Monday, December 23, 2013

The Scottish Angel

As you may or may not know, I grew up in the strikingly unlovely town of Ipswich in Suffolk. I attended a Church-run Primary School, where our uniform involved berets (for the girls) and shorts ALL YEAR ROUND for the boys. Our annual Christmas Nativity followed a familiar, time-tested pattern. The pretty blonde girls were the angels. The popular kids played Mary and Joseph. The boys who owned the snazziest dressing gowns got to be Shepherds.

Those of us with huge plastic specs and practical bowl cuts, and spacial awareness issues, were generally relegated to the stable to play donkeys, sheep and the other barnyard animals of the Christmas story. It was ever thus. I dreamed of one day being cast as Mary, but I would have settled for an Angel, too.

Prior to the casting of the now infamous 1992 Nativity, the whole school was abuzz with excitement. This year was going to be different, alternative. We were breaking the mould! Our nativity was to reach beyond Bethlehem to include other countries. Exotic countries like Hawaii, China… and Scotland!

Even more excitingly, I was to be an Angel! A Scottish Angel, no less. My brother, too, was similarly honoured with the task of playing a Scottish villager. Conveniently, we both already owned kilts - indeed, we owned multiple kilts in various tartans -thanks to a Scottish mother with more than, perhaps, a normal amount of interest in dressing her children up like miniature Sean Connerys (Conneries?) and worryingly easy access to the Edinburgh Woolen Mill.

As the Angel, I would also get to wear a tinsel crown and a pair of wings made of cardboard and glitter. Looking back, I suppose the casting decision was made more on the basis of prior kilt ownership that any special talent or aptitude for the role, although I had been allowed to grow my hair out that year and my dark fringe and blue eyes did make me look somewhat angelic, in a kooky Zooey Deschanel kind of way. This, combined with the singing and my tendency to trip over things a lot, made me a kind of before-my-time Manic Pixie Dream Girl. A Manic Pixie Angel Dream Girl, if you like, putting on a terrible Glaswegian accent.

The frequent kilt wearing that went on in our family was somewhat more difficult for my brother than it was for me, although I did not exactly relish the thought of donning one in front of the entire school. Scotland and England may be (for now at least) part of the same sovereign state, but you did not, in the mid 90s, go around wearing knee length tartan pleated skirts and tam-o-shanters in Ipswich, Suffolk. You just didn’t. Not to mention, those things are bloody itchy and there’s the ever-present and very real threat of getting stabbed in the thigh by a wayward pin. My brother was frequently forced to don a kilt for family gatherings and (please correct me if I’m wrong Robbie) I’m pretty sure that the resulting trauma was the catalyst for his later move to The Netherlands to join a rock band and/or become a chiropractor.

Brave little soldier that I was, I was willing to endure the discomfort of wearing a kilt in exchange for my long awaited and, to my mind, quite frankly much deserved five minutes of fame. For the first time, I had my very own song to perform, albeit accompanied by my little brother and a few other unfortunate children who had been drafted in to play Scottish villagers. I don’t remember if the other kids wore kilts too, although I’m sure that my mother would have been more than happy to loan out some of ours, benevolent promoter of all things Scottish that she was/is. (My birthday parties were all the more fun for the hyperactivity-inducing presence of Scotland’s favourite neon orange carbonated beverage, Irn Bru).

Anyway. The song, as I recall it, went something like this:

“Here in Bonny Scotland where the grass grows green,
with the Highlands and the Lowlands and the bits found in-between…”

[Note - what are these mysterious in-between bits? The middle-lands? Glasgow?]

“There’s no need to be upset, even though you’re getting wet,

Something something something something … something about putting on your kilt ... something something.”

We sang and did some kind of jig and also, I think, held umbrellas aloft because it’s always raining in Scotland HA HA HA!

I believe the premise of the play was that Mary and Joseph, mother and father of Jesus Christ our Lord, schlepped around the world (on a Donkey?) visiting randomly and apparently arbitrarily selected villages (and their corresponding Angelic representatives). I can’t remember what happened after that, blinded as I was by the warm glow of my newfound fame and glory. I’m assuming that Mary and Joe tested and then rejected all of these inferior places in favour of Bethlehem in the manner of Reality TV contestants selecting their Dream Homes or future spouses.
The play was well-received, my performance triumphant. “A Joy!” proclaimed the locally published comic slash magazine-turned-arts review publication The Chatterbox (written, illustrated and published by one Gemma Correll). The next year, having coasted through ‘93 on the glory of my performance and subsequent nomination for the Best Acting Eva!!! Awards (The Chatterbox magazine, issue four) I was certain that I was a shoo-in for the role of Mary, having surely moved every audience member to tears with my flawless portrayal of the Scottish McAngel the previous year. After all, this was 1993. Surely we were modern and progressive enough to cast a short-sighted, slightly clumsy girl of below average stature as the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour?

I was cast as a Sheep.


Penny Puglet said...

had me in stitches. thanks

Anonymous said...

I played one of a pair of gateposts in my nativity play. I kid you not!

Ameena Nur said...

Best bedtime story I've read in a while :) ahh those narrow minded casting
directors would never be ready for your portrayal of Mary. X

parisa mahmoudi said...

Happy new year dear Gemma!!!!!!
Wish you all the best

Peg Graham said...


Thanks for the chuckle.

sheepishly grinning,

Anonymous said...

I did this one in 2002! I was a hula girl.
I think the missing words are "just qcall up the pipe put on your kilt and try your dancing steps"?

Vief said...

Merry Christmas!! I was once cast as a talking tree, and this wasn't even in primary school anymore. I feel your pain.

Unknown said...

I always wanted to be an angel but only got to ring a bell. I was told that angels didn't have red hair. The bits in between is called central Scotland, including Glasgow and Edinburgh. Merry Christmas x

Unknown said...

I did this play as well (92/93, I'm 30) and for years i've been humming snippets of songs from it (something about ..."fit for a King....") - i dressed up as a Scottish boy. Are you a Spike Milligan fan?

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