“Over There Past the Far Queue,” by Lorena Otes

Jul 10th, 2024 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

‘Good aardvark, with a long nose and a hairy snout.’

I could hear the words coming out of my friend’s mouth, but assumed my ears were deceiving me. Surely I misheard him.

Most of Jacob’s victims were pretty baffled, but he always got away with it. Their usual response was a very polite delivery of something like, ‘Very well, thank you.’ Or ‘Oh yes, good afternoon to you too.’ As intended, they had interpreted his ambiguous cacophony as, ‘Good afternoon, babble, friendly babble …’ And would end up blaming themselves for not hearing correctly.

Well, let’s face it; no one really listens. We hear noises. Voices. Chatter. But how often do people really listen to one another’s words? Since the invention of the infinite information portal that we hold to our faces twenty-four-seven, the trend to listen to the person standing in front of you seems to be all but diminishing.

In this story, my friend Jacob and I were front-of-house employees at a big West End theatre in London. As ushers, we were paid a pittance; and as most of us were out of work actors and dancers, we were always compelled to perform. A little song here; a kick-ball-change to pirouette there. It was an endless recital.

I remember when I first met Jacob. There was a distinct twinkle in his eye that meant the upstairs cogs were in full function. Actually, that twinkle was always in perpetual motion. ‘I’ve just had an idea,’ he would whisper, and I knew it was going to be a memorable shift.

The ‘incoming’, was the arrival of the audience, or ‘punters’, as we eloquently dubbed them. And it was during this time we constructed our prospective social experiments. Not of the marriage vow kind — our experiments were designed to challenge. We would carefully choose our nonsensical, garbled, often innuendo-fuelled words to greet punters as they arrived at the theatre. Exactly how far could we push before someone accused us of insanity or profanity?

We were up for the challenge!

The 7pm Friday night punters flowed into the grand foyer of one of the oldest, most beautiful theatres in the West End, steeped in history, haunted by the ghosts of a million former unemployed actors. The show was called Acorn Antiques: The Musical. Perfect. A mildly pompous, predominantly elderly audience with a sturdy propensity for minor hearing ailments. A great way to begin the experiment, at least.

The ‘aardvark’ thing went off without a hitch. It became Jacob’s adage to greeting everyone as he tore their tickets and directed them to the bar. I was a bit hesitant. With an Aussie accent, I already stood out, and I’m no actor. So, I meekly attempted a ‘Good Aardvark,’ or two, and left the rest to my accomplice.

‘Fuck you very much.’

Now, I heard THAT!

With a raised eyebrow, I thundered a death stare in the direction of my charismatic friend. ‘What ARE you doing?’ I muttered under my breath, ‘I bloody need this job. You’re going too far!’

But it was no use. He was driving the experimental wagon to the next level. With no hypothesis reset, or discussion, Jacob was out to push, push, push the boundaries.

Astoundingly, his one-hundred percent success-rate resulted in smiles, friendly nods and doting responses of ‘ooh, thank you young man.’

Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Stop picking on the blue-rinse brigade.’ Old people are the gems of our society, and it’s cruel to be taking advantage.

Well, this was the tender beginnings of what would become a brutal social experiment worthy of contention for The European Amalfi Prize for Sociology and Social Sciences. These polite, grateful to be out-and-about, senior citizens were a gentle and charming ease into the ruthlessness of the next show that was coming into the theatre a few weeks later: Saucy Jack, and The Space Vixens.

Yes, that’s a REAL show!

And the audiences were … eclectic. Young. Down for the taking.

‘Fuck you very much,’ Jacob chirruped (a little too discernibly for my comfort) as he tore the ticket of a young semi-punk whose response was a great big whopping, ‘Wuh?’

‘Oh, err, thank you,’ Jacob corrected.

‘FAIL,’ I chortled from the other end of the barrier. Jacob returned the sentiment with an evil look. That was the first time anyone had questioned him.

So maybe some people DO listen?

The experiment was definitely harder with people who could …well … hear. But that didn’t deter us. It only drove our determination. Our experiment was beginning to shift a bit. We were coming to realise how polite people generally were. If they misheard, or misunderstood, they usually didn’t make a thing of it. We were becoming quite fond of our customers.

It was so easy if someone was on their mobile. You could say anything and they wouldn’t hear a word. In fact, that kind of rudeness has become pandemic.

A month later, a play called The Odd Couple started at the theatre. We were excited because we would get a real mix of punters coming through — not just punks, or the blue-rinse brigade. There would also be millennials, yuppies, cashed up members of the bourgeoisie. We were all set to unleash onto the general public in a way we’d never done before.

The excitement was palpable.

‘You can light a fart and boil it just over there,’ was Jacob’s newly conjured line. In the daily grind of the incoming, we had found ourselves incessantly repeating the words, ‘You can find a bar and toilet just over there.’ So, we changed it up a little.

How did it go?

Well, I’m here to tell you folks, that not only did we get away with it almost every time, in the end we barely even tried to disguise the words or shape-shift them closer to the original. People just, somehow, understood our uncanny directive.

One day, Jacob launched into a new accent. It wasn’t unusual for him to swap accents throughout the incoming. As an actor born in Britain, the man could chop and change his dialect whenever he felt like it. Usually he’d do Australian back-backer, ‘Yeah G’day, how’s it ga’in’?’

But on this day his accent of choice was Scottish, swinging sporadically over to thick Irish, then returning back to Scottish. He was looking out for British punters and wanted to see if he could get anyone to notice his tomfoolery.

Now this was tricky to set up. Not only did he need a Brit, he also needed someone who had a question that required a long answer.

We waited.

‘Fuck you very much,’ to one person.

‘Good aardvark,’ to the next.

Then along she came. The nicest, most sweet and friendly British lady we had ever seen. Mid-forties, perhaps? And very chatty. She had just popped up from Brighton for a night at the theatre.

‘Good aardvark ma’am,’ Jacob said.

‘Oh, yes, good evening. Um, can I please just ask, how do I get to the Upper Circle?’

‘Now, aack jus’ lecht ma see,’ Jacob was in Scottish warm-up mode, ‘Yah wahna teek thaht cor-r-r-r-rah-dor on thah reeght. Keeyp gawwwin’ intul yah see sum staihhhrs. Dohhhn’t teek thohhhse staihhhrs. Teek the wuns buhaind …’

The lady was smiling, nodding and clearly trying to ingest his directions.

Accent swap to Irish:

‘Oh, und then yeh jurst begin yourrr ascendt to the tchop. But ya arrrren’t there yet. Yurgh need tah walk parst the corrrrrridorrrrr until yeh get tah Box A. But if you reach Box B ya’ve garn too far. Tourn back.’

Accent return to Scottish:

‘Thahn you’re r-r-r-really close. A small staircase on the left und yah there. Gawwwwt that?’

Baffled, the lady replied, ‘Oh yes, thank you so much.’

Jacob tilted his head and smiled. ‘Flatulence,’ he replied, with conviction.

‘Yes, you too,’ called the lady as she headed off in the wrong direction towards a sign that read ‘Stalls Bar’.

‘Oh well, at least she’ll find the wine,’ I said. Poor thing hadn’t understood a word. We looked at one another, barely able to supress our giggles. Jacob had not only achieved his goal of unnoticed accent swap, but he’d also added in a bonus ‘flatulence’ for good measure.

‘Where did that come from?’ I asked him, running after the lost lady to set her in the right direction, but he just shrugged his head. He was already plotting his next strategy.

The piece-de-resistance came a couple of months later. Matilda: The Musical had arrived. We were so excited because we knew big audiences were coming. Full houses. So many people to perform our experiment on.

‘Tits’n’arse,’ with a nod had become our new ‘thank you’, but you needed a pretty stern Welsh accent to pull it off.

We routinely directed punters to the ‘box orifice’ for ticket collection. Really, the list of possibilities became endless. When it came to innuendo and, let’s face it, toilet humour is the best, we were right on target. We came up with new offerings daily. It felt wicked saying these deliciously inappropriate things directly to punters, getting away with it with a smile and a nod of the head.

One night, a superstar walked through the front doors with his partner, two kids, and about four-hundred-and-eighty bodyguards. Let’s call him The Rocket Man.

The Rocket Man stopped by the kiosk to pick up a programme and five Matilda: The Musical Soundtrack CDs — one for each of his homes. He then made a beeline for Jacob.

Oh no.

What was my friend going to do? This was too much of a magnificent opportunity to not try a little something. I was scared, shaking, wondering how far Jacob was going to push it.

‘Well good Aardvark, sir, welcome.’

I silently begged, BEGGED for The Rocket Man to reply, ‘Yes, and a long nose and a hairy snout to you my good man,’ but he just nodded.

Jacob was deep in the zone. He was performing the experiment in every way possible: calling on his exceptional acting skills; thinking on the run, pre-preparing lines and accents in his head so they would come out just as intended.

But oh, shit. I was a nervous mess. Butterflies were dancing a rave party through my middle intestine. With held breath, I continued robotically tearing tickets for the other punters, ears pricked up, and hoping we’d both still have jobs to come back to the following day.

The Rocket Man asked if there was a cloakroom.

My eyes bulged.

‘There’s a cloakroom over there, but, of course, the fart is optional.’

‘Oh, right, yes,’ replied the very famous person.

I was hyperventilating.

The Rocket Man had tickets in Box A. Jacob swapped to Aussie back-packer accent to give him directions. No one noticed.

‘And the bar?’ asked the famous person’s partner.

‘Oh, yes, just over near the far queue,’ Jacob replied, with the sturdiest ocker twang he’d ever achieved.

They walked off to the ‘far queue’. (Say it out loud a few times.) We giggled. I enjoyed the luxury of being able to breathe again. The climax of the experiment had just occurred, and watching the famous family walked away, we felt jubilant.

But. Nobody listens. If they do, half the time they hear something other than what you said. Their minds make subconscious corrections, because people are sure; absolutely sure that no one would ever say ‘fuck you,’ to their face like we did. No one would have the audacity, would they?

Would they?

And what if they did?

Then simply ignore it. Pretend it never happened. Remain in polite disbelief.

Seriously though, whenever I go to the theatre, I look out for signs of cheeky ushers. I would absolutely love for one of them to greet me with a cheery, ‘Good Aardvark, madam.’ It would absolutely make my millennia.

And, my reply would, of course, be ‘With a long nose and a hairy snout to you.’


Lorena Otes is a long-time scribbler, fledgling professional writer and up-and-coming author. She has written for Mamamia Online and Bounty Parents. Her memoir manuscript Round After Round was recently runner-up in the Hawkeye Publishing Manuscript Development Prize 2024, so this proves she can write! Lorena is a classical and contemporary dance teacher by profession, an avid Bonnie Tyler fan, and proud mum her four-year-old Bonnie. Yep, she went there with the name; poor kid.

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