A garden refuge

I arrive at Dr Whipnade’s residence for a short vacation, if that is the correct term for chilling one’s rump in the cold clammy air of a London winter. As I look out of my bedroom window, I spy a gentleman with a swarthy, stubbly face, toasting sausages over a small bonfire at the foot of the garden. As befits a philanthropist of note, the doctor has opened the gilded doors of his tool shed to a deserving vagrant for the Christmas season. Before you scoff, please note that the shed is a spacious depository with brick walls, a concrete floor and a roof of durable rubber. The interior contains a wash basin with hot and cold taps, a latex mattress and a gleaming array of the latest Black & Decker implements. Look to your own lives before judging the generosity of others.

I pay the man a courtesy visit next day and he is most civil, putting his kettle on the fire and plucking a couple of teabags from his overcoat pocket. It turns out that he is an unemployed Welsh actor called Trevor bin Laden. This is actually the stage name he has adopted to catch the attention of casting directors. His real name is Trevor Bumphries-Maddocks, which for all I know may be the Welsh form of ‘bin Laden’. His recent acting roles have been middle-eastern characters who yell an Arabic phrase before blowing themselves up or cutting someone’s throat. I ask him about his current accommodation problems.

“I recently had lodgings with an elderly widow who let me do chores instead of paying rent,” he explains. “We got on well until she saw me practising some lines on her cat. Would you believe she called the fuzz!? Thought I was a terrorist trying to involve her pet in a suicide plot against the shuttle service to her local bingo hall. I spent six hours in a police cell while they took my room apart from top to bottom. She wouldn’t have me back even after they’d assured her that her suspicions were groundless. I must be the first bloke in history who got thrown onto the streets for conspiring with a cat.”

“A shocking miscarriage of justice,” I remark. “Have you not thought of broadening your acting portfolio?”

“I think of very little else, Mr Bananas,” he replies. “It’s not that I mind playing jihadist assassins. The Welsh and Arabian tongues have many points of similarity and I once worked in an abattoir, so I’m pretty handy with a knife. But there’s not much emotional depth required to howl with rage before perpetrating an outrage, is there? You could find half-a-dozen capable of that in most of the pubs in Bridgend on a Saturday night. What I need is a good, solid character role of the sort Tony Hopkins used to play before he became a big star.”

“Like The Hunchback of Notre Dame?” I suggest.

“No fear, boyo!” he exclaims. “I’ve had enough problems with back pain to be stooping around with a medicine ball glued to my shoulder blades. I was thinking of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in Victory at Entebbe. I’d have the critics cooing from the rafters if they saw me in a part like that.”

“I can’t see you landing that one in spite of your experience in playing Levantines,” I caution. “You don’t even have a ballpark resemblance to Mr Rabin.”

“Well, I was only using him an as example,” replies Trevor. “To be honest, anything with lines spoken in a conversational tone of voice would interest me, irrespective of my preference for work with sound artistic and orthopaedic credentials.”

I nod in comprehension and wish the frustrated thespian a Merry Christmas before returning to the mansion.

It must be Trevor’s lucky day, for that very evening I learn that Dr Whipsnade has invited an up-and-coming theatre producer to dinner. This budding impresario informs us that he is looking for an actor to play an unusual character part in a Christmas stage production. Without hesitation, I enthusiastically propose Trevor for the role. Alas, we cannot invite him into the house because he is away practising improvisational street dialogue with the ladies outside Kings Cross station. But I cite his acting credits, which greatly impress our guest.

Next morning, I knock on the door of the tool shed. After a minute of muttering and groaning, a bleary-eyed Welshman appears before me, wearing long johns and sucking a lozenge. He invites me to sit down on a sack of weed killer while he washes his face in the basin. His ablutions complete, he sits down on the mattress and apologises for his state of dishevelment. I waste no time in announcing the stage role he has been offered.

“A pantomime horse!” gasps Trevor in astonishment. “Are you taking the mickey, Bananas? I’m an actor who went to drama school, not a silly bugger who prances around in animal suits. I took for you for a better ape than to kick a man when he’s down!”

“It is no ordinary horse, Sir!” I protest. “It has more lines than most of the humans and funny ones to boot! I have seen the script!”

Impressed by my sincerity, Trevor questions me about the production and is gradually persuaded that the equine role would be a useful form of occupational therapy before his next gig as a wild-eyed fanatic.

“Maybe I’ll give it a go this one time,” he says, stroking his chin.


As I type these words, I see Mr Trevor bin Laden leaving Dr Whipsnade’s tool shed for the last time, with suitcase in hand. He will make his way to the train station, from where he will travel to bed-and-breakfast accommodation paid for by the Howling Breeze Stage Company. I must go and bid him farewell. I don’t have the heart to tell him he’s been cast as the horse’s rear end.

The Japing Ape wishes his readers a Merry Christmas and will post again one week from today.

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