This may seem a rather rude way to start a conversation. After all suffering from wind is a rather personal matter and when it manifests itself in public it can be embarrassing. As a Punch and Judy Man suffering from wind takes on a whole new meaning. For most people a sudden blast of wind results in a red face and possibly the words ” I’m terribly sorry” or else we blame the poor dog. For me a sudden blast of wind in the middle of a Punch And Judy Show can mean disaster. Now I’ve always fancied learning to fly but I’d rather do it in an aeroplane than in a Punch And Judy Booth. The problem I have is not my age or what I ate for dinner, it’s the size of my ” fit up”. I’m proud to say I’ve got a big one. No, I’m not bragging. It’s a whopper! My Punch And Judy show is a fair size. I like to be seen and I like my audience to be able to see me too. The down size of having a big one is that it acts like a sail and its natural tendency is to want to lift off in anything more than a strong breeze. I’ve never actually got into full flight but I’ve come pretty close to it.
I once nearly blew into the Manchester Ship Canal whilst working at the Imperial War Museum North. We were set up on the quayside and fortunately Hazel was with me. As the day went on the wind grew stronger and although IWM staff had provided big metal weights for us to tie down to we were still straining at the leash to be up up and away. Hazel was hanging onto the frame for grim death behind me and I had one hand in Mr Punch and the other clinging onto the frame at the side a bit like a chimpanzee hanging onto a branch. I got through my last performance by the skin of my teeth and then with Hazel’s help we managed to break down the show before we were picked up and deposited in the icy waters close by. The main stage was not so lucky. We witnessed a most extraordinary sight. The entire structure was lifted off the ground. Now I’m not talking about a tiddly little thing, this was a proper stage where moment before a full swing band had been performing. It had an an aluminium structure with a roof over the top. At the exact moment of lift off Hazel and I were lying spread eagle on Mr Punch’s cover trying to fold it up. I saw men running towards the stage from all directions, eveyone grabbing a hold and hanging on tight. Luckily there were enough people to stabilize it…but only just. It too very nearly ended up in the canal.
Another memorable occassion was on the beach at Saltburn By The Sea in North Yorkshire. When a carried my gear down onto the sands it was a perfectly lovely summers day. Blue sky, warm and sunny. As the day went by and the tide started to come in behind me I noticed the breeze picking up. I realised I needed extra anchorage and so started collecting rocks to use as weights. As the breeze increased in strength the more rocks I needed. I started to wonder wether I should be going on a Dry Stone Walling course. By the time I did my last show it really was a battle with the elements, trying to work the puppets and hang onto the booth in the face of an impending gale with my little Sanger of rocks around me, and the sea coming up fast behind. I’m sure that the audience were taking bets on how far into the North Sea I would be blown. It sure beats wind surfing. Fortunately I avoided being swept away and the audience left perhaps slightly disappointed as a flying Punch and Judy Show is not something you see every day.
My most recent experience of near flight came last August at the Wensleydale Show. In past years they have put me inside a marquee so contending with the elements isn’t a problem. Unfortunately this time due to budget constraints there was no marquee and the person in charge put me on top of the hill. If you have never been to the Wensleydale Show then I strongly recommend it. There is so much to see and do and the view from the top of the hill is splendid. Unfortunately the top of the hill is not a good place to site a Punch And Judy Show when its windy and boy was it windy. Now I like a challenge so when the man told me this was my location the army training kicked in. I was determined to hold my ground at all costs. Although it was a struggle just to set up, I managed it and I used all my ratchet straps and ground anchors to lock myself down. My saving grace was that my fit up has a metal framework and is therefore reasonably strong. The entire afternoon was a massive struggle not only to perform but just to avoid being carried away. I had visions of folk down in Leyburn looking up and saying ” is it a bird? Is it a bee? No…it’s…it’s…it’s a Punch And Judy Show! Against all the odds I did do my four shows and I did stay on the field. It was a relief to hear that next year they are moving me to somewhere less exposed. Oh joy!
As its winter I’m not suffering from wind at the moment. When summer comes and you are struggling to keep your hat on just think of me. I might be on a beach or on top of a hill somewhere facing a far greater problem. Keep smiling!
Has anything like this ever happened to you? ie tent blowing away on a camping trip, embarrassing moments with clothing in the wind etc. If you have a funny story to tell please share it with me.