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Party Atmosphere Greets Free Parking in Berwick-upon-Tweed

A party atmosphere descended on the Border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed this week as parking became free for the first time since King James III ceded the town to Edward IV after losing a game of Nine Men’s Morris to him in 1482.

Riot police managing a crowd with tear gas and batons

Even the omnipresent North Sea haar didn’t spoil the fun.

Revellers congregated at Palace Green before parading Mardi-Gras-style down Walkergate and Church Street in a pincer movement of liberated parking delight. Spirits were high as the crowd swept beneath Scots Gate and urinated good-naturedly against the now defunct tariff notice situated in the Co-Op car park.

“I’m not one easily given over to public displays of micturition,” admitted Zac Richardson, a contemporary kazoo player from Cockburnspath. “But I see it as a way of expressing both my optimism for the town’s bright new future and contempt for the cretinous councillors who thought parking charges were a way to boost trade and tourism. Plus, I had quite a large cup of tea before I left the house.”

Grieves, Home Bargains and W H Smith all reported a shortage of whistles, hula skirts and steel drums, while Greggs announced a run on their special edition “Reverse Parking” sausage roll. This is the same as a normal sausage roll only placed in the bag at a slightly awkward angle and a fair distance from the edge.

However, some people remain to be convinced by Northumberland County Council’s act of apparent largesse. Henna artist and part-time chemical traveller Genevieve Fitzroy believes that the abolition of parking charges signals a move by the council to open negotiations with Scotland about taking Berwick off their hands once more.

“Look, I’m not saying that’s what they [the council] are doing, right?” she giggled. “Totally not. But what I am saying is, like, beware Greeks carrying gifts in the mouth. F**k me, but this doobie’s strong.”

According to Dr Jonty Hardcastle, Professor of Speculative History at Glasgow University, this idea isn’t as wild as it first appears:

“Free parking is an obvious way to tempt Scotland to relieve England of the responsibility it has towards Berwick,” he said. “Historically, Scotland loves free stuff — whether it be prescriptions, bus travel or a university education. Faced with the prospect of offering something for nothing that it can’t afford, Scotland is going to find Northumberland County Council’s flirty overtures difficult to resist.”

Dr Hardcastle went on to say: “From the council’s perspective, Berwick has always been the unwanted child from a first marriage. Sure, they make all the right noises about promising to love and look after it just like their real kids, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty they’d rather chain it to a bedstead and feed it Chappie.”

Berwick Mayor and Lib Dem Councillor Isabel Hunter vehemently denied the allegation. “I haven’t heard anything so ridiculous since Councillor Hill suggested that Berwick Town Council should be more open and transparent. Don’t write that down. Are you record… no, don’t take my picture, give me that…”

Spare change requisitioner Claire Strong, 22, reacted with delight at the news of free parking, declaring the new policy would at last reverse the effects of psychic damage wrought by charges on residents and visitors alike.

“When people need to find fifty-pee for the ticket machine rather than for throwing at someone sitting on a square of cardboard with a dog wearing a jaunty neckerchief, it damages them inside,” she explained. “Hopefully, free parking will enable people to reflect on the impermanence of life and the futility of material attachment. I’ve taught Exocet a new trick to help them with that.”

Dogs begging holding little baskets

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Vampire Deputy Mayor Georgina Hill Savaged by Tory Clan Overlord

John Stephenson, Tory councillor, Berwick-upon-TweedBerwick Deputy Mayor and first-generation vampire Georgina Hill has been fiercely criticised by clan elder, the powerful Lord Viktor of House Halidon. Lord Viktor, who prefers to go by the name Councillor John Stephenson, is reportedly furious that Hill has failed in her Conservative duty to be sly, secretive, untrustworthy and altogether wrong.

“Georgina Hill condemns the lack of transparency in this [Berwick] council in a national newspaper,” Lord Viktor is alleged to have told the Disinterment & Regeneration Committee. “Well, if Councillor Hill can find any evidence of lack of transparency among councillors I would imagine they would resign. But she’s got to find it first. And as for corruption — du-ur, we’re the living dead; corruption is kind of what we do.

“Transparency is there, but obviously not when we want to hide stuff. Like the meeting I chaired back in September of the Finance Committee, where we secretly appropriated the Portas money. The gagging proposal put forward by Gavin Jones following Ms Hill’s demand that we desecretify that meeting is just a tremendous coincidence.

“To be honest, I’m disappointed that a member of my clan would act in such an honourable way. I blame Europe.”

Councillor Gavin Jones, Lib Dem councillor,  Berwick Town CouncilLycan councillor Jones, demonstrating the biddable nature of his species and why they’re so good around young children, had tabled a motion to give a subcommittee of three the power to reject “vexatious” requests for information, inquiry and review of council decisions. The proposal was subsequently passed as a result of several abstentions due to the national policy of Lycan castration.

Panting happily around a large Kong stuffed with Butcher’s Choice Select, Jones declared:

I’m just keen that the council doesn’t get bogged down with credibility; it would really affect the workflow now we only have two-and-a-half members of staff. There used to be three, but my time of the month took her unawares. Here,” he added. “You dropped this stick.”

Berwick residents have reacted angrily to the news that a majority of the town council is keen to implement a behind-closed-doors policy.

Flavia Petrescu, a Romanian dog-groomer based on Bridge Street, said:

“Is disappointing. I’m a Lycan-lover, always has been. They is just so cute and eager to please. But vampires is just so independent; they don’t need you or give no shit. I am not typical a fan of vampires. But, you know? It just shows you cannot always tell. Ms Hill might has made vampire person out of me.”

But would she still vote for Councillor Gavin Jones?

“Not so likely,” admitted Petrescu. “Least not until his glands has good squeeze.”

Zac Richardson, a traffic cone operator from Horncliffe, agreed that such actions will make decision-making difficult come election time.

“These days the only way I can tell whether a politician is up to the job is by reading about his or her sex life in The Daily Mail. With everything going on behind closed doors I’ll be forced to look at their policies, and we all know they’re made up.”

When routed from his 18th-century crypt Councillor Tom Forrester, clan brother of Ms Hill, had this to say:

“When I read the proposal by Councillor Jones I was stunned and surprised to find such an anti-democratic proposal from a Lycan. They don’t usually care who sees them dragging their arse across the carpet. I can only put it down to a growing campaign to stake the Deputy Mayor. It’s a sad state of affairs when a vampire has to point out the correct way to behave.”

Lord Viktor has so far failed to dispel the rumours of a council plot to dispense with Councillor Hill. Only last week the 450-year-old nightwalker was heard muttering over a half-conscious virgin, “Just because we share a nest, doesn’t mean we have to like each other,” before ripping out the still-beating heart and offering it to the bat god, Camazotz.

Dr Jonty Hardcastle, researcher at the Berwick Institute of Thinking, links Berwick Town Council’s behaviour to an inner ear infection particular to supernatural beings.

“The fact that Councillor Hill is talking with integrity yet being discounted by her colleagues is due to the higher pitch of the female voice,” he explains. “You have to remember that both Lycans and vampires have heightened hearing. For the male of these species, whenever an intelligent woman speaks it causes physical pain. In an attempt to lessen this auditory distress, the brain’s temporal lobe tries to minimise the impact of the words by stripping them of meaning and consequence.

Dr Hardcastle went on to say: “This condition — chronic otitis labyrinthica politica, or sexism as it’s more commonly known — tends to manifest in those with poor self-image, low intellect and entrenched mother issues.”

Councillor Hazel Bettison agrees:

“I tried to alleviate the effects of Councillor Jones’s proposal by suggesting that the whole staffing committee should be involved with ignoring information requests from the public. My very sensible compromise was knocked back. I can only put this down to my voice. It did rise a pitch or two, but then my brain was melting out of sheer incredulity.”

“I’m taking testosterone so it doesn’t happen again,” Bettison added.

Georgina Hill, Deputy Mayor of Berwick-upon-TweedWhile storm clouds continue to build, the Deputy Mayor remains unperturbed.

“As a vampire, I welcome darkness and the reputation of a slaughterer of innocents. It’s a concept I’m comfortable with. However, I draw the line at concealing things that have no business being concealed. That’s just well dodgy.”

What do you think? Has Councillor Hill got it right or are there some things better left behind closed doors when it comes to local politics?

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The Flyte Report: Review

The cast of Cinderella, Bespoke Theatre LimitedCinderella: Bespoke Theatre

The Maltings Theatre & Cinema

30 December 2013

3.5 stars

“We are genuinely passionate about what we do and want to create good pantomime. More and more producers and theatres are opting for cheaper productions with overpaid celebrities who, in our opinion, are not worth the money and are certainly not as accomplished as trained actors.”

So thunders the perennial battle cry of Alan Bowles and Morgan Brind, co-founders of the same team that has delivered top quality, professional pantomime to Berwick now for the past four years.

This production of the nation’s favourite panto showed no compromise of standards despite the continuing difficult economic climate. Alan is firm:

“As producers at the early part of our career, we are not driven by profit margins but by the desire to get it right — as the income increases each year, it’s put straight back into the next production. In addition, because we aim to give the show a life after Berwick, we spend more on the Berwick production than we could do if it was only to be used once. A show transfers at a much lower cost than creating from scratch so it makes financial sense.”

Indeed, 2012′s Jack & The Beanstalk, the team’s most ambitious show to date, transferred to Loughborough to rave reviews last year, along with Morgan Brind — co-founder, writer, designer and, more importantly, dame. Any worries that Cinderella would feel a poor cousin in comparison were short lived. While Brind may not have been physically present, his spirit haunted the glitzy sets, a wicked script and costumes doubly lavish in their garish insanity.
Dan Smith and James Peake as the Ugly Sister in Bespoke Theatre Ltd's production of Cinderella

James Peake (left) and Dan Smith

Yes, this year we were spoilt with two dames in the lumpen forms of the Ugly Sisters, Melody and Suki, played by dame first-timers Dan Smith and James Peake respectively.

The pair dripped acid and leaked stupidity to unite the audience against a common enemy. Smith and Peake positively revelled in the barrage of boos and the freedom afforded by a sturdy pair of tights.

The evil twins became an unholy trinity, teaming up with wicked stepmother, Davina, played by Natalie Ball. You may remember her turn as the splendidly malevolent Carabosse in 2011′s Sleeping Beauty. Ball has evidently spent the intervening years perfecting her inner bitch. And, incidentally, buying better shoes.

In the best tradition of pantomime the baddies stole the show, but mention should be made of Louise Grantham twinkling as the Fairy Godmother — surely the most thankless role? — and of Ashley Tucker (Cinders) and Finlay Bain (Prince Charming) giving their characters three dimensions when they only deserve two.

As I’ve said in the past, the romantic leads are usually played by moderately attractive people made utterly sexless by lazy writing and acting so earnest it hurts; they have a knack for being characters you couldn’t care less about.

But hooray! Tucker had a pleasing edge to her. Here was a Cinderella that you could imagine ordering a pint and sighing a matter-of-fact “Bugger it” when the Ugly Sisters kick it over. No self-pity, no wringing of hands. Just a grim acceptance that her life is a bit crap.

Finlay Bain and Ross Graham in Cinderella, Bespoke Theatre Limited

Finlay Bain (left) and Ross Graham

And Bain? With hair so big it either had planning permission or very understanding neighbours, he demonstrated great timing, a strong singing voice and a relaxed stage presence as he bantered with Ross Graham’s equally laid back Dandini.

It was a proud moment seeing Berwick’s Ross Graham in a main role this year, bringing to the stage the same confident performance that he brings to community theatre productions. While Bain could be viewed as the Gary Barlow of the cast in terms of dancing ability, Graham proved capable of throwing shapes with the best of them. 

Talking of which, the junior chorus did a fine job with the dance numbers. How choreographer Alan maintained his cheeky Buttons persona in the face of a dance troupe not fully confident of their lefts and rights stands testament to a will of steel. Not only did the youngsters remember the steps, they remembered to smile. Apart from one, that is, who couldn’t have looked more tragic than if her nan had just died. But that was okay; no one cares if it isn’t theirs, it merely adds to the charm.

At times pacing juddered as the audience lagged behind Brind’s sharp and densely written script, possibly because virgin dames and new panto-goers alike were grappling with the art of audience interaction. As Alan says:

To a greater degree than any other theatrical medium, the magic of pantomime happens in the space between the audience and the stage. It is that relationship and two-way interaction that’s the key ingredient.”

In other words, as much as the team has to learn how to create the show, the audience has to learn how to interact with it. After four years together, we’re getting there.

“Performing pantomime in Berwick is wonderful because the warm reception we receive each year only increases. There has been a really great company feeling this year, which has meant a real sense of fun throughout the whole process.”

Cinderella had the most talented cast to date, great direction once more from Zoë Waterman, flashier tech, special effects (I actually ooh‘d at Cinderella’s transformation), foot-stomping songs, glamour, warmth, heart and laughs galore. So why a rating of 3.5? Simple. As the standard of production goes up so do expectations. This is the team that brought us an actual giant in Jack & The Beanstalk after all. It ain’t a team to stand still; there’s more to come, and as Alan says himself:

“Every year we come away having learnt loads from the show, but for everything that we feel we’ve done better than the previous year, there are always things we want to improve.”
We’re all anticipation for their next production. Yep, we definitely are.
The cast of Bespoke Theatre Ltd's producition of Cinderella
Still craving a fix of panto mayhem? Then Spittal Variety Group will be performing Robinson Crusoe from 21st to 26th  Jan 2014, and the Emergency Services Panto will be raising money for the North Northumberland Hospice with their production, Give Us A Clue-Doh!, on 6th to 8th Feb 2014. Both at The Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed.
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Wicked Fairy’s Fury at Colin Firth Film Snub

Film poster for The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole KidmanThe failure to invite a wicked fairy godmother to last Friday’s premiere of Colin Firth’s new film, The Railway Man, at The Maltings Theatre and Cinema in Berwick-upon-Tweed has left the Oscar-winning actor and the town’s 26,000 inhabitants in a deep sleep for a 100 years to be awoken only by a handsome prince with a pure heart.

Despite the enchantment threatening Firth’s contractual obligations for the foreseeable future, Miasma O’Fugg, 637, remains defiant.

“I waited in all feckin week for the postman, so I did. Nothing. I had to put up with Goody Silvermist wafting her invite in my face like she was Tinker-feckin-bell. When I phoned The Maltings to enquire about this obvious oversight, I got some front desk mouth-breather wittering: ‘The screening Mr Firth will be attending is for dignitaries, board members, VIPs and special guests only.’ I stopped her right there. ‘Listen, love,’ I said. ‘I can make your nose implode, your lips wither and turn your fingers into sausages well past their sell-by. I’d say that makes me pretty feckin special. Now give us me feckin invite before I do something we’ll both regret. You possibly more than me.’”

When no invite was forthcoming, Ms O’Fugg is alleged to have stormed from The Maltings muttering under her breath while making esoteric gestures with a pointy stick, widely believed to be a magic wand.

Genevieve Fitzroy, Berwick’s official envelope-opening attendee, had this to say prior to falling into the death-like swoon.

“I’d just collected my invitation to The Railway Man premiere and was feeling pretty damn special when my attention was caught by a fracas over by the Toffee Crisps. An extremely short old lady wearing what appeared to be fancy dress was shouting something like, ‘Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,’ before the receptionist’s fingers inflated to three times their normal size. I didn’t see where the old lady went after that as I was trying to find a bolt-cutter to remove the poor woman’s ringssszzzzzz… zzz…”

The incident prompted an angry soundbite from local worthy, Sir Alan Beith MP. “Such ugly scenes prove that care in the community doesn’t work. Neither does treating everyone as equal when clearly some of us are more equal than others. Check out this invite. Nice, eh?”

When asked why he hadn’t fallen asleep for a 100 years like the rest of the town’s population, Sir Alan replied that he actually was fast asleep but acknowledged that people might find it hard to tell the difference.

It is then further alleged that the foul-mouthed Ms O’Fugg gatecrashed the Q&A session following the screening to execute the enchantment, thus denying audience members the chance of a personal Colin Firth anecdote to be related at some dinner party in the not-too-distant future convened exactly for that purpose.

In response to  suggestions that the reason for Ms O’Fugg’s curse-weaving outburst was down to nothing more than jealousy, the shapely magical creature — 36-52-36 — laughed.

“Too feckin right, Einstein. When you’ve been overlooked in favour of people whose only contribution to the world is nice feckin hair, it’s enough to make any fairy godmother get out her Big Book of Bad Bastard Spells.”

But Jonty Hardcastle, Professor of Thaumaturgical Psychology at Heriot-Watt, believes that displays of directional sorcery such as this are in fact coping mechanisms rooted in the limbic system as a way of preserving the psyche from an onslaught of smug social media posting.

“Think of it as a way of nipping things in the bud,” he explained. “Colin Firth is an extremely sexually attractive man which makes him a valuable bragging resource. When you’re two feet tall, spherical and with ovaries more useful as curtain weights, the probability of taking a decent selfie while standing next to such high status DNA is less than zero. Realistically the best you can hope for is a grainy photobomb, and if that’s the case then closing down the opposition may well be the smart thing to do.”

While news of Berwick’s 100-year slumber has caused bemused outrage nationwide, Northumberland County Council admits that the curse will give them some “thinking time”. Jono Jenkins, 19, Director of Trade and Tourism explains:

“A town like Berwick is very difficult to market to the average tourist; its unique part in making British history, the architecture, the links with world-renowned artists, its location in an area of outstanding natural beauty and now this association with international film stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman — these all conspire against it becoming a top tourist destination.” He goes on to say: “What Berwick really needs is a bowling alley. We could do something with that.”

Berwick-upon-Tweed at Dawn

As the following day dawned on the snoring town, Ms O’Fugg refuted accusations that she had gone too far.

“Who’s to say how far is too far in matters of the heart? It’s Colin. Feckin. Firth. I even forgave the man Mamma Mia! and Jaysus knows, that was the most fearful shite. But I love the man, and I’ll be here waiting for him when he wakes up. Unless a prince comes and break the spell. Which is highly feckin unlikely. The nearest Berwick has to royalty is Tilda Swinton and she’s a 20-minute car ride away.”

Purchase tickets to see The Railway Man here.

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‘Smiting too f***ing good for them’: God proclaims of Berwick Town Team

Donald Sutherland as GodNOT BAd were thrilled to be invited to spend time with the all-powerful deity and his family at his smart three-bedroomed home in Tweedmouth. Looking tanned and relaxed in an off-white linen ensemble from Boss, the King of Kings, 54, spoke to us about his interest in local politics and his excitement at the launch of his second book, In the Beginning, an autobiographical account of his early eons at the hands of an uncaring multiverse.

NB: First of all, thank you so much for inviting us into your beautiful home.

G: Don’t sweat it, my child. I’ve done all the heavy lifting of Christmas so I’m all yours.

NB: Yes, it must be a busy time of year for you; all those prayers from people seeking succour for a better year ahead.

G: Yes, but do I look like Father Christmas? White hair aside, his reckless BMI should be enough to set us apart and yet Mankind seems to think I’m the one to bestow divine gifts while they do precisely f**k-all to deserve them. Newsflash — saving your eternal soul needs a little more effort than buying a Big Issue and cooing over baby voles on Springwatch. Nick and I laugh about it, of course. We’re forever swapping requests for love and peace for a selection box and a George Foreman grill. Our little joke.

NB: So is it important to keep a sense of humour in your line of work?

G: Very. Practical jokes are a great way of releasing tension. Burning bushes, water into wine — if you have time later, I’ll show you how it’s done. But anyway, there’s a high level of stress endemic in the eternity industry; the constant pressure of targets and budget cuts. The current climate means there are fewer souls worth saving, which naturally has a knock-on effect on staffing levels. Only last week we had to let a host of cherubim go. 

NB: That’s terrible.

G: I know. They ended up retraining as art therapists.

NB: So with economic difficulties in mind, you’ve spoken out in the past year about the failure of Berwick to thrive. In fact, you’ve been scathing about the Berwick Town Team in an open letter appearing on a wall at the offices of Tweeddale Press, alleging that—

G: “Berwick is being ‘served’ by innumerate lice-infested monkeys with no concept of working towards the greater good, such is their intent on personal acquisition, cronyism and the rabid perpetuation of petty personal grudges.”

NB: Wow.

G: I know. I regret the inverted quotes around ‘served’ now. Sarcasm is never big or clever.

NB: Aren’t you worried that your words could be held as libellous?

G: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with me, and the word was bite me.

NB: That’s two words.

G: No shit. Two more, look.

NB: Where do you think the Berwick Town Team went wrong?

G: Well, in fairness it’s back on track now.

NB: But only because Northumberland Council confiscated the Portas money and put Arch in the driving seat.

G: Oh, is that what they did? I couldn’t possibly comment. Nothing to do with me. Nuh-uh. I’m just your common or garden Almighty Creator of the Universe. Although I would point out that Arch could be short for archangel. 

NB: Bit far-fetched.

G: You’re saying that to someone who got a woman pregnant just by looking at her. But, so you know, I did not have sexual relations with that woman. Yuk. The human sex act was one of my more puerile pranks coming off the back of a very long week.

NB: So is Arch an act of divine intervention?

G: In a manner of speaking. You see, my usual MO is a more… robust affair. Used correctly, plague, pestilence and smiting make very effective behaviour modifying tools. Seems that certain members of the Berwick Town Team would rather serve their own agenda than that of the town as a whole. If it had been down to me, I would have issued them with some pretty hefty scourging. Not on the face or anywhere that shows, of course. But Junior, well, he’s all love and peace like some disturbing manifestation of The One Show.

NB: You sound kind of… vengeful God-ish.

G: Old gods, new tricks — one for the dyslexics there. Look, you’re not in Kansas now, Dorothy. As I told my son, democracy only works if there’s one person in the committee. But he had his birthday coming up and put in for the gift of compassion, yadda-yadda. What can I say, I’m a soft touch. That said, flooding’s been a bit of a theme this year, eh?

NB: You don’t mean—

G: That’s the problem with me not having had any strong parental role models, as you will discover if you read my book, In the Beginning, available in hardback, paperback, Kindle edition, and 2857.142857 tweets.

NB: Ah, yes. Your autobiography.

G: More a misery memoir.

NB: It must have been hard growing up with absolutely nothing.

G: Yes, but I made my own entertainment. 

NB: And it’s affected your parenting style how, do you think?

G: Well, I’m no hugger.

NB: Children should be seen and not heard?

G: Yeah, I’d say I’m a disciplinarian. Having to make order out of chaos definitely left its mark. Now Junior’s a father himself, he’s realising that children need boundaries. I think he regrets being so liberal with Mankind because they take the piss, to be honest. I say to him, I say, “Junior, what those kids need is a shower of brimstone and fire.” But he won’t hear it. What do I know, right? But I tell you this, if the Berwick Town Team were my kids I would’ve smote them into next week.

NB: If there was one piece of advice you could give humanity before it’s too late, what would it be?

G: Easy. Buy my book, In the Beginning, available in hardback, paperback, Kindle edition, and 2857.142857 tweets.

NB: Oh. Erm… anything for the greater good?

G: Two copies, one for a friend? What’s been good for the Town Team after all…

NB: Allegedly been good.

G: Allegedly been good. Of course.

NB: You’re omnisicient, aren’t you?

G: Yep.

Winking Jesus with a thumbs up, NOT The Berwickshire Advertiser

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