for three weeks. Everybody is wishing us well and the weather looks clement if a little windy.
What could possibly go wrong?