I'm on my way to the next venue and I just saw a duck! Two of them! Waddling around next to the water, being all duck-like.
I didn't have any bread to give them, but they let me take a photo of them all the same and didn't seem to mind that I used went all baby-talk on them.
So, I'm happy now. For some reason, knowing intellectually that my theatre for the evening was in the middle of Regent's Park, didn't connect with the part of my brain that knows that ducks live in parks, and the whole duck thing totally surprised me.
In a good way.
I'm very happy.
I also just spotted a sign, stuck in a hedge, pointing the way to the Open Air Theatre, so on top of being duck-happy, I'm also not lost.
This trip literally cannot get any better.
I follow the signs, leading down paths and past flowerbeds and across roads, until I spot it. The theatre. Or at least, the entrance to the theatre. Kinda getting fairground vibes looking at it, if I'm being honest.
The box office is in a sort of wooden cabin-like structure on one side, with the entrance on the other, with the name lined up along the roof.
The grass is full of smug-looking people having smug-looking picnics and drinking smug-looking glasses of wine. Near me a woman throws her head back to laugh. Smugly.
Just need to take my photo of the outside then it's off to try and blag a paper ticket off the box office. There wasn't an option to get one from the website. I think I left it too late or something. I have a crumby e-ticket sitting in my inbox and I am not happy about it.
"Lot of people here?" says a bloke standing near me.
I glance up.
"Yeah? I guess. It's very popular."
I go back to my phone, bringing up the camera app.
"Are you Mediterranean?" he asks.
I'm so confused by this question, I look up again. "... no?"
"You look a bit Italian. Are you Italian?"
Now, I'm sure you will agree with me that I do not look Italian. I very much do not look Italian. Literally no one in the world has ever, up until this point, thought that I looked anything approaching Italian.
I've gone through my whole life being British-passing, and I'm not about to take this nonsense. "Not even slightly," I say, in my coldest, bitchiest, tones, that I only bring out on very special occasions.
Turns out, however, that this bloke is immune to my lack of charm. "No?"
"No. I'm Scottish."
I mean... I'm not Scottish. Okay, I'm slightly Scottish. My surname is Scottish. But there's a good hundred years between the last Scottish Smiles in my ancestry coming down to live in Liverpool or somewhere, and me being born. Usually, when people ask I'll say German, or Austrian, or something, but those answers are all way too Holocausty for a summer evening. And I don't like pulling out the Israeli-angle with weirdo-strangers who are way too intent on making conversation.
"The Scottish are very friendly people. Very friendly," he continues.
Now, Scotland is fucking great. And Scottish people are even greaterer. I would totes vote for Nicola Sturgeon to be prime minister if that was ever an option. All hail the Scots. But like, I lived there for three years, and "friendly" would not be my go-to descriptor. Like... there were pubs I was actively told not to go to because my English-accent would be considered a "provocation."
"Very friendly people."
Okay. Enough of this. Apologies to the Scottish people but I need to disabuse this man of your friendliness before he starts telling me his whole backsto-
"I'm from Iran."
Shit. Too late.
"Sorry," I say, putting away my phone. "I have to go in now."
And without another word, I scuttle over to the entrance and join the queue.
"Can I check your bag?" asks the bag checker.
Of course she can. I grab it and open it for her. Or at least, I try to open it for her. The damn zip is stick.
Shit. "Shit." Double shit. "Sorry."
She laughs. "Don't worry. As long as we can look inside."
I've made a tiny gap. I can see the soft black material of my scarf pocking through, caught in the metal. "It's my stupid scarf," I tell her, still trying to unjam the zip.
"Don't worry," she says again. "It happens all the time."
She peers through the inch-wide gap I've created and then feels her way down the outside, giving my bag a good massage.
With a wave of her hand, I'm sent over to the ticket checker.
With all the excitement, I'd forgotten to go to box office.
I look over my shoulder. I can't go back now. Not after making the bag checker go through all that. She'll think I'm a right old idiot.
I get my phone out, and allow my e-ticket to be beeped.
Still feeling mad at myself, I pass through the entrance, and stop.
Well. This sure is something, A bar sits beneath by an ivy covered canopy on one side. Lawns are littered with picnicing couples on the other.
And in the middle, a merch stand.
I join the queue.
It isn't much of a queue. There's only one lady in front of me. But she is making the most of it, asking questions about every single aspect of the theatre and the performance. Start times and entrances and intervals and... Ooof. I can't listen anymore.
I turn my attention to the stand.
I love theatre merch. But so much of it is crap.
I'll throw down a tenner on a programme if I have to, but see-through t-shirts and mugs emblazoned with some tedious quote from the show ain't getting my coin any time soon.
This stuff, well... someone at this theatre sat down and thought: What does a person watching a play out in the open air need? And then set about selling it to us.
Alongside the programmes, there are branded baseball caps and water bottles, and plastic ponchos. Standard. But then there's also recycled wool blankets for cold knees, and straw panamas to cover bald heads and cuddly hedgehogs to...
"The Regent's Park Hedgehog," reads a sign, posted on the side of the cart as if to answer my exact question. Turns out the park has hedgehogs in it. Real ones. 40 of them. Which doesn't sound a lot.
I love hedgehogs. Everyone loves hedgehogs.
I really want a cuddly one.
Can I justify it?
"Can I get a programme please?" I ask the merch desker as the old lady finishes her ream of questions and moves on.
My eyes slide over to the hedgehogs.
They are so frickin' cute.
"Of course!" says the merch desker. "Five pounds please."
I pull my bag forward and suddenly remember the zip. Shit. "Sorry," I apologise as I struggle with it.
"Don't worry," she says.
I give the zip a good tug. It slides a half-inch. Ha. We're getting somewhere.
"Stupid scarf," I mutter as I fight the zip.
"No rush," she says sweetly. "It happens all the time. Especially after the bag checks. Is that cash or card?"
"Err, cash?" I say.
"Or card? If that's easier?"
"No, don't worry. I just thought I could set up the card machine."
With one more violent yank, I hear the sound of my scarf ripping, and the zip gives way.
I pull out my purse and hand her a fiver. "There," I say, triumphantly. "Exact change. My punishment for being annoying."
She laughs politely. "Thanks. I can always do with more fivers."
With one final glance towards the hedgehogs, I scuttle off with my programme to see how bad a hit my scarf took tonight.
There's a huge banked flowerbed running along the path, with a low bench around it.
I find an empty spot and examine the damage.
The scarf is still caught in the zipper. I try to wriggle it out, but it's no good. It's stuck right in there.
Gritting my teeth, I wrap the fabric around my hand and yank it free, wincing as it tears away.
Gawd dammit. This is why I cannot have nice things. It was a present too. Fuck's sake.
I stuff it down to the bottom of my bag, where it can't get into any mischief, and look around in the hopes of distracting myself from what I've done.
This place looks like a faerie bower after an all night rave.
Long streamers hang limply off tree branches, looking more than a little like this place was bog-roll-bombed by trick-or-treaters.
Dirty confetti is trodden into the ground.
I don't envy the cleanup crew at the end of the summer.
The group sitting next to me on the bench suddenly leap to their feet and rush over to the now-open doors.
I watch them go, wondering vaguely if I should be rushing too.
I decide to take a more leisurely approach, double-checking my e-ticket to make sure I'm using the right entrance.
“Enter by: Gangway 1,” it says. There's a huge number 1 stuck on the wall next to the doors right on the end. That must be it.
I go in.
Down on one side is a small patch of grass, and the runners are all crowding together trying to find the best spots. As close to the stage as possible.
I turn the other way, heading for the huge bank of seating. I start climbing, and climbing, and climbing. Right to the top. Because I'm cheap.
Not that it's a bad view from up here. The stage is massive. With a fuck-off huge letters at the back spelling out: EVITA. Behind them, I can just about make out the band.
Two ladies sitting in the row in front are taking a selfie. Or at least, they're trying to take a selfie.
"I can't get the sign in," says one.
As if driven to prove that I am, on occasion, a nice person, I offer to help.
They hand me the phone and I try to line up the shot, with the sign behind them, politely neglecting to mention that I am a terrible photographer.
"How shall we do this?" asks one.
"Shall we go down this way?" I say, moving down the row to a more central location. "If you could stand here..." I point to where I want them, and yes. That works. Two landscape. Two portrait. Boom. Done.
"Ooo, a professional..." says one as she takes the phone back.
She's clearly never seen my blog.
That done, she gets on with the really important matter at hand. Coating herself with bug spray.
Not something the merch desk has thought to sell. They should really consider it.
"Apologies," she says, turning around to explain herself to our row. "I just sprayed bug repellent."
Her friend laughs at her and she gets flustered.
"In case I smell!" she says, making her friend laugh even more. "I swell! I have to be hospitalised."
"Don't worry," I assure her. "We're all on your side."
A bell rings outside. Well, I say outside. It's all outside here.
Let's try that again.
Beyond the walls, a bell tolls, calling in the followers of musical theatre.
They pour in, heavy from their picnics, heaving themselves up the steps to their seats.
High above us, black coated figures snuggle down in covered crow's nests with their spotlights.
I shudder as a drop of rain lands on my cheek. I look up. The sky looks dangerously cloudy. I send up a quick prayer to the theatre gods that we won't have a downpour. They seem to listen. The rain stops.
The show starts, and you know, it's Evita. So it's all big and dramatic and...
There are smoke guns going off and I have to hold my breathe as the white curls pour over me, and then there's confetti blasting all over the place. And holy shit this is epic. You know a show's going to be good when they start it with the confetti shower. That's a hell of a promise to live up to and: Bang! Fuck yeah. There are streamers. I repeat: there are streamers. Flying through the air like gentle doves bringing messages of destruction.
And miracle of miracles, one is floating towards me, sailing on a breeze, sent by the theatre gods.
It drifts down, drapping itself over my shoulder and then my lap, like I've just been awarded the sash for Miss Open Air Theatre 2019.
Then it moves.
Sliding across my body.
I look up.
A woman in the row in front has the end in her hand and she's winding it around her arm, pulling it off me.
I consider grabbing the other end and tugging it away from her (it's my streamer, dammit!), but I'm too shocked to move. I watch as she crunches the paper streamer into a ball, and hands it to the man she's with, who crushes it in his big, fat, hands.
And then it's the interval.
He turns around in his seat, reaching over to grab his bag, he stuffs the crumbled streamer inside.
I hope it gets stuck in the zip.
The audience stumbles off to finish their bottles of wine, but my row doesn't seem up for moving. So we stay in our seats.
Down at the bottom I spot an usher picking up streamers off the path, and I look at them longingly.
I don't know why I love this crap as much as I do. It just makes my little hoarder heart so happy.
Or it would have done, anyway.
As the bell rings once more, people come back clutching rolled up blankets and hot drinks.
It's chilly now. I roll down the sleeves of my jacket and retrieve my scarf from the bottom of my bag.
My neighbour is trying to explain the history of Evita to his friend.
"Didn't she get murdered?" asks the friend.
"No..." He tells her what really happened.
"Oh," she says, sounding disappointed. "That's anticlimactic."
But as the second act canters on, I hear a sniff coming from my right. It's the friend. She is full out crying. Big, choking sobs.
The wind picks up, and spent confetti swirls around above our heads.
The crying girl makes a grab for a piece, but it is whisked away from her hand.
The cast get a standing ovation at the end. I don't join in. They were excellent, but you know how mean I am with my ovations. Five a year. That's the limit.
It takes a long time to get out. I cross my arms and shiver in my jacket as the lower rows file out, painfully slow.
The park is black when we do manage to escape. Signs are set out giving instructions on how to get out of here. I just follow everyone else. A long march on the way to Baker Street.
Ahead of me, I spot the streamer-stealer.
She laughs at something her partner says.
I have never hated anyone so much in my entire life.
I can only hope that she at least gives the streamer a good home.
I trudge on, feeling a weight of sadness pressing down on my shoulders.
I knew I should have bought a hedgehog.