Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

Christmas ain’t over till the bag lady sings


Photo: Angelica Westerhoff

The festive season in Spain just keeps on giving. Even when you fall to your knees begging it to stop. Here in sleepy old Conil de la Frontera, January 5th saw one last fling. As ever, your intrepid foreign correspondent was there to report events from the thick of things.

The eve of El Dia de los Reyes is an evening of parades in celebration of the Three ‘Wise’ Men’s arrival in Bethlehem twelve days late, after taking a wrong turn. Only the Spanish could see three dozy, old geezers making a mistake as reason for yet another public holiday. That’s what you get for trying to navigate by the stars.

As dusk fell on the pueblo of Conil de la Frontera a tsunami of revellers began to swamp the streets. Many having managed to stick to their New Year’s resolution – to give up sugar – for almost five whole days, they had come in hope of being handsomely rewarded for their sterling efforts. Their pilgrimage was not to be in vain. Led by a brass band, a procession of brightly-lit floats, loaded with sacks spilling hundreds of thousands of sweets, snaked its way through the pueblo’s lanes and streets. In a concerted effort to break records for obesity and diabetes, tiny children dressed as elves cast sugar-laden candies with liberal abandon among the desperate throngs, egged on by grown-ups posing as Three Wise Men and Santa Claus. I was lucky to escape getting one or two in the eye. Having faced adversity in the pursuit of journalism during my early days as a cub reporter for the Portobello Review, I stood my ground.

And talking about that, I’d just reached the tender age of forty-five when hard-bitten former editor of Horse and Hound, Thomas Rees, took me under his wing at the ‘Bella voo’, as we affectionately called Notting Hill’s cutting-edge culture mag. As part of my apprenticeship, Thomas took me on a tour of some of the roughest pubs on the seamier edges of Golborne Road, most mornings. As soon as they opened. You have to be early when you’re winkling out scoops, he told me. By lunch time we were usually well and truly winkled and scooped. For as long as the money lasted, Thomas taught me all there was to know about journalism, and how to cadge a pint. My lessons lasted right up to the time his legendary raids on the petty cash to fund drinking binges led to the paper folding, after just two issues. But what blinding issues. Even when he left me stranded in a bar, after calling me a boring old fart for not stumping up for yet another round, I didn’t lose my faith in journalism. Though I did almost lose my way trying to stumble home. More of that in I Dropped Acid with a Womble.

Now what was I droning on about again? Ah, yes, Dia de los Reyes. By nightfall the streets and lanes of the pueblo began to resemble tributaries of the Amazon filled with piranha fish at dinner time. Swarms of burly pensioners, pushy housewives, tipsy dads and horrible little sprogs fought with each other; their greasy paws scrabbling about the asphalt to fill plastic carrier bags with a year’s supply of those chemically enhanced sweets that induce hyperactivity in children and the very ancient. And that was the back of it for another year, thank, God.

Once I’d emerged from that raucous mob I needed a drink, I can tell you. Luckily, Angelica arrived to buy me a wine or two in La Casa Inquieta again. She told me a singer going by the unpromising name of Miss Míssima was giving a live performance that very evening. The venue didn’t exactly persuade me first visit, but I’ll give anything a second chance when I’ve got a raging thirst for alcohol on me. It gives me a second chance to moan.

When someone who looked like a bag lady on acid trundled onto the floor, it was like a gift sent from heaven. Surely this couldn’t be the same woman I saw tuning up a few moments earlier? To my heavily jaundiced eye, the funny hat perched on a bad wig put me in mind of how Dame Edna Everage might’ve looked as a young woman living in a cardboard box. Not wishing to be rude…nah, to hell with it, I might as well keep going now I’ve started; Miss Míssima sported a jumble of clothing items that look like they’d been plundered from a tramp’s supermarket trolley.

The image of an acid bag lady in a funny hat dissipated as soon as she opened with the jazz classic Body and Soul. Miss Míssima got class. Claudette Miller’s I can’t Find My Man showed a voice like smooth molasses, spiked with a pinch of grit, served steaming. She soon had we lucky sprinkling of punters tapping our feet like we wanted holes in our soles. Belting out old blues and jazz standards, while flirting brazenly with her audience, she even made brandishing a feather duster look sexy. Fever had me sweating, and by the time she got to Summertime, along with my mind, my winter cobwebs just blew away. It was like listening to Janis Joplin before she had her tonsils gravelled over. I bet she’d do a blinding version of Mercedes Benz. As the first set drew to a close, it was way past my bedtime. Half past eleven, and even Angelica’s big blue eyes were drooping, after another long day with her crayon set.

When the hat lady sang Conil’s festive season was over at last. Apart from the customary exchanging of gifts on the morning of dia de los Reyes itself. And a grumpy old sod like me ain’t going to get involved with the expense of all that. Bah! Humbug!

Copyright ©2017 Bryan Hemming

Miss Míssima is a stage name for Edna Brezinska, and here’s a taste of what she can do.

Miss Mismisima is a stage name for Edna Brezinska.

To the tired and emotional fan, who referred to me as a ‘sad old bastard’ on Facebook last week: a SOB I may be, but sob I will never. I will always defend my right to grumble endlessly. Your slings and arrows cannot prevent me from bringing real, true facts to my dwindling band of dedicated followers on the road to enlightenment, paved with complaints about potholes, as it is. So put that in your pipe and smoke it! Along with all your other filthy herbs.


10 comments on “Christmas ain’t over till the bag lady sings

  1. Colltales
    January 12, 2017

    It always helps too keeping a few email addresses and phone numbers of your close friends available for quick overview. Don’t want the poor stiffs to work too hard

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      January 12, 2017

      Too right. I know it may seem rather old-fashioned in the age of electronic communication but I still keep the odd pen and bit of paper around for that sort of thing. Thanks for reminding me, I have a lot to jot down. Cheers, Wesley.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Colltales
        January 12, 2017

        Make sure it’s all in full view of your laptop camera. Don’t want them to strain those delicate eyes now, do you?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bryan Hemming
        January 13, 2017

        Way ahead of you on that. I covered up the camera lens years ago, and any the other little pin holes I couldn’t work out the purpose of.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Colltales
        January 13, 2017

        Oh, you’re no fun, say those NSA nice folk.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Laura Bloomsbury
    January 10, 2017

    It will be all over when Bryan stops SOBbing. A sozzled in Notting Hill apprenticeship served you well – you sampled simile, metaphor and keen -eyed observation through a glass darkly and hence we now enjoy the fruits of your labours!:” tapping our feet like we wanted holes in our soles” Brilliant. Now the 3 Kings have found their way (I get lost with ordnance survey maps) wishing you and Angelica all the best for 2017.
    p.s. will definitely be taking train to Cadiz one day but con mi familia it will feel like a crowded manger. Thank you for the invite though


  3. rangewriter
    January 9, 2017

    Delightful way to begin this crazy new year. Love your wit, Bryan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      January 9, 2017

      It’s always a delight to receive one of your comments. Wishing you a very happy and fruitful New Year!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Colltales
    January 8, 2017

    Never mind the bollocks, Bryan; carry on. After all, trolls’ only power is our opened doors; close them and they can knock as long as they want, before moving on to another back entrance. And screw FB. Cheers

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bryan Hemming
      January 8, 2017

      Funnily enough, I just opened an account with FB so the CIA can keep an eye on what I’m up to. It saves going through the middle man. May the force be with you!

      Liked by 4 people

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