The final straw came when Dad bump-bumped over a pheasant as it strutted into the road in front of them.
‘You’ve killed it,’ Kim screamed, as she turned to see the crumpled mess of feathers behind them.
‘Not my fault,’ Dad said. ‘Stupid bird should have looked.’
‘Murderer,’ her sister Jackie snarled. ‘I hate you Dad.’
‘Right, that’s it.’ He’d thumped the steering wheel and screeched to a stop. ‘Get out. I’m sick of you two and your bad behaviour. I warned you girls ten minutes ago. Out. NOW.’
They tried to reason with Mum, but as usual, she went along with whatever Dad said.
There was a crunch of leaves as Mum and Dad drove off, leaving the two girls abandoned at the side of the country lane. Kim looked up at her sister.
‘What are we going to do?’
‘Walk,’ said Jackie. The two-year age difference gave her a natural superiority, which was heightened further when she started at big school last September.
Kim was holding back her tears.
‘The only thing back there is that poor dead bird. We’ll go this way,’ Jackie declared, and off they set.
Jackie led on until after a while she spotted a roof through the trees and a track leading away from the road.
‘There,’ she pointed. We can use their phone.’
Kim smiled. ‘You know Mum’s number.’
‘No, but I know 999.’
‘But Jackie, Dad’s bound to drive back and pick us up if we promise to behave, and we will, won’t we?’
‘Not this time. We’ll be drinking squash in that house and waiting an hour before calling the police. Mum and Dad will have worried themselves stupid by then, and when they find us we’ll be in line for presents and all sorts, especially if we threaten to call Childline.’
‘I don’t like this, Jackie. Supposing the people in the house are evil and want to kill us?’
‘Don’t be soft. Things like that only happen in fairy tales. Look. Gable Cottage. That doesn’t sound like anything from Goosebumps, does it. It’ll be fine. Don’t be so scared.’
Jackie knocked on the door, Kim cowering behind her.
‘You’re here at last,’ said a little old lady. She wore a blue-and-white striped top and a pair of hooped earrings, which would have made her look a bit like a pirate even if she hadn’t been wearing an eye patch.
‘Good afternoon, our names are…’ started Jackie, but the lady ushered them in.
‘Go straight through,’ she said and led them across the hall. ‘We’ve been waiting.’ Jackie walked behind her confidently, almost dragging her more circumspect sister by the hand.
They came to a room where a hubbub of talking ceased as they entered. There were a dozen or so old ladies, all clutching sheets of paper, dressed as rather ineffectual pirates and one elderly man wearing a Victorian-style dress, with two vulgar circles of rouge on his cheeks. They all stared at the girls.
‘I’m Jackie, and this is my sister, Kim.’
‘But, you’re girls,’ said a woman with a particularly false beard and a knitted parrot, which was sewn by its feet to the shoulder of her jacket.
The lady who had let them in flipped up her patch to improve her vision. ‘Oh, my godfathers. So they are.’
‘Get over it,’ said Jackie. ‘We may have boy’s names because our Dad wanted boys, but we’re girls.’
‘Is that true?’ Kim whispered to Jackie. But before her sister could remind her that their main present last Christmas was a train set, the false-parrotted woman continued:
‘Girls? That bloody agency. How can we have the Lost Boys played by girls?’
A wrinkled lady with a tea towel wrapped around her head in a vaguely piratical manner, lifted a finger to speak. ‘Well, to be fair we are all ladies playing the parts of men…’
‘… Not all of us. I’m Wendy, remember,’ said the man in the dress. ‘And don’t forget Tinkerbell. He said he’d meet us later after he’d knocked off at the abattoir.’
‘Let them audition, and we’ll see,’ said a woman covered in green painted egg boxes who barely resembled a crocodile at all. The woman with the knitted parrot passed the girls a script. ‘Right. From the beginning.’
The company ran all the way through Peter Pan. Fortunately, Jackie and Kim were strong readers and had seen the movie. Despite Tinkerbell arriving during the second act, unshaven and with flecks of bovine blood on his tutu, everyone agreed it had gone well, and that the girls made excellent Lost Boys. The lady with the parrot declared they were ready for that evening’s show and everyone cheered. Tinkerbell improved everyone’s spirits even further, reaching into a plastic sack to produce two fresh sheep pelts which the girls could drape over themselves as costumes.
The full house at the Village Hall whooped and gave the actors a standing ovation at the end of the show. When Jackie and Kim were ushered forward to take their bow, followed by the trail of flies that had accompanied their costumes throughout the performance, Jackie thought she recognised a man and woman clapping at the back. ‘Mum? Dad?’ Was this to be the moment, when after all those years she would finally achieve parental approval? Surely all good stories end this way?
Not this one.
The figures walked up to the stage to speak to the players as the applause finally started to calm. The man who Jackie had thought was Dad spoke to them.
‘Hi, my name is Evan Young, president of Generation Flux.’ No-one was any the wiser. ‘You know, the pressure group advocating the end of ageism – I mean life journey bigotry, in Hampshire. It’s so rare that I get to see a production whose actors encompass such a range of ages, young and…I mean of such diversity of contrasting life journey travel times.’ Sensing nobody understood his political correctness he added: ‘look, you put on a great show, guys.’
The company cheered.
‘Guys?’ interrupted the person that Jackie had thought to be Mum. Though wearing a blonde wig, it was not a necessarily a woman at all, but Colina Tulley, the sexually indiscriminate chairperson of Gendablenda, whose activists promote equality and interchangeable gender roles across Hampshire.
‘That’s just typical of you lefty ageism ass-licks.’ She tweaked Evan Young’s nose. ‘We have just witnessed the most positively neutral performance I have ever seen: Petra Pan aided by a 200-pound Tinkerbell, Captainess Hook and those delightful Lost Girls, and you have the freakin’ nerve to sum them up with the singular most masculine designation … ‘guy’s;’ She/he/it punctuated her disgust for the word by twitching the four fingers that make up that awful inverted comma sign. ‘By the way… actors – I loved the show too.’
The company cheered again.
‘In fact, I loved it so much, I want to pay you all to take the show around the hotbeds of sexual disquality and gender wars in North Hampshire.’
The company gasped. ‘You don’t mean…’
‘I certainly do. Basingstoke, Lychpit and Worting – and that’s just for starters.’
The company turned to each other to a man, woman and child, excited by this worthy and potentially lucrative project.
‘Oi, just you wait a minute…ladyboy,’ Evan said nasally, his mist momentarily as red as his swollen nose. ‘…I mean person whose gender is neither apparent nor relevant.’ He was a lover, not a fighter and having shocked himself at his own outburst, had seen the look on Colina’s face turn to that of a peeved cage-fighter.
She snarled. ‘What did you call me?’
‘Erm, lady…bird – it’s a term of endearment. I just wanted to say that I too propose a tour of this excellent show, to demonstrate to the warring generations of Hampshire that people of all ages, I mean comparative personal time experience, can live together in perfect harmony.
‘Bastard,’ hissed Colina, determined that this opportunity for sexual mish-mashery would not be derailed by this multi-aged mingler. She aimed another tweak, this time at a more vulnerable part of his anatomy, but a clearly upset Tinkerbell stepped in:
‘Oh stop it, stop it. Bicker, bicker, bicker.’ He wiped a tear away with one meaty tattooed forearm. Why can’t we all live together in peace: Boys and girls…’
‘And eunuchs,’ added Colina.
‘And eunuchs,’ Tinkerbell confirmed. ‘Old and young.’
‘Err, persons significantly down their life journey and those who are maybe less so,’ corrected Evan, politically.
‘Them an ’all,’ said Tinkerbell. We should all live together – ebony and ivory…’
At this a Jamaican man stood up in the crowd and applauded, followed by an elephant 3 rows back.
‘… Living in perfect harmony?’ said Evan, still rubbing his nose.
‘You don’t mean like in…?’ said Colina.
‘Yes. Like in West Berkshire,’ confirmed Tinkerbell.
‘Ahhhh,’ said the re-amassed crowd who had started to leave again as the threat of conflict appeared to recede. ‘OK, why not,’enthused Colina. A joint tour of the show in the name both of our groups. It would be like all of our Christmases at once.’
‘And Hannukahs, Divalis and Dhu al-Hijahs,’ added Evan.
‘Hurrah,’ cried the cast, all except for two.
‘What about Mummy and Daddy?’ said Kim.
‘They will be looking for us,’ said Jackie.
‘It’s fine,’ laughed a man in the front row. ‘I’m a child actor agent – sorry I was late bringing Zac and Frankie from the orphanage over for the audition. But it’s OK, girls. Your parents did come back to look for you, but when I explained the situation, they were more than happy to take the boys home instead, now that you both have successful acting careers.
‘Oh’, said Kim.
‘Better get this show on the road then,’ said Jackie.
‘Hurrah,’ said the rest of the cast, again.
And that was the beginning of happy ever after for Mum, Dad and their Found Boys As for whether ageism, sexism and the theatres of North Hampshire will ever be quite the same again, I will leave that for you to discover.