Today is the eight hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by Bad King John at Runnyhoneymede. A lot has been said about it by the media. There have been documentary series about it and the librettist who gave the world "The Death of Klinghoffer" has thrown off her disguise as a Church of England parish priest and written the words for a new piece all about it. I've not listened to this work because it involves lots of horrible discordancy ("a difficult score," the choir master of Salisbury Cathedral euphemistically told the BBC) that would make me want to reach for my metaphorical jousting lance. However, what has not been mentioned anywhere is my own role in the passing on of the story down the generations from times of olde to the present day.
You see, back in the first Summer of Love, when I was in the third year of junior school (Pop Harley's class) we put on a play which ran for three evenings in the school hall in front of our parents and anyone else our headmaster (Pop Hales) had blackmailed or otherwise coerced into attending. This play was all about the trials, tribulations and various wickednesses of King John and I had a small part (then as now, but enough of my troubles). I was, by no means, the star of the show but I had a very important role to play as I was the first actor to walk onto the stage. In fact, I had to stand at the front of the stage, in a tunic and a pair of girl's woolly tights and blow into a plastic, toy trumpet whilst the PA system in the hall blasted out a fanfare loud enough to fill Westminster Abbey, which got a laugh from the audience every night. Then I had to deliver the introduction to the play before walking off stage not to be seen again until the curtain call. So momentous was this, my first experience of treading the boards, that I can remember every word of my speech which went as follows:
This is the story of bad King John
who stole and took away men's rights
until he was ordered to behave
by his lords and nobles, barons and knights.
He lost the crown jewels in the Wash one day
and to tell you the story, here is our play.
I was a precocious child back then but, even so, it was a daunting challenge for an eight year old. This was not made any less so by the fact that my mother had created an ear worm in my mind so insidious and embarrassing that it was only my inherent professionalism that stopped me from accidentally blurting it out in performance, a faux pas which would have resulted in my eternal ridicule. She only thought it would be funny to change the words from "This is the story of bad King John who stole and took away men's rights" to "This is the story of bad King John who stole and took away men's tights," which had me in giggles, of course, and was retained tantalisingly at the front of my consciousness for the whole of the play's run and right up to today. It was this episode in my life, along with many similar embarrassments, that led me to the obvious conclusion that the woman who called herself my mother was no such thing, but an imposter, who had been given the task of bringing me up by a shadowy representative of the senior member of the English aristocracy who had given birth to me in circumstances a senior member of the English aristocracy just did not admit to back in those days. Sadly, her majesty never did come back to claim me and I have been forced to spend my life among plebeians ever since, despite my noble pedigree.