Yesterday I visited Leatherhead, a tiny wee medieval market town in Surrey, which is situated on the right bank of the River Mole. I’d never been to Leatherhead before, and I didn’t have particularly high expectations in terms of plant-based eating out options ever since I’d googled vegan and vegetarians cafes in the area and was signposted to an Italian restaurant that had a menu with a heavy bias towards tiger prawns; I only went because my sister (Nikki) combined her visit to Sudbury with the dance rehearsals she was doing at the Premier Production Studios, in the Mole Business Park, in preparation for her next tour; and I thought she might like the company during the two-and-a-half-hour drive.
When I tell people that my sister is a ‘cookie monster’, I don’t mean that she eats a lot of biscuits, nor am I referring to that fact that she worked part-time in ‘Millie’s Cookies’ during the time she was training at musical theatre school. No, I mean that her current job involves dancing around in a giant blue furry costume to a backdrop of songs like ‘The Cookie Crumba Rumba’. But, this is not the oddest-sounding occupation that she’s ever had: she’s spent time as an elf in lapland, a chipmunk on a Disney cruise, and a pink-haired tutu-wearing monkey called ‘Panzee’ in the Zingzillas high-energy road show. In the past, Nikki has toured around the UK and to the Middle East with the cast of ‘Sesame Street’ – and could potentially travel the world – and by the time this email goes viral she will be on a plane to Indonesia.
Personally, I couldn’t do what she does: I would hate the long and unpredictable hours, and having to traipse to random destinations or live in accommodation that I’ve not picked out myself; I’d also hate having to rely on other performers turning up or getting things right and I’d probably find it soul destroying every time I saw someone younger and prettier than me bust a better move – but then that wouldn’t be hard because I’ve got two left feet and can’t even cartwheel.
I had absolutely no intention of watching my sister rehearse – in fact, I’d decided without knowing anything about the show that it would be preferable to gouge my own eyeballs out. My plan had simply been to walk around the shops and stake out the local cafes before settling down in a coffee shop to do some writing whilst she was prancing around. And, fortunately, after turning down the cheese and nachos that bar staff in one establishment tried to palm me off with, I was lucky enough to discover a vegetarian stall at the outdoor French market which had two vegan options – ratatouille (which I love) and another dish that was made up of potatoes, aubergine and tomato that I can’t remember the name of; I chose the potato dish and was not disappointed.
We had planned to meet up during her lunch break but, typically, my sister’s timetable didn’t run to plan. So she suggested that I come along to the studio instead. And I, reluctantly, agreed.
And I’m glad I did. Because I was proved wrong for the second time that day.
And if ever I had doubts or concerns about Nikki’s career choice, watching her yesterday annihilated them. Not only was the dancing top-notch but the lyrics were clever (I can’t stop singing the Count’s mathematical parody of the song ‘Fame’ and now Antonia’s picked it up) and it was generally very very funny. My sister was also the most enthusiastic-looking person on the stage and I have never seen her shine so much or look as happy in her entire life; and I genuinely felt very privileged to have been given a sneaky peek into her world.