You know summer’s over when…

 First day back at work after my summer holiday (which was a bit of a washout, truth be told) and what greets me on my way to the station?

Paul Laidlaw (far left) is at it again. The man must live in Pantoland all year round. He writes, directs and stars as the Dame at the Gordon Craig every year.

And he is good. He looks very much as home on stage wearing pans for a bra and flirting with the dads in the front row.

Be sure to book your tickets early so that isn’t you (if you’re a dad)!

Gordon Craig has everyone running for a burger.

This makes me laugh. The Gordon Craig Theatre building has recently undergone something of a makeover.

Gone is the gallery space they used to have at the heart of the building. In its place is perhaps the most soulless restaurant in Britain. With no windows, there’s no natural light and no view. Can’t imagine Mrs Parking In Stevenage would thank me for treating her to the set menu here.

Pi Bistro in full swing.

Pi Bistro in full swing.

In turn, this restaurant has moved from its old position, facing out onto Lytton Way, itself not the most desirable of vistas. So what’s there now, you’re not particularly asking?

The gym. I don’t know where this was before but perhaps in this game of musical chairs, the gallery now occupies that space.

So now we have the spectacle of 20 or so ruddy-faced sweating people running on the spot, lit up for the benefit of commuters heading home from the station over the bridge.


The runners have the opposite view, returning commuters, 6 lanes of traffic and, illuminated like some tortuous mirage, the golden arches of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Nando’s beyond.


But it doesn’t matter how fast they run; that Big Mac will always be out of reach. But they might just be able to make out the queue of Gordon Craig’s would-be diners beating a path to Stevenage Leisure Park and its culinary delights.

Danesgate closed. Daneshill needs re-calibrating.

For some reason, Danesgate remains closed. There is no work that I can see being done on it. For half the time, the tarmac was covered in snow anyway.

The knock-on effect is of course that the Danesgate massive are encroaching on Swingate’s turf, so it’s gets full earlier. I’ve been caught out twice on this.

Both times, I’ve ended up in Southgate which is a long old schlep to the station (comparatively). Happily, the Daneshill sign says there are spaces. “Salvation!” – maybe I’ll catch my train after all.

Daneshill is a funny old place. It’s shaped a bit like a ‘W’ and you enter in the middle, so you get to a bit where you have a choice: left or right. I take a chance on right. No spaces. Doesn’t matter. That just means the space must have been the other way (left – if you’re paying attention). No joy. The sign said ‘SPACES’, the ‘FULL’ sign wasn’t lit. Where’s my space? Not in this car park.

Walking back from Southgate, you get a good look at Daneshill from the ramp leading up to the Gordon Craig Theatre/overpass. And there they are: 3 cars forlornly manoeuvring around the ‘W’ looking for an empty space that isn’t there. How existential can you get…?

Last spot in Daneshill.

It’s been a while since I treated you both to the all-too-real nitty-gritty of actually parking in Stevenage.

Well, dear readers, this morning the four red capitals no one wants to see (FULL) greeted me as I approached Swingate. Two other cars were ahead of me, so around we all turned in messy 3-pointers and headed off to the alternatives.

Pulling out on to Lytton Way, you have two next-best options. Danesgate is a good bet, it fills up later and it’s not too far from the station – plus I like to think it’s a good overnight spot because it’s opposite the police station (not that it’s a factor today).

Daneshill is a bit of a loop round but you end up just as close to the station as Swingate – with the added bonus of being handier for the bingo if you’re that way inclined. In truth, it’s nearby whether you like bingo or not.

Thoughtfully, they’ve erected a sign on the corner telling you if there are spaces in Daneshill so you can make a snap decision between Daneshill and Danesgate. It sounds complicated but even after a rotten night’s sleep, I can still manage this level of split second decision-making.

As luck would have it, Daneshill was advertising spaces. Bingo, I thought (are you following me?).

There’s always a worry that the cars on front of you will take the last spaces and that just as you pull up to the barrier those for red letters will come back to haunt you. Well, blow me, if you remember as far back as the title for this post, you’ll know I bagged the last space in Daneshill. And what a curious little spot it is.

It’s an awkward little corner, tucked in behind another car. If you insist on knowing all the ins and outs, I had to pull a 5-pointer first in order to reverse in – minding the cement  bollards for good measure. It’s like the Krypton Factor for parking. And THEN I have to go and spend the day at work! Lunacy gone mad.

Gazza 2. This time it’s with Greavsie.

As documented in this very blog, Gazza is no stranger to the UK’s original new town. One night, on a particularly low ebb he contemplated suicide on Platform 1 at Stevenage station.

Now he’s back, on the other side of Lytton Way (no bridge-jumping Paul!) appearing at the Gordon Craig theatre with Jimmy Greaves. Is Ian St John dead, does anyone know?

Together at last.

Now I love a good footie anecdote and these two will be regaling  the audience with some beauties, I have no doubt. After all, it really IS a funny old game.

My worry is 2 people with well-documented struggles with alcohol left to their own devices after the show in a strange town – and all the other towns on their extensive UK tour.

“Another Perrier Greavsie?”

“No thanks Gazza, I’m taking it easy tonight.”

I just hope Mrs Greavsie is in close attendance – and that she isn’t leading the charge…

And for the record, there is infinite love in my heart for Gazza. And that probably goes for the rest of the country too. Do a good show, guys.

Emile Heskey transferred to Daneshill.

There’s a chap who used to park in Swingate. Green Y reg Citroen. Looks a bit like Emile Heskey. But shorter. We used to arrive at roughly the same time each morning.

Well, the big news is he seems to have swapped Swingate for Daneshill, the local rival.

Little Emile Heskey.

Don’t know why. Maybe there were more opportunities, maybe he just fancied a move. The 2 car parks are only yards apart but he’s made the big move to the other side. Good luck to him I say. Me? I’m sticking with Swingate. Someone needs to show some loyalty, for god’s sake!

Christmas in January.

Just how long can you drag Christmas out for? Our tree was out in the garden before the year was out – but it was dead on its feet, drooping alarmingly.

Not so at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage; Christmas is still in full swing. Their version of Snow White is running until January 23. Now I’ve been to see it and I heartily recommend it, so the good news is you’ve stll got time to get along and see the show. It stars Sue Holderness out of Boycie and Marlene out of ‘Green Green Grass’ out of ‘Only Fools and Horses’.

Katie Rowley Jones needs directions for the West End, apparently.

Anyway, it’s not unusual to have a panto run to the end of Jan. However, in the run-up to the show, the theatre played Christmas tunes in the adjoining walkway that leads to the station to get everyone in the mood and hopefully flog a few more tickets. So here’s the thing: they’re still playing these tunes now and it’s January 19.

" the lane, snow is glistenin'..."

It just seems like someone needs to say, “We’re halfway to Valentines Day now, let it go. Christmas will come round again next year (or later this year).”

I read somewhere they had to rename the dwarves (Dopey to Dippy, etc.) to avoid failing foul of Disney’s legal eagles. Boooo!

I always enjoy reading the programme to see what else the actors have been in. What did I learn? That you have to be a pretty rubbish dwarf not to have worked on Star Wars or Harry Potter. They’ve all done ’em. The theatre must have to decide on Snow White very early to make sure they can book all 7 dwarves – there must be a run on them at Christmas. No good getting 5 and making up the numbers with fully-grown Lanky and Lofty.

Saw a couple of ’em in Tesco the other day. Easy to spot if you’re near enough.

An evening with psychic, Tony Stockwell.

Walking between the station and Swingate, one passes by the Gordon Craig Theatre and you tend to see posters advertising upcoming events. On October 4, Stevenage hosts  ‘An Evening with Tony Stockwell’. Do you think that’s his real name or just a stage name?

I like to think someone told the then Dave Stockwell that they’d seen a hypnotist called Tony Le Mesmer on Alan Partridge’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” suggesting he should try that name, but he went and changed the first name instead of the second.

Tony Stockwell. And he's looking at YOU!

I was in Stockwell last week. Didn’t strike me as a hotspot for psychics though.

But you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you.

Panto time.

I went to the Panto the other day (Oh yes I did!).

It was my wife’s idea to go – and what a good idea it was. We kept it secret from the kids until we were actually in the theatre foyer. You should have seen their faces (they were happy).

I walk past Stevenage’s Gordon Craig Theatre twice every day (not out of habit, out of necessity). They’ve got a whacking great banner and a window display advertising this year’s panto, Aladdin, starring me old mate John Altman (nasty Nick in EastEnders) – see My Celebrity Whirl Panto Edition for the backstory.

Paul Laidlaw: writer, director, Twanky.

After seeing it advertised for so many weeks, I was intrigued to see the show – and the inside of the Gordon Craig theatre itself. I wasn’t disappointed.

I have it on good authority that Widow Twanky (or the guy that plays him) writes and directs the show. Well that’s not a secret, but the word is as soon as he’s finished this year’s run, he’s straight on the next one. This is a man who spends his entire working life in Pantoland – like that bloke who used to celebrate Christmas every day until he ran out of money.

He must spend the year sourcing giant golden lamps, auditioning dwarves and collecting all the cracker jokes he can find.

To be fair, it was very entertaining. Wishy Washy stood out for me – a real tour de force, as those West End reviewers might say.

To top it off, my wife and I even caught the marshmallows they threw into the audience – and we were in Row L!

The view from Row L.

Their run comes to an end on January 24 – that’s nearly 2 months – with matinees too. That’s a lot of “he’s-behind-you”s. Add in rehearsals and the cast and crew have spent a quarter of the year in Panto.

They must have difficulty adjusting to society afterwards; constantly wary of custard pies or saying “Hello boys and girls” every time they walk into a room.

Can’t wait for next year’s extravaganza. Good show chaps, I’ll be back next year.

Stevenage. By Royal Appointment.

Just read a bit in the news about Her Majesty the Queen taking the train up to Sandringham for her Christmas break. I suppose it’s part keeping it real for the subjects and part saving money.

Stevenage awaits Her Royal Highness.

She would have travelled from King’s Cross as far as King’s Lynn (and kings and no queens, eh Liz?) and gone by road from there. Can you see where I’m headed (and indeed our glorious monarch) with this ? Through Stevenage. Unless they spend millions so the Queen doesn’t have to go though SG1, she does actually pass by Stevenage – probably at around 100mph, but even at that speed you can still make out the Gordon Craig Theatre, the bright lights of Lytton Way and the massive B&Q.

You must stop by and explore your nation’s first New Town, Ma’am. Be lovely to see you.

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