Friday, August 08, 2008

A Pook Put Out

From soon-to-be-published The Adventure of the Queen’s Dolls’ House, by Kenneth N. Kurtz...

Let us return to the week previous and see a Pook most proud, for he had found not only the dolls’ house in Mary’s nursery, but three others as well. Two were rather shabby one-story affairs in more distant communities called Croydon and Sidcup, but the third, in ever-so-fashionable St. John’s Wood, was quite grand, marred only by the fact that its human owners were twins, and of the unfortunately rambunctious age of eight. Over the past years Pook had done exceedingly well by his tribe, finding many such miniature domiciles. Perhaps too well, for neither King Obera or Queen Tania demonstrated much enthusiasm when Pook informed them of his latest discoveries. None-the-less, these new housing opportunities would be publicly announced on the very next Monday.

And why Monday? Because of the performance of the Teasers and Tormentors at Pollock’s Toy Theatre Shop in Hoxton Street. Here was one occasion when all of London fairydom would be brought together, and therefore the perfect venue for any proclamations of a civic nature.

You might think that the Teasers and Tormenters had taken their names from the famous masks of comedy and tragedy. After all, one mask did seem to tease with its smile and the other certainly howled in torment. But in fact the fairy troupe had stolen its name from those given by humans to a theatre’s curtains. Teasers stretched across the top of a stage and tormenters hung down at the sides.

Pollock’s sold all kinds of toy stages made out of brightly printed papers. There were grand opera houses, famous West End play houses like the Drury Lane, and even tiny provincial theatres. Each of them was furnished with cardboard wings and back scenes for a particular play or musical extravaganza. Some were set up for plays by Shakespeare, some for operettas by Messers Gilbert and Sullivan or for operas done at Covent Garden, but most displayed scenery from Christmas pantomimes, especially Cinderella and Aladdin. And of course one was outfitted for a production of Peter Pan.

It was quite easy for giant humans to slide in new wings or take out paper back cloths for changes of scene in the tiny toy theatres, but fairies, being as I’ve said the epitome of laziness, would have none of that. So each Monday of “The Season”, the Teasers and Tormenters flew early to Pollock’s, often arriving at the very moment after the proprietor had locked up the shop. This was so that they might take a quick fly-by along the many display shelves and decide which theatres had the correct scenery for tonight’s performance. You see, when audience as well as actors can fly, well then why change scenery at all if you can just as easily change theatres?

Laziness also played a part in performance. No fairy actor would ever think of reading, let alone the hard work of learning lines. Improvisation was everything. But then, if you had spent nearly every evening watching a performance at The Old Vic or the Royal Opera House, well then it was quite easy to copy what you’d heard and call it improvisation.

(In fact, next time that you go to the opera, look very closely at the many candelabra that line the balcony fronts. Then count the actual electric candles on a particular bracket. You may see that there are one or two more sparkles than candles. If so, then quite possibly a fairy perches there, and is enjoying a view from one of the best seats in the house. At the Old Vic fairies usually hide among the chandeliers.)

Besides watching the show, they are waiting for the “big moment” when all of the human performers are onstage. These are excellent times to work one’s way back to empty dressing rooms and thereby enjoy feasts of flower nectar garnered from big bouquets labeled “Break a Leg”, or boxes of sweets left out on make-up tables. It is for this reason that fairies are unlikely to know the music from the triumphal march of Aida or speeches from the ball room scene from Mr. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. They have all been off on their own special interval swigging nectar or gobbling sweets.

The leader of the Teasers and Tormentors had, because he thought it quite posh, taken the name Horatio. On this particular Monday night the leader and his chief henchmen hovered outside the shop and clustered about a street lantern. They watched Mr. Pollock lock the door for the evening and wearily walk off down Hoxton Street, then they used moonbeams to slide through the display window. Horatio had decided that tonight’s performance would be about the life of a very great fairy king. Aha! That model of the Old Vic, the one with the forest scene, would be perfect for the opening scene. Horatio and his associates flew along the shelves and chose a castle throne room, a shepherd’s rustic hut, a mystic cave, and a festive banquet hall as their other scenes. By then all the rest of the troop had arrived. They huddled to decide the details of the plot. Do you see what I mean by “improvised”?

A half an hour later, small shimmerings materialized all over London. They coalesced into rivers of glimmerings converging on Hoxton Street. Horatio and his chief associates, Toby and Belch, waited at the shop window to greet their audience. An hour later, once all had arrived, Horatio, Belch and Toby, along with several others tugged with all of their might to close the huge window curtains. Well, it wouldn’t do for late night human passers by to notice strange lighting effects in Pollocks. Then they led the audience to the first theatre.

Hundreds of fairies soon hovered in what seemed to be a half bowl, or rather a neat vertical pile of horseshoes, facing the paper proscenium. In the very center of the lowest horseshoe, directly opposite the stage, were Queen Tania and King Obera. Fairy princes and princesses hovered on either side. The next ring above was made up of important court officials such as Frigo and Motha. And at the very top, five rows up, in that ring known in the human theatre as “The Gods”, flew the poorest and least significant of fairies. Well, of course, for this was the way that the Royal Opera House was set up.

The five flying horseshoes rang and shimmered with excitement. Next, Horatio, using a large hat pin, flew down to the center of the stage and thudded his ‘staff’ for attention. Ringing stopped and shimmering subsided, very like the dimming of the house lights in human theatres. All watched the stage.

Horatio swaggered upstage with his hair pin. Then Belch popped up through a trap door in the cardboard floor. He held a tiny paper shovel and mimed digging a grave. Horatio crossed down to the edge of the hole. Belch held up an acorn on which had been painted a ghostly white face.

“Oh woe, a skull. Whose is’t?” declaimed Horatio.

Belch answered: “Alas, poor Yore, I knew him, Horatio.”

Thus began a presentation of the remarkable life and great adventures of the most famous of fairy kings. This included his unfortunate demise when, after a great human banquet had ended, and all the guests had dispersed to the ballroom, Yore flew down from the chandelier to partake of a succulent bit of uneaten trifle, gorged himself to a fatness almost too much to allow flying, and was surprised when the servants came in to clear away. Yore hurriedly flew up into the flickering camouflage of one of the candelabra. Here alas, while flying too close to the flame, he was unfortunately snuffed out by an immense serving maid.

The hovering horseshoes wept and shimmered deepest blue at the play’s tragic end. Then as all of the Teasers and Tormentors flew onstage for a company bow, the audience erupted in glorious shimmers of bright pinks and golds and greens, and a veritable clarion of ringing applause.

At the end of this colourful and noisy ovation, King Obera flew to the stage and beckoned up to the second highest horseshoe for Pook to fly down and join him.

“You all know our chief scout, Pook,” said the King, “Well once again he has found some dolls’ houses, four of them in fact, and if any of you are looking for new digs, then he’s the one to see.”

Pook stood proudly with his St. Athelstan breast plate shining and sank into his deepest and most theatrical bow, but there was only a smattering of applause. Indeed, no one bothered to see him after the performance, or during the next few days. That is why he was now “a Pook put out.” Very put out. Obviously his hard work had led to a real-estate market that had become a tad over-saturated.

“Well,” thought Pook, five nights later, as he flew away from the king’s house in Belgravia, “If no one appreciates my work, then I will take some time off. In fact I shall hide away and nap for several days. Maybe several weeks, or even months. Make them worry and wonder for a bit. I’ll show them.” And he knew where too. The house no one seemed to want on Mansfield Street would be perfect. He could sulk in peace.

Pook shimmered through the glass of Mary’s nursery window. But froze just inside, for the distinct odor of grumpy old lady hovered around the wing chair. Fairies possess superb noses. But all was safe, for the chair was empty. And Mary slept quite soundly in her bed on the far side of the room. Pook alighted from his moonbeam at the open front door of the dolls’ house and went through and up the stairs to the larger of its two bedrooms. He had taken off his sash and breastplate and hung them on a chair, and was just about to jump in and snuggle under the coverlet, when a lovely new odor tickled his nose. Chocolate!

He sniffed more deeply. It was faint, but obviously a very good chocolate. Pook certainly knew how to choose his houses. He hurried below to the dolls’ house door and took a deeper whiff. Hmmm…Cherries and creams too. Shimmering, but certainly not ringing, Pook flew out of the nursery, along the corridor and down the staircase.

(There’s more to this chapter, for Pook discovers that the greatest Doll’s House of all time is being assembled in Mary Lutyen’s drawing room, but that has naught to do with Pollocks.)