Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The children are fanned out around the brightly coloured booth, kneeling or sitting itchy-bottomed in the hot sand. All eyes are fixed firmly on the tiny stage where two grotesque characters are having the domestic to end all domestics. They’re having a right old ding-dong. Frenzied wife beating ensues; it’s EastEnders with an 18 certificate. This is the wonderful world of Punch and Judy. And the kids can’t get enough of it. But then Mr Punch freezes, his truncheon left hanging ominously above his spouse’s unprotected cranium. She’s frozen to the spot now. Mr Punch lets out a pained squawk, which sounds a bit like ‘oh-oh’, before both puppets quickly duck out of view. The booth begins to tremble, the schlap-schlap of canvas flapping wildly can be heard, and then suddenly the puppeteer bolts out the back like a greyhound out the traps. He storms up the beach, arms pumping hard, Mr Punch and Judy still on his hands. He hurdles sunbathers and demolishes sandcastles underfoot. With the swazzle (that’s the device which gives Mr Punch his distinctive rasp) still in his mouth, the puppeteer starts screaming, “Get out the way! Get out the way!” The kids in the Punch and Judy Show audience crane their necks to get a final glimpse of the puppeteer darting into the public conveniences half a mile up the beach. Punch and Judy puppeteer, or Professor as they’re officially known, is not the best job to have if you suffer from ulcerative colitis. I imagine. There must be hundreds of jobs that are incompatible with ulcerative colitis. Train driver. Taxi driver. Those guards outside Buckingham Palace. Anyone who works behind a checkout. Radio DJ. Postman. Astronaut. The list goes on. So I guess the thing is, I should thank my lucky stars that I went in for a career which allows me to come, and more importantly, go whenever I want.