On The Balletomane Nan Kew

I have been commissioned to write the Life of the balletomane Nan Kew. I’ll say it again. I have been commissioned to write the Life of Nan Kew, the balletomane. Now, never having written a Life before, I don’t know what to do. I have no idea how to set this Life in train. I only know one thing about Nan Kew for certain, and that is that her eyes were blue.

I have been advised by a tiptop biographer of many persons of the past that I will have to talk to people she knew. But apparently, nearly all her surviving pals live abroad, in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain. Some are even as far flung as Peru. I do not even own a passport, as I have always found travel to be an unbearable strain. I am reluctant even to travel by train. Call me unadventurous, but I stick to my familiar surroundings like glue. I would much rather sit fast than board one of those gigantic lumps of metal they call an aeroplane.

An added problem is that everything I have written to date has been fiction, but of course every last detail of this Life has to be true. That much is plain. She had, though, a very long life, so there are many facts upon which to chew. After doing a bit of research, I can add, to the colour of her eyes, that she was a Jew. And that she had a pet dog, a Great Dane. Other than that, so far, I haven’t got a clue.

It would help if I knew something about the ballet, too. But nothing bores me to tears as much as a prancing ninny in a tutu. If you buy a ticket for the ballet you may as well pour your money down the drain. That’s my view. The sole reason I agreed to write this Life was the prospect of financial gain. I accepted an advance, so I suppose that if I don’t produce a manuscript the publishers will sue. That would be a pain.

Last time I was threatened with legal action I spent six months hiding in a zoo. Granted, as a solution to my problems it was not entirely sane. I pretended to be a veterinary surgeon, there to care for a pregnant gnu. One day my cover was blown and I saw some coppers approach and I ran off down a lane. Just my luck, I was set upon by a ruffian crew. Their bashings to my head did something untoward to my poor poor brain.

That was not the end of my worries, because after that I caught the flu. And I had a migraine. And I had a stone in my shoe. And then I was drenched by rain. Somehow I managed to hobble into a church where I collapsed on to a pew. I let out a little gasp of relief: “Phew” Too soon, for then I noticed that in my collapse I had cut myself and blood was pouring from a vein. I rummaged in my pocket for a jar of wound-soothing goo. It was an ointment containing linseed and mugwort and feverfew. Oh, and with a smidgen of henbane. As I smeared the wound, I heard the uncanny rattling of a chain. Trust my luck, or lack of it, to have taken shelter in a church that had been deconsecrated and was now used for purposes new. In this case, the rehearsal of a ballet, King Jasper’s Castle, Its Electrical Wiring Systems, Its Janitor And Its Chatelaine.

I could not help wondering if it was a ballet Nan Kew had seen and favoured with a review. For at some point within all the legal shenanigans and hiding out I had discovered something else about the balletomane. That she wrote a column for a ballet journal, and the more she wrote the more her reputation grew. I had found in an archive a bound copy of this journal and had a read-through. God it was boring, I won’t do that again. She communicated her enthusiasm for the ballet with a lot of verbal pyrotechnics and ballyhoo. And it seemed to me she stuck to received wisdom, there was nothing she wrote that went against the grain. Not that I know anything about ballet, that’s true. But it occurred to me that if I was going to write this Life, now I knew from where to take my cue. I could bulk it out with quotes from Nan, and who would spot them, I mean, who? In the unlikely event that some ballet nutter did, I was sure I could think up a way to explain. And a combination of plagiarism and controversy could prove a heady brew. At least, from the publisher’s point of view. Who knows what a huge amount of sales my Life might attain? I might even earn back the advance that was my due. I envisioned the launch of the Life, and outside the bookshop an enormous queue.

My attention suddenly reverted to the ballet rehearsal in the deconsecrated church, where they were trying out an exciting scene in which King Jasper is slain. So complicated is the choreography that one cannot tell if he is killed by the janitor or the chatelaine. I am more used to pantomime, so when the culprit was revealed I gave a great hiss and a boo. At which point the ballet dancers withdrew. Fool that I am, my hiss and boo had revealed my presence to the ruffian crew. They came crashing through the church door, armed to the teeth, demented and insane. But hot on their heels came the coppers, so fast they almost flew. In the confusion and brouhaha I managed to flee, but my flight proved to be just another turn of the screw. I ran slap bang into the side of a huge metal crane.

I was taken to a clinic where clinicians prodded my brain. When I woke up, they said “We have some news for you”. I wondered if they were going to tell me I’d gone cuckoo. And that, in so many words, was true. They said, “You have a derangement of the brain. You are in no fit state to write the Life of Nan Kew, the balletomane.” As if to prove their point, I asked “Who?” They said “The balletomane, Nan Kew”.

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