Category Archives: Opinion

The Fishwife’s Fortune

There are villains and mermaids, sailors and shipwrecks, a larger than life Dame, an evil mortician. There are snake skirts and kelp forests, a bearded lady and even – quite unexpectedly – a creature that is half dog and half squid!

Yes, it’s Panto season on Hopeless, Maine! The Grand Ole Opry is putting on its annual performance of The Fishwife’s Fortune and this years version is just as silly and noisy and colourful as you would expect from the Gristlemain Players. 

The Grand Ole Opry stages its first in-house production since the theatre reopened after the regrettable discovery in the basement last year of the body of Calico Jones, which was covered by this periodical. This reviewer noted the similarities in historic cases at the venue where is seems every 10 years or so an amateur Thespian meets with an untimely curtain call.

However, It was clear from the start that cast and crew were determined to put that all behind them and make it one of Hopeless’s best-ever Pantos.

This reviewer was once more swept off his feet and whisked away to the mud hut on Spikers Moor and the heart-rending plight of wee Mell Mildew. We first see her toiling in the home of her wicked half-mother.

There were a few fluffed lines, the lighting was a bit dim, there was one unfortunate accident with one of the props (a cheese-wire fishing net) but the cast rose to the challenge admirably and we were spirited away to ancient Hopeless and the classic rags-to-riches story we know and love so well. It was truly an evening of music, glamour and glitz.

The performances would surely not have shamed the stage of a mainland theatre. It was impossible at times to believe that we were in modern age and the events on stage took on a reality of their own.

Appearing in his 45th panto as the Dame and directing the performance (as usual)  is local showbiz legend, magician and raconteur, Wilbur Gristlemain. Wilbur brings his wicked wit and cheeky smile to the role of the Ur-hag, who grants wee Mell her most heartfelt wishes.

There really is something for everyone in this show and the gags come thick and fast – much like the very lifelike swarm of horseflies that take Mell’s neglectful family off to the pit in act two when she is first granted a wish by the Dame. This particular set-piece was without doubt a show stopper of epic proportions, the screams of the cast were wonderfully authentic sounding.

In fact it’s hard to single out the best performance. Jenny Greenteeth shines in the title role of Mell, displaying a confidence and maturity beyond her years. In his wonderfully over-the-top role as the mortician, Nahum Drabdoyle had me guffawing from the off – whilst Cressida Jowlfeather took the stage by storm as the villain of the piece (her outrageous headdress and face-paint matched by an equally outrageous performance where she only speaks in tongues). The entire supporting cast were enchanting and delivered one captivating scene after another.

As usual the music is provided by The fishermen of Gro, singing their haunting shanties. There was also plenty of ripe, traditional, panto banter intended to (hopefully) go straight over the heads of the younger audience, including an hilarious skit involving the spring fertility doll, an octopus and the old blind fisherman seeking a new bride… (you get the gist).

Remarkable, too, that this incredibly talented cast has not had the luxury of day-in-day-out rehearsals. When interviewed afterwords in the makeshift dressing room they all said that is was if they already knew their lines and always had known them and that they felt that they were almost in a dream when performing – a testament to the magisterial direction of Wilbur Gristlemain who has assembled a stellar array of local talent.

Gristlemain himself provided the most insightful comment on the Panto when I caught him ducking out of the back door. ‘The story is telling itself, the actors are just the vessels for it and the story will never end. It’s part of what roots us all to this island.’ Then the veteran performer went on his way into the evening, not without a touch of mystery about him.

All-in-all a truly remarkable achievement. Tickets available from the box office of The Grand Ole Opry.

Written by Charles Cutting-art by Tom Brown

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Save the Succubus Wasp

Octavius Chevin is a man with a mission. Originally trained as a naturalist he has spent his entire adult life on the island making galoshes for the fishing community. However, his retirement has allowed him to return to his first love of entomology. Recently he has campaigned tirelessly for the protection and study of one of the island’s rarest and most curious arthropods – the Succubus Wasp. A species he himself discovered, frozen in a block of ice, a year ago.
He’s written books and papers about Vespula Hasturis, to give it it’s proper name. He’s formed the local environmental organisation that seeks to protect the Succubus Wasp and, until recently, campaigned to expand the membership of the charity.
Unfortunately he remains the sole member of Save the Succubus Wasp. Due to becoming bed-ridden he has had to completely abandon his efforts to increase the organisation’s influence among the local community, but his passion for environmental work is undimmed.
Today, he lives by himself in the old mill out near Geezo’s Bight.
When this reporter visited the door was already open and he was met cordially by Mr Chevin who received him in his bedroom.
In person Mr Chevin cuts quite an imposing figure –  Despite looking alarmingly emaciated and somewhat wild-eyed, the man turns out to be rather welcoming. Speaking candidly and openly about having lost the use of his legs and being only partially able to use his arms, he remains sanguine. His voice is high pitched with a faint sibilant tone and he also has a nervous tic of punctuating his sentences with a short buzzing noise from the back of his throat. He becomes animated as conversation turns from his ailments to his beloved wasps.
‘I am privileged to be on a mission to preserve the natural habitat and therefore the small population of Vespulis Hasturis for the benefit of present and future generations’ he says. ‘It is a beautiful creature, but its numbers are dwindling: at the moment there is only one live pregnant queen wasp and two dormant, pregnant, ice-bound queens, on the island. There were more, of course, but since the discovery of the frozen colony and their subsequent revivification by my hands last year, they have inevitably come into contact with humans’.
He continues – ‘This resulted in their habitat being encroached on at a rapid rate and also some regrettable deaths, in both the wasp and human populations.
As a result, a lot of misinformed and plain ignorant opinions about these shy and retiring creatures have come about.’ Mr Chevin has started to push himself forward and attempts to lean in closer to me.
He carries on – ‘The wasp has a fascinating feeding cycle. The queen will inhabit the nearest living creature it can find and appears to exert some sort of mental control over it’s host by releasing a special type of pheromone into the nervous system, as a result the host loses all interest in eating and sleeping. As it feeds further on the host’s spinal fluid the host rapidly becomes paralysed. As there is a finite supply of spinal fluid, this necessitates that the queen must find a new host after a while. It is quite slow to disentangle itself from the cerebellum of it’s current host so it has to keep it’s potential prey occupied for quite a while before it can attack and infest it. They can’t survive for long outside of another living thing, you see’. Mr Chevin is now shaking with excitement.
I edge back a little as Mr Chevin seems to be unconsciously trying to grasp my wrist.
‘They only lay eggs once in a lifetime so it’s important that a steady supply of hosts is available to increase the chances of Queens giving birth to fertile males of the species and therefore being able to immediately mate again. Sadly the males die after the procreative act, only the queen matters!’
His voice becomes tremulous – ‘Our number one priority is to see them growing healthy and breeding and spreading and to stop this trend of dwindling numbers’ he says fixing me with that commanding stare of his. I agree that we have a duty to help promote the future of these fascinating insects but decide to excuse myself as Mr Chevin seems to be having some manner of fit. His head is shaking violently and rapidly from side to side and he sounds as if he is about to cough something up.
I make a hasty exit as I fear that my presence may have exacerbated his condition. In some extremity of discomfort I believe he involuntarily threw something after me, as I heard a thud as if something had forcibly struck the fine mahogany door as I closed it on my way out.
Environmental concerns are all our responsibility and this reporter asks his esteemed readership to consider taking up Mr Chevin’s ‘adopt a wasp’ campaign which proved so unpopular and short-lived last year. Subscriptions can be delivered by postal order to the Vendetta.
This dark gem is from none other than Mr Charles Cutting with art by Tom Brown.

What does the future hold?

(Frampton Jones)

Back in my youth, people did occasionally leave Hopeless. Ships sometimes arrived entirely of their own will. Back in those days, we were more optimistic as a community, and a good deal better off. When did anyone last build anything new here? I imagine it must be a disheartening place to grow up. I offer these thoughts as a counterpoint to my nephew’s report. What are we doing to build a future for our younger citizens? What do they have to look forward to? Can we blame them for small crimes inspired by futility and despair? The weather has improved, and I encourage you to spare whatever time you can for the bridge project. Parents with wayward young sons, in need of hope and direction, are encouraged to send their lads along. We can give our young folk something to believe in!

Gnii in your garden

Gnii are shy and charming creatures.

 

At this time of the year, gnii suffer from the cold and damp, although the action of frost breaking up stones benefits them in the longer term. While some have tried to claim that they are an ill omen, gnii are gentle creatures, their bobbing lights charming at night, and their presence an essential part of the Founders Day celebrations.

Make sure the gnii in your garden are thriving. Put out your candle stubs for them and check that  there is exposed rock for them to feed on and play with.

Currently there are a flotilla of gnii feeding by the harbour. They appear to be using driftwood and seaweed, burning brightly and for short periods and falling dramatically from the sky like tiny shooting stars. I wonder if this is how the island looked before the advent of people, and candles.

Medicine

Annamarie Nightshade is a liar and a fraud. I am the only formally trained medical man in Hopeless. If you want cures that consist of weeds, toenails and charcoal, then by all means go to her. This is just the kind of thing I meant when I said we needed a proper council to sort things out in this town. A proper council, proper laws, proper order and structure. That’s what we need, and an end to this kind of quackery.

Editor’s note: This is a free press. Anyone can pay to have their words published. I don’t agree with the Doc where councils are concerned, but he’s welcome to have his say. That’s one of the main differences between him and me, and why I don’t want a council.