This is obviously only a personal opinion, but I find pantomime vulgar, boring and profoundly unfunny. I have no interest in the Mayor of London or his wretched cat or the tawdry tale of Widow Twankey Cameron peddling the bodily fluids of pigs in Chinese laundries. Innuendo is best left to those who know which endo the “ue” goes in.
Unlike Panto, there are some things that remain innately funny even given the passing of time, changing sensibilities and public taste in humour. The works of Laurel and Hardy, the Goon Show, Morecambe and Wise and Monty Python were so skilfully crafted that the comedy came across as effortless and spontaneous leaving the actual hard graft carefully hidden.
There are, however, other comedic genres that remain uproariously funny without any evidence of effort or, indeed, cogent thought. When the bizarre world of Walsall Council collides with what laughingly passes for journalism at the Express and Star, an accidental laughter fest is guaranteed. The latest pantomime involves the Mayoral mode of transport.
When leader of the council Mike Bird suggests that a Mayor needs a car in the same way that a painter needs a paintbrush or a bricklayer needs a trowel, it is difficult not to imagine cheap jokes regarding fish and bicycles or the fact that a town like Walsall needs a tool. We have lots of tools, thank you very much, most of which are kept idle in a shiny, expensive Cabinet that only requires the occasional French polish. With redundancies and the disappearance of civic responsibility, there is no better way to fight imposed and unnecessary austerity than an increase in portfolio allowances, re-surfacing the councillors` car park and buying a nice new Jag for the Mayor. Give us the tools and we will finish the jobs and we will finish off the town for good measure.
Not to be out-done in offering up dreadful jokes in the hope of a cheap laugh, the Labour opposition say that the nice new Jag appeared out of the tool cabinet as if by magic and it`s nothing to do with them and once the magic beans exchanged for the family cow starts to grow into a beanstalk, they will look at alternatives that will provide better value for money. In fairness, they could be reading the script of a different pantomime but might consider looking back at draft budgets from years ago that went unchallenged. The hilarious “Council vehicle fleet maintenance” scene is now largely forgotten because nobody bothered to read it.
As the slapstick descends into farce, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for the present Mayor of Walsall. By all accounts, Councillor Mohammad Nazir is a decent, honourable Mayor who works hard for the people of the town and has already raised pots of money for charity. Having to defend the purchase of the new Jag cannot be easy and it is becoming clear that the man wearing the chain of office is being given some terrible direction. According to the Panto critic at the Express and Star, our Mayor is quoted as saying:
“I`m very honoured and privileged to be mayor. I love going out to meet new people. How I get there and back is not up to me. It`s up to the leadership of the council. I would be even happier if I am taken to my engagements in a rickshaw.”
Presumably this was meant to be some sort of joke to lighten the terror of wicked Abanazar conjuring up a magic carpet to transport our hero to another photo opportunity. It might be best to ignore the sub-plot involving rickshaws as a symbol of oppression based on class and an abhorrent colonial sense of superiority that judges human beings as nothing more than draft animals. Fortunately the Mayor did follow up this hilarious joke by stating:
“The pledge I made when I got to the office was I will promote community cohesion”. Whoever is writing the Mayor`s gags really needs to ditch the UKIP joke book.
The Mayor, though, might be on to something. King Rat told the Express and Star:
“We feel it`s important to retain the significance of the mayor`s role here in Walsall. The mayor goes back to the 1200s. At the end of the day the mayor is the Queen`s representative in the borough. There some things which are sacred and the mayor`s car is one.”
Now some people in the cheap seats might be tempted to shout “oh no it isn`t” but that audience participation would devalue Mike Bird`s profound grasp of cultural heritage. Consider the ancient market, messed about for the benefit of Primark or Walsall Museum, facing closure to “save” £70K. Against that backdrop of celebrating history, perhaps the holder of the ancient office of Mayor might be transported by a horse-drawn carriage. This would save on fuel and avoid the cost of employing “contractors” to shoot horses in Goscote. Better still would be a Sedan Chair carried about by idle youths, or NEETS, or “pre-apprentices” as they are now called to disguise the woeful unemployment figures.
The Express and Star “reported” the rickshaw farce with all the accuracy of a grotesque Panto Dame flinging sweets in the general direction of the Upper Circle. Picking up on the £70K “saving” of a closed museum and even with the arguments over VAT, the limo equates to the price of a museum. Helpfully pointing out in large print that “most people” in Walsall are in favour of shutting the museum, the E and S quoted verifiable data from a wide-ranging and record breaking public “consultation” regarding the council budget. It seems that 52 per cent of the 244 people who answered the museum question stated that they would prefer to see the closure of the museum rather than see their children sold for medical experiments. This, therefore, is the voice of the people. According to the E and S, the populous also offered “overwhelming support” to charge people with disabilities more for a blue parking badge.
At this point in the script, it would appear that Aladdin has mistakenly eaten some special mushrooms and we are treated to a “dream sequence” involving UV light, scroungers floating around in wheelchairs and an angry mob arriving in rickshaws to attack anything that smacks of heritage. This is the reason I try to avoid pantomimes.
Sadly, in Walsall, it`s difficult to avoid regardless of the time of year. He`s always behind ya.