Let’s set the scene: a Tuesday evening, the country storm-battered, the Tube Powers-That-Be granting a last minute reprieve. And the return of Speakeasy to Drink, Shop & Do.
Things got off to a rocky start. There were microphone mix-ups and an eleventh hour dash for Ian to find some kind of adaptor Nicci does not understand. There were train cancellations which meant amazing Essie Fox could not reach us in time (don’t worry though, a little bird tells us she’ll be popping up at another one in the not too distant future). But there were also cocktails. There was Anna Whitwham, Ben Johncock and Samantha Ellis. And it, dear friends, was good.
We kicked off with Anna, who read an extract from her brilliant and bold debut novel BOXER HANDSOME (out last month, buy it here).
Then Ben Johncock treated us to a beautiful passage from his not-yet-but-undoubtedly-soon-to-be published novel, BURNING, BLUE.
After that, we took a short break, during which we divided our authors into two teams. Team Cloke was Johncock and Whitwham. Team Ellard should have been Ellis and Fox, but in Essie’s absence, Ian asked for a member of the audience to volunteer their services. Lovely Hattie Grunewald volunteered as tribute, and Team Ellard was complete.
The rest of the audience weren’t off the hook though because, as always, it was down to them to provide a theme on which our teams would produce their best off-the-cuff work. There were many great suggestions. There was ‘Citrus fruits’. There was ‘Guilty pleasures’. And there was ‘Soft furnishings’.
Somehow, we ended up with ‘Soft furnishings’.
Back from the interval, Samantha Ellis charmed us all with a reading from the opening of HOW TO BE A HEROINE (buy it here), and made us all realise just how important it is to be a Jane and not a Cathy.
And then it was time to reveal our teams’ efforts. Here they are, in all their glory.
As Essie turned the key in the ignition, Fox coughed.
‘What?’ she asked, irritated.
‘Bit loud, isn’t it?’ Fox said.
Essie turned the radio off completely. ‘All I want is quality upholstery,’ she said. ‘Why are you making it so hard to buy soft furnishings?’
‘You fucking know why.’
‘Don’t make it about him. We broke up a year ago.’
Fox scoffed. ‘What-fucking-ever. I can’t walk through the door without thinking of him. His name’s everywhere.’
Essie rolled her eyes. ‘It’s not even his real name.’
Fox rubbed his forehead. ‘Come on, let’s just go. Let’s go DFS and use my discount.’
‘Oh, you’re so cheap!’ Essie said. ‘I wish you had a proper job.’
Fox slapped the dashboard. ‘Oh, and he did, I suppose!’
‘Well, he didn’t live on discounts.’
‘Discounts don’t really work for the Red Cross,’ Fox said, pulling out his cigarettes.
Essie sighed. ‘Look,’ she said, after a minute. ‘I don’t want to fight.’
‘Me neither,’ Fox said, putting away his cigarettes. ‘Let’s just go have a look in Marks and Spencers.’
Essie put the car in gear and pulled away from the kerb. ‘At least I haven’t got an ex-boyfriend called Mark,’ she joked. ‘Or Spencer.’
Fox laughed, but as she turned the radio back on and started singing along, he muttered to himself, ‘Who the fuck calls themselves John Lewis anyway?’
(Ellis, Hattie from the audience)
‘Good day, Mr Field.’
‘Oh, Cyril, hello!’
They exchanged a genteel glance.
‘You got here alright?’
‘Oh yes, yes… Very pleasant. Driver was very satisfactory.’
‘Excellent. Chester, please don’t stare!’
‘I’m sorry, but who the fuck is that? He’s so thin. And no arms. And me here, bursting at the buttons…’
‘He has TB.’
‘Y’know, y’shouldn’t talk abou’me like I’m no’even here,’ said the TV.
‘Now listen here, Sony Jim –’ said Chester Field.
‘No, you listen! Y’migh’have provided support t’generations of aristocrats. But I’m creating a new breed. Cyril, your’a sofa. Tell’im!’
With the sad leather face of an old sofa, Cyril turned to Chester Field. ‘I’m sorry, Chester! It’s over! Hop aboard the future train, you armchair!’
And with that, Chester did what any good armchair would do.
Two very different takes on a theme that is evidently a creative goldmine. We asked the audience to vote. They did. It was a close call, but in the end, Team Cloke’s domestic disillusionment just edged it over Team Ellard’s Downton-on-Acid. Making it 4-3 to Team Cloke.
Can Team Ellard make it four all? Join us on the 11th March, Challenge Fans. And keep your eyes peeled for all the delicious details of that, coming at you soon. Like, really soon. ANY. MINUTE. NOW.*
*Thursday. Come back Thursday.