I’ve remarked on many occasions – including to strangers at bus stops – how I can’t be doing with Science Fiction. Or any Fantasy genre, come to that. I either get too distracted by the unmentioned – the toilets, where the zipper is, why the boobs are just so pointy – or else alienated (see what I did?) by the complexities of the magicked-up: so that Harry Potter actually feels like work, with processes and protocols that everyone else seems to get. Likewise religion. Immersed, clobbered, as a child, I only later understood where people’s attentions lay. The sozzled priest in an Elvis cape; his housekeeper’s inconsistent limp; how the church folk group, ‘New Wine’, was widely referred to as ‘Flat Tizer’. How the real reward of the Confessional was chips on the way home. John Updike (who did dabble in sci-fi at the end, but mainly as a means to discuss old men’s willies) spoke of ‘sock-drawer spirituality’ (I can’t find the quote, but stay with me) – awe, comic and profound, in the everyday; enough of the surreal in our realities to last a lifetime here, or on Mars or other made-up planets. Especially when you simply keep an ear cocked, Jarvis.
As kids we knew – me and my sisters, Mum and Auntie M. and our John – where the funny was. Victoria Wood put it in a frame. Open-faced and eyebrows up, as much ‘are they really letting me do this?’, it seemed, as the staged bemusement. And that’s the real deal for me. Les Dawson was seasoned perfomer; Peter Kay after, confidently conspiratorial; His Very Leedsness, Alan Bennett, clever-jaded; Jake Thackray, a gravy-boat lothario; Morrissey, all of the above. Female, standing with and apart, Victoria Wood never underplayed that sense of just-nicked opportunity – breathless and ready to face some mild bother. The small anarchies of having a pop at the grown-ups, the daft new neighbours, and at our own embarrassed ambitions, was important and funny rebellion for us – more relevant and real than the punk we’d watched go by. Exactly because she spoke nervously, no matter the mastery.
The sweet trolley trundling up to our table on our first family forays into dining out (pushed, awkwardly in all senses, by a woman my mother knows well) is hers. We’re on the same page in the same shoplifted Woolworths diary. The lines of our no-nonsense matriarchs – ‘there’s something wrong with a man hanging out his own washing’; ‘he’s not quite got a quiver full of arrows…’ and ‘I’m not a gravy fan’ – are all offered up to her because she trained us to put little frames around them.
Later, how these peppered the scripts of Dinnerladies – those compulsive repetitions made by everyone: ‘I fell off a diving board in Guernsey’; ‘my father was a Desert Rat’, are absurd and funny because it’s what people do precisely to make themselves the opposite. At its heart the bumbling and stumbling of love and attraction and the looming realities of two sock drawers becoming one.
Once you’ve tuned your ear to the factual-funny she framed, it is everywhere. Universal without the fuss and bother of going into space. Everyone singing, along with Flat Tizer, the songs of Victoria Wood.