Blackheath Cendrillon: Prince Charming … alarming

L.C.Spinetti here again, Cherry’s too busy with Arachne Press to cover the unfolding drama at court, so REALly!? have given me a short commission to keep up with action in the small kingdom of BlackHeath.  Quite a change from covering Crufts.

So you’ll never guess who I met on the heath this morning. The Royal Poodles! All four of them, being walked by a couple of footman and the Prince’s ex nanny.

One of the poodles – Horatio – bounded up to me and almost knocked me over, and she came over to apologise.  Of course she’s used to being recognised especially if she’s out with the dogs, so she wasn’t terribly impressed when I said hello, but actually, I do know her – she’s a friend of Mother’s.  So after I reminder her who I was we had a bit of a chat, mostly about Signor Spinetti, who is off covering the Grand Prix, however I couldn’t help noticing she was looking rather strained.  So I asked, is one of the dogs ill?

Oh no, she said, no, they’re all fine, it’s the prince.  He’s been moping for days, and now he says he wont go to the ball.

Now, even I know a scoop when it’s dropped in my lap, so I persuade her that she needs a cup of coffee, from the stall by the pond, and sit her down on a bench. The poodles scamper in and out of the water and the footmen sneak off for a quick fag and a pint in the PoW, and nanny unburdens her anxieties onto my willing ears.

Nanny: The atmosphere at the palace is dreadful, Charming moping, his father stamping about in a temper – and normally I’d rely on Henry Fortescue-Smythe, to sort it out, you know what a fixer he is, but there’s been that incident – well, in his absence his uncle, (ginger-beer-peer, Lord H F-S) can generally get one of them to come round, but he got stomped on by a horse in the winner’s enclosure at Ascot, and has a broken foot, so he’s not really up to shuttle diplomacy from one wing of the palace to the other.
The Prime Minister has tried, but he has about as much tact as a rhino on heat – no, it’s very stressful.

LCS: What’s caused all this? I mean it’s not like the prince to sulk, he’s always been such a sweet boy.

Nanny: Well, just so – that’s how he got his nick name, it was me who coined it, as it were – I remember when he was just a little boy – well, never mind that – he grown now and he needs a wife.

LCS: You don’t think…

Nanny: Good heavens, no!

LCS: Well, it’s just that…

Nanny: No Elsie, put that thought from your mind.

LCS: It’s L.C. actually. Anyway, if he’s sulking about being asked to marry – it’s not like there aren’t plenty of pretty girls he can choose from.

Snooty princesses copyright Cherry Potts 2012

Nanny: Handsome is as Handsome does, Elsie dear. Most of them are scheming gold-diggers only interested in his money and position.  It’s not easy for a prince to meet the right girl; although there was a very sweet girl at the party rehearsal – he seemed quite taken with her at the time.  I had a long chat with the Mother, somebody de la Villette – daughter of a rent collector, can you imagine! She has great hopes for her Hortense, but – a little – provincial – I don’t think the King would wear it – it would take forever to get her polished up.  No, sadly, I don’t think Hortense is the girl for my Prince Charming, though she’d be a better bet than either of those toxic Haltiere girls.

LCS: Oh! Do you know them?

Nanny: Know them? I was at school with their mother, and a right madam she was too, bullied everyone.  Even the headmistress was frightened of her.  She thinks her girls are good enough for my Charming. He wouldn’t give either of them a second glance – except of horror possibly.   Not their fault of course, it’s just… Madame.  ghastly woman.

Hortense de la Villette overwhelmed by her encounter with the Prince copyright Cherry Potts 2012

LCS: So what do you think the Prince looks for in a  potential wife?

Nanny: All the traditional princessly virtues of course. Beauty, charm, grace, kindness, a lovely voice, her own money, good breeding…

LCS: Intelligence? Courage? Humour?

Nanny: Let’s be realistic Elsie, we are talking about Princesses.  He’d be lucky to find one with any of those qualities.

Lucky indeed. We’d finished our coffee at this point so I couldn’t drag it out any longer. Well, the party starts at seven on Tuesday, so we shall see: will the prince make do with a vacuous god-digger or will he find the princess of his dreams?

© Cherry Potts 2012

Sadly this blog is a work of fiction and noneof the characters depicted in it should be taken to represent any real person or company living or dead.  They spring from the fertile imaginations of Mssrs Perrault and Massenet as channelled by Harry Fehr with  a bit of help from Cherry Potts and other members of the cast of Cinderella;

this year’s community opera at Blackheath Halls. Today’s installment features Mme de la Villette, a character created by Laura Sparkes.

Blackheath Cendrillon: Princesses’ Hour

Rachael and Natasha

Cheerful princesses copyright Cherry Potts 2012

A Guest blog here from L.C. Spinetti, roving reporter for REALly?! magazine, part of the REALly?! Empire which includes everyone’s favourite REALity show At Home With the Haltieres™, (the first installment of the fifth season is aired on July 17th at a special showing at Blackheath Halls.  You can book your tickets here.)

Last night the rehearsal for the King’s big cocktail party to give his son, the Prince, a chance to view the fairest in the Kingdom took place.  Of course I was there to cover Madame de la Haltiere and her daughters Noémie and Dorothy on behalf of REALly?! and I didn’t actually have a press pass, so I snuck in with Hermione Fancott REALly?! Radio! reporter on Princesses’ Hour, No one seemed to be surprised that a Radio programme needed a photographer.

I have to be honest, I hardly noticed the Haltieres, although they are quite hard to ignore. There were princesses everywhere.

Prince getting alarmed copyright Cherry Potts 2012

Of course, the unfortunate arrest of Henry Fortescue-Smythe Junior, heir to the F-R-Vessent Ginger Beer fortune, and most eligible bachelor in the Kingdom, did rather focus attention on the prince, as the second most eligible bachelor.

It has to be said the ladies were coming on a bit strong.  It was only a rehearsal, after all.  There was something of the feel of the catwalk to the proceedings and the Prince was looking very uncomfortable with the attention.

Over-eager princess copyright Cherry Potts 2012

Princess being ejected copyright Cherry Potts 2012

Princess being restrained by the Prime Minister copyright Cherry Potts 2012

Of Course it isn’t given to everyone to catch the eye of a prince, and there were many ladies who were disappointed, to say nothing of one or two who had to be actively restrained!

Cinderella makes her appearance at the ball copyright Cherry Potts 2012

But who was that stranger? I couldn’t find her in Debrett, but the Prince couldn’t take his eyes off her… are wedding bells in the air?

© Cherry Potts 2012

Sadly this blog is a work of fiction and none of the characters depicted in it should be taken to represent any real person or company living or dead.  They spring from the fertile imaginations of Mssrs Perrault and Massenet as channeled by Harry Fehr with  a bit of help from Cherry Potts and other members of the cast of Cinderella.

The Blackheath Community Opera production of Massenet’s Cinderella is at Blackheath Halls London SE3 for 4 performances only. Book NOW!

Haunted by Fairy Tales

So I’m on a business trip in Germany, slightly reluctantly (too close to Christmas, weather turning bad) and I discover that Kassel, where I am at a meeting of a European Project is the home town of the Brothers Grimm.  Drawing a veil over the journey which was definitely in the Epic rather than F-T mode, there are F-T references everywhere.  The Brothers huddle together in statue form in a slightly scruffy patch of grass, an open book clutched between them.

Kassel carousel

carousel decorated with scenes from Little Red Riding Hood copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The Christmas Market sports a kind of windmill driven pagoda with life-size figures from Snow White in perpetual motion, and the carousel is painted with scenes from Little Red Riding Hood…

The wine at dinner one night is called ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ too – the venue for this meal is the tower of a ruined church (Cafe Luther), which would fill in for Rapunzel’s tower quite well (the giant metal doors of the tower room were stunning).  Even the entrepreneurs we are here to meet bring us fairy-tale themed food.  Bettina Trautwein, owner of a cafe and catering company serves up ‘fairy tale soup’ which turns out to be beetroot with sour cream and pumpkin oil – reflecting the red white and black theme at the start of Snow White, when her Mother’s blood falls in the snow… This is followed by a salad (I was hoping for Rapunzel here, as it was stolen Ransoms got her parents in trouble in the first place, but no) a salad which represented the rose forest around the goats cheese castle of Sleeping Beauty with a pastry kiss on top, and almonds scattered in the leaves.  And the almonds? we ask… oh those are all the dead princes, Bettina says beaming.  Slightly disconcerted, I eat my almonds.  The food is excellent, and gets me thinking about how food features in fairy tales:  gingerbread cottages and breadcrumbs in Hanzel and Gretel (and the potential for baked boy, too), poisoned apples in Snow White, that stolen garlic in Rapunzel.

Frozen Waterfall

Frozen Waterfall copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The following day, business concluded, we are taken on a guided walk around the Bergpark Wilhelmehohe a fantasy landscape of folly castles, ‘ancient’ temples, and frozen waterfalls.  We are told a ghost story… and leaving out the ghost, its a very good story indeed, which really captured my imagination.

soon it will be processed into something else entirely.

copyright Cherry Potts 2010

Dark and Stormy

Dark & Stormy
A Halloween piece … Winter, spicy gingerbread, slavery and marriage to an insanely jealous man … another exercise from WOOA, sparked off by not having got around to submitting anything on the Dark & Stormy theme to Liars’ League, and for once I didn’t come up with a story.

I keep dark Muscavado sugar in a supposedly airtight jar. I bought that jar in the mid seventies from the Reject Shop in Tottenham Court Road. The jar is square and has a Victorian engraving of ladies in a teashop on one side, which is what attracted me to it, in a very seventies-Laura-Ashley sort of way, but practical- air-tight unbreakable. On the other side of the jar the picture is of child slaves cutting sugar cane.
I often think about throwing that jar away, I’m not comfortable with that image, and I’m not comfortable with my fourteen-year-old self who bought it. It isn’t that airtight either; when the weather is humid the sugar melds itself into a brick. But it stays on the shelf with equally disturbing coffee and tea caddies and every time I reach it down I am reminded of the true price of sugar.
Every time I make this kind of cake – not often these days, but still, when I do – I think of Demerara and Barbados and plantations, especially if the recipe requires rum.
And while I am trying to hack the gritty dark brown brick into manageable weighable pieces, for some reason I think of pale slender ships scudding across dark green waters, threatened by storm clouds the size of continents. Breaking the sugar-brick requires a heavy knife (though not as heavy as the machete the child-slave wields), a clean cloth, and a rolling pin. The knife is laid edge-to-sugar the cloth goes over, to prevent flying shards ricocheting about the kitchen, and the rolling pin is used to hit the back of the blade.
It makes me think:
Breaking rocks in the hot sun (and sometimes I sing it)
Oscar Wilde in Reading jail
a story from One Thousand and One Nights… in which a jealous sultan believes (wrongly) that his wife is unfaithful, and plans to murder her in her bed. She gets wind of his intentions and when he comes to cut off her head in the night, raising his scimitar and bringing it down on what he believes to be her neck, there is a crack and his mouth is suddenly filled with sweetness. He falls to his knees sobbing in repentance, and she steps from behind a curtain and reveals that the headless body in the bed is a sugar effigy.
I am usually melting sugar and butter and rum and ginger together at this point, and as I stir this thick warm liquid, that looks like tar and smells like Christmas and late summer in the same breath, I think about that woman, watching her husband trying to kill her.
How can she forgive him, how can she trust him? How can he bear to even look at her when she reveals the truth? I wonder if they ate the rest of that sugar wife.
I only make this cake between late September and Twelfth Night. It is a cake for Halloween and inky afternoons where the sky turns from cobalt through Prussian blue and only the blackbirds sing; a cake for eating with the lights on, and the fire lit; and whether the curtains are drawn or not, for rain against the window.
Cakes like this, they take time and thought.
They weigh heavy: occasionally on the stomach, but mostly in the mind. Dark and stormy: the smells of nutmeg and cardamom, cinnamon and mace, cloves and ginger, raise ghosts; but the first bite of still warm crumbling richness is the taste of distance and long journeys, of security, and of home.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2010

My Life in Fairytales

photo of Cherry Potts aged about seven

Cherry at about the time of writing "the Prince the Princess and the Goatherd" copyright RR Potts

I told stories before I could write.  I mean proper stories, not fibs.  My Mum is a writer and she told us stories every night to get us to go to sleep, she usually had characters who were a bit grumpy, I have vivid memories of lying in the lower bunk aged 3 or 4, staring up at the slump made by my older sister as Mum told us  ‘The VERY Cross King’ which was a particular favourite; another was ‘The Old Woman From Friuli’ and I think her style rubbed off on me.

By the time I was six I was telling my younger sister stories, heavily influenced by Cinderella and ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’ and ‘Flashing Blades’ which were on television at the time.  I recall having very rigid and Teutonic ideas of beauty: (very) long blonde hair, blue eyes, and red lips. It didn’t bother me in the slightest that I didn’t conform to this stereotype, although I can remember thinking a friend’s mother the picture of perfection… it is only now I recall the immense height of her peroxide beehive – which she covered with a chiffon scarf that barely met under her chin – Marge Simpson would have been proud of that barnet.

The tales I told were pretty blood bolted and full of danger; I was always more in favour of the Brothers Grimm than Hans Christian Andersen, who (once I could read) I rejected as prissy.

And once I could read, I was a happy devourer of re-tellings of the Thousand and One Nights, Greek and Norse myth, and all kinds of British and European folk tales, especially the French and Russian ones.

Our local library had a good collection in the literature studies section, it might even have been a series, and I got these out again and again, although they were from the adult shelves and my junior ticket didn’t entitle me to them. The Librarians indulged me, and so did my primary school teacher, Miss Woodward, who lent me her own books to feed my voracious appetite.

I have affectionate memories of Roger Lancelyn Green’s Greek and Egyptian re-tellings, William Mayne’s Book of Heroes and Andrew Lang’s Blue, Yellow etc. fairy books, one of which I recall colouring in the illustrations without realising it was a library book.  In my defence I had mumps at the time and wasn’t thinking very straight.

being read to at a very early age

Being read to at a very early age - I'm the baby. Copyright R R Potts

But … so many of these books I remember reading with a kind of transfixed horror, not for the gore (I’m a sucker for a werewolf) but for the matter-of-fact-ness and inevitability of the way things go wrong.    I read the Mabinogion when I was ten, and had nightmares for weeks.  There are an awful lot of severed heads that go on talking in folk tales if you stop to count them, and some of them aren’t even people.

I suspect that if I were to read them again now I would find these stories tedious or disturbing, but they were a great grounding in story telling.

I wrote my first fairy story when I was six or seven, I think.  It was called ‘The Prince, the Princess and the Goatherd.’  I don’t know why the Prince got top billing as he had very little to do or say but the rhythm of the title wouldn’t be nearly so good if it was a different order.

It went (minus the grammar) something like this.

Once upon a time there was a very pretty Princess (by which I meant blond blue-eyed and red-lipped of course) who lived in a castle with the Queen and the King.

The King was very cross all the time, (homage to Mum’s V.C.K) and didn’t like the Princess.

The Princess had a friend who was a Prince and she wanted to marry him (actually I’m not sure she did, but there was something going on with them, and she was a bossy young madam who liked to get her way.)

So the Princess told the Queen.  And the Queen said

“Oh dear! The King isn’t going to like that at all.  I think you two had better run away.”  So the Princess packed her suitcase (it was a small brown cardboard one, with a lovely striped paper lining and a plastic handle, and I kept my doll’s clothes in it) and said to the Prince

“Come on, we are running away.”

And they did.

Not long after they had started to run away they met a goatherd.

“Hello goatherd,” said the Princess.

“Hello you two, where are you running off to?” Said the goatherd

“We are running away,” said the Princess.

“Quite right too,” said the goatherd.

So the Prince and Prince went on their way and soon they came to a river without a bridge. (Not a big river, they could probably have jumped it but they were much too genteelly brought up for that to occur to them.)

“Oh dear” said the Princess (although it might have been the Prince, I’m sure he had an opportunity to speak once in a while) “how will we get across?”

“I will help you,” said the goatherd.

“Where did you come from?”  Said the Princess.

“I was following you, I knew you would need help.”  Said the goatherd.  And (got them over the river somehow.  Can’t remember, maybe the goats carried them, or he just ‘Magicked’ them over, my memory fails me).

“Thank you goatherd,” said the Prince and Princess and went on their way.

By now they were quite hungry, but it was all right because they were just coming up to the Princess’ uncle’s house. (I remember this house vividly, it was a lighthouse keeper’s cottage with whitewashed walls and a thick waist height whitewashed wall around the garden, with wallflowers and aubrietia growing in the top.  It was set on a low cliff and surrounded by neat green turf. I can’t think where I had seen this house or a picture of it, but that’s what it was. Interestingly there was no lighthouse. My partner says this is a ‘Topsy & Tim’ house, she may be right.)

The Princess’ nasty uncle was in his garden pruning his roses (I think he must have been based on a neighbour)

“Well hello, you two,” said P.N.U, “where are you two running off to?”

“We’re running away,” said the Princess.

“Well you must stop for tea,” said the P.N.U.

“Thank you,” said the Princess “we are very hungry,” and they went in and sat down for buns and squash.  (I’m sure I thought about poisoning them at this point, but I restrained myself).

As soon as they were inside the P.N.U slammed the door and locked them in. Then he rushed off to tell the King where the Princess was.  He was a very nasty uncle.

As soon as the P.N.U. had gone, there was a knock on the door.

“I’m very sorry,” said the Princess, “I can’t let you in, the door is locked.”

“That’s alright,” said the goatherd, “I have the key,” and he let them out.

“How lucky you came along,” said the Prince.

“Just passing,” said the goatherd.

Just then they saw the P.N.U. and the King running along towards them.

“You two had better run off,” said the goatherd so they did.

By now they were very tired.

“I’m tired,” said the Princess.

“So am I” said the Prince “Shall we go home?”

“Yes let’s,” said the Princess, “but the King will be very cross.”

But they went home anyway.

“Hello you two,” said the Queen, “where did you two run off to?”

So the Princess told her all about the goatherd and the river and the nasty uncle.

“Oh, the goatherd isn’t really a goatherd,” said the Queen, “that was your other uncle, he’s a very clever magician.  I sent him to keep an eye on you.  Well, I think you should go to bed very quickly, and by the time the King wakes up in the morning I’m sure he will have forgotten all about it.”

So the Princess went to bed, and in the morning, the King was very cross, but not with her.

(Some poetic licence here, I can’t remember how it ended!)

There were many other fairy tales, but I don’t recall them.  My mum uncovered the original manuscript of this one shortly after my first collection was published and sent a typed up version to me as my Christmas card.  I have since lost it and I don’t know if she still has the manuscript. I recall she said the final sentence was unintelligible, my handwriting has never been good, something to do with the effort of keeping up with the speed of thought.

So reflecting on this first effort, what I notice is that I have picked up on the plot twist of the mysterious and apparently humble stranger who is actually someone entirely different from whom they seem to be, the antagonism between the family members, the journey, and the use of repetition both in words and homonyms, much loved by the traditional story tellers. There’s even an overlay of The Billy Goats Gruff with the (lack of) bridge and the goats, although they are invisible throughout.

And I didn’t stop there.

My partner mishearing me sparked my first ‘adult’ story, I was talking about an author Sheila Ortiz Taylor, and she heard this as ‘The She-lord and her Tailor.’  A couple of hours later I had the beginnings of a retelling of the emperor’s new clothes, with a murderous cat as the She-lord in the Emperor role.

My first published story (In ‘In and Out of Time’ Onlywomen Press 1986) was a retelling of the end of the Odyssey, called ‘Penelope is no longer waiting’, in which Odysseus does not get the welcome he expects.

Twenty years later The She-lord finally got published in ‘Tales Told Before Cockcrow – fairytales for adults’ (Onlywomen Press 2008) my collection of stories inspired by the fairytale tradition.  Each story is a retelling of a traditional tale or is told in the style of a fairy tale.

I draw on Eurydice, Tithonos, Pandora, Sleeping Beauty, Rip Van Winkle, Snow White, The Red Shoes, the emperors new clothes, Arthurian Myth, the Mabinogion, Homer, the bible and many other folk tales and indeed folk songs of eerie landscapes, cold clay and strange destinies that I took in with my mother’s milk, almost literally.

So have I done with fairytales?  Well, no, I think probably not.

Being a precocious reader meant that I was exploring my parent’s bookshelves at a very early age, and initially got the impression that all adult fiction was crime and thrillers.  Then I read Peter S Beagle’s‘The Last Unicorn’, and with relief discovered that I was going to be able to read fairy tales for the rest of my life.  Twelve was undoubtedly too young for this book, I didn’t realise it was funny until I re-read it at about the age of thirty.

So I’ve just  finished writing a Lesbian Fantasy Epic in which that impassable river re-occurs, this time with tragic consequences, unlike that little trickle that a goat could jump.

So is this the magic of fairy tales? That they grow with you and can be turned to any use you care to put them?

Or are they the apparently humble stranger who turns up when they are needed, and is not who they seem to be?

copyright Cherry Potts 2010