We are on our way!

The cleaning company arrived today, a new team this time from Liverpool. No messing about, they got on with the job and although they’ve only been here half a day I am getting the feeling that they know what they are doing and that there is and end in sight. In fact they hope to be finished by Friday of this week. I am confident enough to be actually planning the show for February Half Term. Whoopee!

You couldn’t make it up.

Last Wednesday the cleaning company telephoned to ask if they could send a cleaning team next Tuesday to Friday. Ironically, this being the last week of the Christmas term it is a week when I am busy travelling to school shows and having kept me waiting since August this is the week they choose. Of course I agreed!

An hour later they rang to confirm.

An hour later they rang to ask if they could come earlier – Friday. Although this only gave me a day’s notice I agreed.

Each of these calls was by the same girl yet she had to go through the same list of security questions each time, and each time had to ask if I had suffered a fire or a flood.

So the team arrived today. The nice guy in charge explained that he was standing at the last minute in for the chap who should have been doing my job (again).

I showed him the scaffolding in the auditorium erected on their instructions and for their use. He explained that they couldn’t work in the auditorium, they couldn’t go on the scaffolding until they had the OK from their health and safety officer. They first thought it was an asbestos issue, but a dozen phone calls later it turned out to be a scaffolding issue. Someone apparently has to give them the go ahead to mount the scaffold and the person involved wasn’t available. Nothing  had not been arranged. All they could do was work in the foyer.

Now in order for them to work in the auditorium a great deal of stuff normally stored there had all been transferred into the foyer and piled up there, as had been arranged. The idea being that when the auditorium was cleaned this would be moved back to give them access to clean the foyer. They did what they could but that was limited.

They are coming back on Tuesday – but it will probably not be all the same team. So although we talked about what they might need and how they might tackle the job there’s no certainty of continuity. I also have no confidence that they will have sorted out the their health and safety issues when they come back next week.

The team who came were very pleasant, and what they could do they did well,  and it was perfectly obvious that none of this was their fault. But apart from the frustration I am feeling I also think of the cost of all this bungling. No wonder insurance is so costly.

Still I’ve a couple of Christmas Party Shows over the weekend to keep me cheerful and, not being a multi-million global company, I suppose I’ll have to arrive on the right day, in the right place and at the right time and deliver the performance they have been promised. I’d be mortified if I did otherwise.

Jack Ketch would have been proud.

The scaffolders arrive 8.30am and pulled out all the stops. They were finished before 4pm having scaffolded over the whole auditotrium and cabaret rostrum – quite a feat on a raked floor. Now I must see if at last the cleaners will do their job – an enormous task I realise – but until they have done their work the seats cannot be cleaned nor the new electrcal wiring be installed, nor the curtains (cleaned months ago) be re-fitted.

Some good news and a bit of history….

I won’t bore you with telephone and email exchanges between me, loss adjuster and cleaners and scaffolder except to report that something is going to happen.  The scaffolder has promised that he will contact me next week and then arrange to install the scaffolding in the theatre auditorium. This will take a couple of days. I will then inform the cleaning company and ask them to arrange to come in and clean the walls and ceiling etc. and hopefully get rid of the still dreadful smell. So at least there is some movement …….

And now a bit of reminisence. Eric Bramall, as a boy started building his first puppets during the years of World War II and often told me how scarce were materials and resources. He recalled that little was wasted and most things were recycled. He said carving wood was impossible to buy so the only chance of getting hold of seasoned wood was from old furniture or perhaps look out for old gate posts being replaced. When he died, 50 years after the end of the war, I found a couple of logs of fruit wood under his bench, layed down when green and set aside for use when seasoned.
He also told me how lucky I was to be able to pop along to a ironmongers (hardware shops which are now largely extinct) and buy a vast assortment of adhesives, nails and screws and fittings. In the war years even the basics were in short supply. I remember when I was a boy screws were never thrown away and even old nails were carefully extracted and straightened if bent and carefully stored for re-use.
Eric said that screw eyes, especially small sizes, were impossible to find and it was a few years before they came on the market again. Now screw eyes are essential for marionette making and so puppeteers had to make their own. This whole reminisence was triggered by my finding yesterday in an old box of mixed screw eyes two that were obvious examples of his work. They have apparently started out as two brass screws with their heads sawn off. The shank has been hammered out, flat and wide enough to drill a hole of a size to take the linen carpet thread which was used for marionette strings. Since there are a minimum of eleven stringing points on one puppet quite a few hours must have been spent in just fashioning the screw eyes.
I thought you might like to see them:


Can you believe this …..

The cleaning company based in the Midlands arranged a date and time to come to North Wales and meet the local scaffolder, but they did not bother to inform me either that the date was confirmed or that a time had been arranged.  Of course I missed them!

Luckily I arrived at the theatre and realised there had been a phone call, but no message had been left. Out of curiosity I decided to do a call back on the number and discovered it was the bloke from the cleaners on his way home!

Anyway he turned back, and the scaffolder was recalled and we all met up at the theatre.

Unfortunately the cleaning representative, a very nice chap, couldn’t really contribute much.  He had driven from North Yorkshire which was his patch and was only standing it for the agent who covers my area but who wasn’t available. He explained that he didn’t actually know what was required, or what was planned, since it wasn’t his job and he knew nothing about it.

The scaffolder agreed that he could put up appropriate scaffolding over the seats, without removing the seats, thus confirming what I had told them back in August.

So after all these months it seems thaat we haven’t moved one iota forward.

That was all over a week ago but I haven’t heard anything from anybody.

Still Frustrated

The Cleaning Company telephoned yesterday to fix a date to re-inspect the theatre in the company of a scaffolding contractor. They already inspected the theatre in early August. They suggested a date,  but not for another 10 days. Apparently that was the earliest possible for them – and this only if they could get the scaffolding contractor for that date. They hadn’t even contacted him to check.

I am still looking forward to Christmas, for although I won’t be opening the Harlequin on Boxing Day I will still be taking my Magic and Punch & Judy into schools and nurseries in the weeks up to Christmas and I do so enjoy that. And of course there’s also the occasional birthday party which is always fun.

The Princess Sleeps on

The Sleeping Beauty won’t get her kiss to awake her this year I’m afraid. Since the cleaning contractors have made no move since my last post I have reluctantly decided that I must pull my advertising and cancel my Christmas Season.  It’s only eight weeks to Christmas and I can hardly feel confident that I will be ready to open. The Christmas Season is the one where pleople do plan in advance and book early, and it would be awful to have to send masses of texts and emails cancelling bookings. Already I have had grandmas ringing to book for the Boxing Day opening. Boxing Day at the Puppet Theatre has become a tradition with some families.

Maybe I’ll give it another week – but I am getting panicky now.

You may remember that the insurance loss adjuster emailed that the theatre cleaning company wanted  to make an appointment to do a second survey, this time in the company of a scaffolding contractor.  They asked me to supply information about local scaffolders. I sent them email addresses and phone numbers of two local firms.

Eleven days later, when queried by the loss adjuster, they said they had left messages with both firms, neither of whom had got back to them? I contacted one of the contractors who is adamant that he had no call or message left.

So we haven’t even got a date fixed for them to re-survey the building. They originally surveyed and submitted their quote in early August, yet still nothing decided and no work started, nearly three months on, so perhaps you can see why I am pessimistic about Christmas.

Still I’ve got my health, and the weather’s quite pleasant, and I’ve done a couple of children’s parties, and I’m off to London for a day’s meet with Punch chums, so things could be so much worse.

Some progress but now back to square one.

The stage Curtains have been taken down and are away for cleaning – well actually they have already been cleaned. But they cannot be re-installed until the theatre is cleaned.

The  smashed plate glass window in the foyer has been replaced.

The electricians have done emergency make-safe work but cannot do the re-wiring until the theatre has been cleaned.

The stage door has been replaced, and the fire doors also. There is more work to be done on these – but already the theatre looks more cheerful without its dreadful wound.

But the latest news from the insurance loss adjuster is that the theatre cleaning company want to make an appointment to do a second survey, this time in the company of a scaffolding contractor. This really is back to square one.

Puppets in Yorkshire

Skipton in Yorkshire is but a few miles from where I spent my young childhood, a little village situated between Bingley and Keighley, on the edge of Ilkley Moor called East Morton. Skipton has become famous over the past decade for its bi-annual International Puppet Festival. It is a weekend of spectacular novelty and set in the most picturesque market town you can imagine. It was this weekend and I stole a couple of days to get away from the depressive frustration of my fire-and-smoke-disabled theatre.

Despite dire warnings of rain for Saturday and wind and rain for Sunday it was a lovely weekend both for the journeys to and fro, and the shows themselves. All of the theatre shows in various venues throughout the town were fully booked up in advance, but this didn’t matter since there are so many free shows. There are walkabout shows and happenings on the shopping streets, but the main free shows are centered on area on the canal bank where there are tents and pop-up puppets of every description. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Fame At Last

It would seem that my little theatre fire is a much bigger attracion than mere puppet shows. Nearly every day I find someone wandering round outside the theatre taking photographs, or posing for “selfies” with the theatre as a background. Sometimes I pop out and ask if they need any help. Usually they just say that they have heard about the fire and are so sorry etc.

What puzzles me is that they are people who have never been to the theatre, nor usually even heard of it. Just a few minutes ago there were a couple, late middle aged, wandering around outside the foyer, the man shooting off a series of photographs just through the widows of the foyer. There’s nothing to see except for piles of boxes and and cases which I’ve moved from backstage to store in the only clean area, the foyer, and then there’s a mass of cleaning equipment, a small stove, and me sat at my laptop – certainly nothing very photogenic and nothing suggesting a fire. In fact there is nothing at all of the fire damage which is visible from the outside.

After they’d been there a few minutes and him still clicking away I could not resist going out to have a word. They had seen the notice at the gate that shows were cancelled due to fire restoration work so they’d come to have a look round. Had they ever been to the theatre? No. Had they any interest in puppetry? No. Were they local to the area? No, they were on holiday. Did they come here regularly? No, this was their first time.

So I explained that I was sorry but there was nothing to see – that the fire damage had been inside the theatre itself, and nothing out here. During this exchange the man hung back, letting his wife do the talking, but when I said goodbye and returned inside he lingered taking several more photos through the plate glass windows of either the piles of boxes or perhaps me sitting at my laptop? Presumably these were to enhance his holiday memories of his visit to North Wales. Now mountains and seascapes I can understand but ……