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Books in the Blood #2 The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown


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Science tells us that the cells in our bodies are replaced every seven years, though if that's true I don't see why Mother Nature has to be such a cow about it, replacing our exhausted cells with similarly aged ones, when she could give us all a face lift every seven years instead.

Perhaps this is why we struggle to recognise our younger selves - we are literally different people now.

For instance, despite being plump, awkward and self-conscious, I was also something of a performer up to the age of sixteen, and for 'performer', of course, you should read - show off. I loved to make people laugh, loved to flounce around the living room pulling faces, putting on voices, doing impressions until people tired of my shenanigans and wandered off to do something - anything - else. Frank Spencer was a popular one at the time - 'Ooh, Betty,' and 'the cat has done a whoopsy in the carpet'. Tragic. And I wasn't content with just making a prat of myself at home - I leapt at any opportunity to do so on stage, too.

I was a Wise Man in the school Nativity Play at the age of eight or nine. To have a female Wise Man feels a surprisingly liberal and forward-thinking move on the part of my teachers, because this was the mid-seventies, a time when most actresses - at least on telly - were required to do little else but wear short skirts/get kidnapped/scream/be given a good slap and told to pull themselves together by the alpha male leading man.

At Secondary School I was the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella* , where I brought the house down with an ad-lib as my wand broke in mid-spell - ever the trouper. I also recited poetry and sections of Hobson's Choice for the Summer Show, morphing between a rebellious school-kid and a starchy business owner. Oh, yes, I was quite the character actor.

I loved Shakespeare, purchased a second-hand copy of the complete works and read it at home, which as anyone who's studied the Bard will know is a sure fire way to foster an eternal, burning hatred of the follically-challenged Midlander. Better off watching the plays performed, of course, though the codpieces can be very distracting.

I joined the local youth theatre, though largely because my best friend was keen to join and I was always a follower. Though there was also the attraction of a really fit boy called Conan (yes, folks, Conan) who was already a member. I was only there for one production, scurrying away after making an utter fool of myself over same barbarously-named heart-throb.

Maybe it was the humiliation of that experience that beat the love of lime lights and grease paint out of me. Though in a way I'm still acting, of course. All I have to do is sit in front of my laptop and I can slip under the skin of anyone from a teenage clairvoyant to a septuagenarian ex-war photographer, from a lace-maker with a nasty secret to a 'fluffer' on the London Underground**.

Anyway, before I fell out of love with performing in person and began to do it from behind the barricade of my screen, I read

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown.

It's about a group of 'terribly nice' children, keen as mustard on acting, who have the opportunity to use an empty chapel to set up The Blue Door Theatre Company. All the children are plucky, heroic, middle-class, fighting against the narrowmindedness of adults to win through and fulfil their dreams, what-what.

I stayed up all night to finish this book, reading by the light of the street lamp outside so my parents didn't catch me. To me it was aspirational, inspirational and jolly good fun. The attitudes and mindset are probably very out of date for young readers of the twenty-first century, more used to spamming the world with TikTok videos rather than full-length, full-costume theatrical productions. But ten-year-old me - straining at the restrictions of parents and school and my own lack of agency - loved the possibility of it, the potential to create something without adult intervention, something that was all my own.


Any childhood books you found utterly inspiring? Any make you want to run away from home and set up your own theatre company/veterinary practice/riding stables/circus?


*You notice I was Wise Man and Fairy Godmother, never, ever the Virgin Mary or Cinders - I have never been Leading Lady material :)

**Look it up - its not as filthy as it sounds.


(A version of this blog post first appeared on my previous blog, Word Shamble)

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