Thursday, March 28, 2019

Me and my Donkey

The nature of comedy friendships is tight, short bursts of intensity which spring up like flowers every few months and then return to dormant seeds. We are friends and allies for a night - sharing stories and a microphone before disappearing off to very separate lives and reuniting again in a different theatre somewhere else months down the line.

Most of my green rooms are filled with men, what with comedy still dragging its heels towards anything even close to equal representation. This green room is no different… there’s Chris -Canadian raconteur, Richard - cheeky Brummy live-wire and Ben - a regular JK47. I enter the room and exchange hugs and hellos all round. We sit and wait for the show to begin.

Richard catches my eye across the room just as Ben heads out in search of water and Chris checks his phone for road closures on the route home.

“How’s your baby?” Asks Richard.

I freeze - my smile buffering awkwardly across my cheeks.

In the freeze-frame moment, this is what my imagination has done… it’s very quickly mocked up an image of me holding a newborn - the newborn Richard is asking about - to test whether that is something familiar. A quick fact check suggests I have not had a baby and I am reminded that; I have not had a baby. I have not had a baby and so the Getty Image newborn fades from my grey matter along with it’s fluffy white blanket and the graceful crooked arm of my invented maternal self. I have not had a baby.

“I don’t have a baby.” I say, willing the smile to stay Gentle™ not Manic™. I’m trying to adjust my face so that it’s Quizzical™ without being Defensive™. Trying to remember what Danny Champion of the World’s Dad said about being an Eye Smiler. Are my eyes smiling? I’ve not had a baby.

“Yes you do! Your baby?” For reasons best known to himself, Richard is ploughing on! Baby means Baby. I must have a baby. My mind looks at the facsimile again, and we are forced to conclude that this is not a memory - this is a baby and a life I don’t currently have.

Richard looks so confused - waiting for it to dawn on me, I suppose. He’s waiting for me to slap my forehead and exclaim “Oh, bloody hell! Yeah! That baby! Silly me. Yeah, my baby is fine thanks.”

For a second I wonder whether I should do this… I remember once at primary school when a dinner lady misunderstood a story I was telling her about things I saw on the drive home. Long story short I spent the rest of my primary school years pretending I lived on a farm and keeping her updated on my favourite donkey. I’ve felt guilty about lying to that dinner lady ever since, but really, if you hate confrontation it’s the only choice. A baby is much harder to invent than a donkey though, I reckon. Also, social media didn’t exist back then so there was no need for me to mock up pictures of Donkey and Me having a great time. I look Richard in the eye and decide to take the Awkward™ route.

“Oh, Richard, I really don’t have a baby.” I am firmer, but still Danny’s Dad Eye Smiling. Perhaps I should suggest he has confused me with someone else? Kate Middleton perhaps? She’s extremely fertile. Maybe if I did more charity work or used more expensive shampoo it would happen for me? I bet Kate Middleton never had to pretend she had a donkey.

“No… you did have a baby, didn’t you?” I am full of admiration for Richard’s surety that I am the Duchess of Cambridge. He’s doubling down on his efforts to work out what’s going on, but his mode of discovery is a bulldozer going straight through me. I am definitely not swift enough to avoid the juggernaut. Danny’s Dad’s advice is slipping off my crow’s feet. The front page of Heat magazine is the Duchess of Cambridge’s mud splattered tiara posing with a hired donkey.

“I definitely didn’t Richard. I’ve spent 2 and a half years trying for a baby and not had one.”

There it is. There’s that deluxe multipack of cold awkwardness we ordered. The dump track empties it’s load all over the floor and it’s suddenly very quiet in the room. Only the donkey is vocal, braying from the corner “You twonk - why didn’t you use me? I was wide open!” 

Chris is staring hard at his phone, he must have worked out the status of the A3 by now so I assume he’s moved on to the task of downloading an app for blackhole getaways from awkward situations. I think I can hear Ben’s footsteps outside the room, wondering how long he can stretch the water retrieval task before having to return.

Richard is immediately apologetic… “Oh god, Laura… I’m so sorry.” And other such sentences come tripping out over his immensely sincere lips.

“It’s fine Richard, honestly - obviously just a mix-up somehow. I just did a show about trying for a baby so maybe you saw the poster and got confused.” I’m genuine in my consolations to the poor man… I’ve got quite used to people pushing hard questions on me that have left me making it up to them when they get the answer they didn’t want.

“How long have you been married now… do you ever think about having a family?”
“Gosh, your little sister’s child is 1 now… does it not make you think about having one?”
“You can’t focus on your career forever… so do you just not want kids?”

It’s their small talk and my huge conversation.

I’ve left donkeys up and down the country where I’ve not had the strength that day to tell them what’s really going on. I’ve put on the two piece by Expensive Designer™ and done the royal wave from my tinted windows just to keep the charade going. I’ve done this because wherever I haven’t, it’s been me left apologising. Me making them feel better for having opened my wound.

“I haven’t found out how to have a baby yet because first I ended up close to suicidal over the psychological impact of creating life and then when I got out of therapy and off medication and ready to try, we spent two years with my body not co-operating even though my mind was now on board.”


They incessantly ask about the donkey’s eyes, how it’s feeding, how much it’s grown but when I finally stop dodging the question and tell them the damn donkey’s dead they look at me like I dragged the carcass in the room of my own volition. 

I’m left scraping, telling them it’s ok and how could they have possibly known? Why wouldn’t they think it’s ok to continue asking questions about the single most important process a living thing can go through. I pat the back of their hands and smile for the camera - glossing it all over with a squeeze of Pantene.

Ben returns and the conversation steers away into waters much calmer… how are the audience looking, are we going to start on time, are we all feeling match fit? The surface waters of the intermittent comedy friendships are still once again. Frost hasn’t killed these friends-eeds this time. Ben does his set, says his goodbyes and leaves. Chris does his, waves farewell and departs. Richard finishes up, I close the show and we both head out the door… as we leave the theatre he catches my elbow gently and looks at me with absolute regret on his face.

“Laura, I am so sorry.”
“I know, Richard. Please don’t worry. Honestly - it was absolutely fine.”
He smiles and nods sadly, walking away. He’s a lovely guy.

As I drive home with Laura_and_Baby.jpg splashed across the windscreen I make a vow to myself that from now on I can own as many donkeys as I want.