David Banks: There I was in a flowing ballgown - it brought the memories flooding back

Journal columnist David Banks on how dressing up in women's clothing has a strange allure when compared to a freezing cross-country run

Journal columnist David Banks
Journal columnist David Banks

I got myself dolled up in women’s clothing again last night.

Relax, dear reader, I’m no Eddie Izzard; I was groomed for comedy cross-dressing when I trod the boards as early as my first year at grammar school. Indeed, that ancient and elitist institution which your Left-ish columnist reluctantly admits to having enjoyed despite a notable lack of academic success was responsible for many an introduction to make-believe transvestism, better known as amateur dramatics.

Not surprising, really. Along with caning, cold showers and cross country running, the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan were the rewards for winning top prize in the 11-plus lottery system that led to the local grammar school.

And therein lay the problem: enlisting a chorus line of comely maidens at a boys-only school without press-ganging squeaky-voiced trebles and pre-pubescent altos was impossible. Thus was born the ‘winter audition’.

In the far-off days before track suits, on the coldest, snowiest day of each year the tough-guy PE coach would join forces with the sissy music master to announce a double-length cross country for the entire junior year “except for those invited to attend the G&S audition“.

Competition for a try-out was fierce but the music master already secretly knew the names of those he wanted; great was the relief of those ‘volunteers’ who clamoured to take part, greater the loathing of the pack as the shivering ‘hounds’ set out in vest and shorts to track their quarry across eight miles of snow-lashed tundra.

No willing athlete, I nursed my prized soprano voice through a succession of appearances as Little Buttercup and the piratical Ruth, trading down to the older contralto roles of Dame Carruthers and Lady Jane before turning baritone, astonishingly just before my sixteenth birthday with release from education looming.

My mum, bless her, always thought my stage appearances were wonderful, played as they were for maximum laughs. Dad was never so sure. “Bloody elephantine humour,” he would mutter, squirming ever lower in his seat in the stalls.

The pachyderm he had in mind wouldn’t have been Jumbo, either – it would more likely have been Nellie! Anyway, that was the start of it. . .

We once did a Gangsters and Molls party, me and ’Er In Drag – she as Al Capone and me as the happy hooker on ’Er arm.

And last night I was at it again.

Alongside a similarly bewigged and gowned Dr Alan Holmes, retired GP and parish council grandee, I took to the boards at Crookham village hall’s Christmas supper as my alter ego Dame Hilda Hack-it, accompanied on the keyboard by Dr Evadne Twinge.

Verdict? The soprano voices are long gone but what a pair of lookers! And there’s obviously something about pulling on a flowing ball gown and sparkly Lurex top with matching evening gloves that brings out the bitch in me.

“Where DD you get that blouse?” I sniffed as he (by then almost a she) pulled on a green silk top over his thermals.

“Seven quid, Oxfam shop in Alnwick,” he snapped back gruffly.

I squinted over my half-moon specs. “Something the Duchess threw out, maybe. And quite rightly!”

And with that I flounced onstage to face my adoring public. . .

NAVIDAD would not be Christmas without a British newspaper discovering a donkey being mistreated as part of Spain’s religious festivities.

And lo! It came to pass this week when the Daily Telegraph (and, for a change, not a tabloid) revealed that a five-month-old ass in a nativity pageant died when a 150kg man galloped it round the town square.

Donkey cruelty is a great Spanish tradition: the Sun once rescued a parasailing donkey and vowed it “would never be forced to fly again”.

And in 1987 a red-top war broke out between the Sun and the Daily Star to rescue an ass called Blacky which was ritually beaten and chased through Spanish streets. The Star won the race, carting the creature home in a caravan, only for a sulky Sun editor to declare that sending the poor animal to a Devon sanctuary was equally cruel “because the animal won’t understand English”!

david_banks@hotmail.com

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