I, am an actress.
Some of you might recognise me from my past performances. Others might know me from theatre, or TV, or more likely, adverts.
But ALL of you will recognise my hands!
What if you imagine them made-up? The addition of a few liver spots, the carefully shadowing of the creases to mimic aged furrows, the way I hold the fingers slightly crooked, an ancient echo of a childhood disease?
I see I’m going to have to explain my main source of acting income in considerably more detail.
I think it was David Duchovny, in Zoolander, who popularised the idea of body part models. People employed for their perfect pearly white teeth, their pleasingly proportioned feet or, more commonly, for their petite hands; elegantly holding aloft a glittering bottle of perfume, a manly aftershave, or a small-mortgage wrist watch.
I’m one of them. Though not just a model. I, am a hand actress.
What I do isn’t all that dissimilar to a stunt double, standing in for a big box-office name during fight scenes or other feats of cinematic daring-do. Except I was a stand in for a octogenarian celebrity chef and instead of being set alight and thrown out of a window, I had to whisk eggs and fold batter.
You don’t really expect Mary Berry to rub butter into flour for the full twenty minutes, do you? Of course not. That was my job.
Though it took me much longer than twenty minutes.
First was the aforementioned make-up. Fact is, I’m thirty-ahem! years Mary’s junior. It takes an hour per hand to add those decades. All in waterproof–and cake mixture proof–makeup. Even then eagle-eyed OAPs occasionally write in to ask what Mary uses to keep her hands so supple.
A hand actress, that’s what.
Then came costume. An exact copy of whatever Mary was wearing that day. Continuity kept busy checking for identically arrayed jewellery, for sleeves rolled up to just the same degree.
And then I’d sit and wait and watch, twiddling my now ancient thumbs as Mary Berry did her bit to the camera, before being whisked off for a nice cup of tea or something stronger. Then I’d step forward, for take after take of beating and chopping and rolling and whatever else the recipe and artistic director called for.
Let me tell you: muscles like an arm wrestler, me. I challenged Paul Hollywood over mince pies at the BBC Christmas party a few years back and he’s been avoiding me ever since.
I was well paid for my work and well fed on the fruits of my–well, our–labours. The finest cakes, biscuits, and pastries. Bloody delicious. I had to be careful not to get too well fed; didn’t want those wrists and fingers to plump up, did we?
So I guess we’re up to date now. As far as July, anyway. Thing is, after the Channel 4/Great British Bake Off debacle at the tail end of last year, I have to admit I was rather nervous. It had been a long, fallow nine months with not a sniff of paid work and the coffers were getting desperately low.
Plus, shortly before the Beeb lost the contract, I’d put in an order for a deluxe new kitchen. The workmen got as far as trashing the old one before the funds dried up. I’d been living out of a microwave ever since and it was my turn to host the extended family’s annual Yuletide party.
So, when the call came in for a one-off Mary Berry special, I was mightily relieved. Christmas was saved, along with the granite work surfaces.
If there was any residual uncertainty, it was because the special wasn’t the GBBO. Whoever the TV company was, it was a ramshackle, shoddy affair. A long way from the production values I was used to. When the glitter and candles and soft focus came into play I supposed it’d look all right, but adrift in the midst of a British summer the tinsel-bedecked location house in deepest, darkest Deptford looked distinctly tawdry.
A new company meant a new makeup girl, working off the latest photos of Mary’s hands, faffing around wanting to do a good job. Then a cock-up in costume; a mislaid pale blue cashmere cardie. All of which meant that by the time I was ready Mary Berry had pissed off to the local pub.
Or so I was told, anyway.
As the Eastern European director–a mono-syllabic, grizzle-faced brick shithouse of a man who gave his name as “Jakub”–instructed me in the required actions, things began to get a bit… weird. Rolling pins, fine. But rolling pins covered in motion capture dots? A rolling pin that needed lubricating? That’s just…
And piping bags not shaped like the usual funnels but domes. With pink nozzles. Almost mammary.
Weirdest of all, where was the cake mix? You can’t do much with just squirty cream, surely?
When the next item came out I nearly threw myself out of the fake French windows. I guess Jakub had been waiting for my reaction, because he beckoned me over to wardrobe, now vacated. Indicated a chair in front of the mirror. Stood behind me, solid girth reflected in triplicate, meaty hands drenched in gold sovereigns gripping the back of my seat.
“Before you ask, two thousand pounds.”
“For what?” I asked, while I thought longingly about my free standing kitchen island.
“For not asking.”
Well, after that, my task became a heck of a lot simpler. Whatever they gave me I kneaded or pulled, stroked or polished.
Mostly, I have to admit, with my eyes firmly closed.
Despite having been in showbiz since winning a beauty contest at Butlins at the tender age of sixteen, despite being a chorus girl for two and a half seasons, despite having been invited to road test the springs on far too many casting couches, I suppose I’m a relative innocent. I didn’t know anything about Virtual or Augmented reality. It didn’t really surprise me to hear that these new technologies had already been turned to the dark side, had warped from entertainment to porn, though it was news to me that anyone would want to imagine being tugged off by an imaginary Mary Berry.
Each to their own, I say. My name doesn’t appear anywhere on the downloadable Oculus Rift application and my beautiful kitchen was finished well before the annual feast. I even put in one of those instant boiling water taps.
And so now I watch, proudly, as the catering firm peel away the last sheet of protective cling film. In half an hour or so, the first family members will arrive. I can’t wait to see their envious faces.
Though it is a shame that the cakes are unadorned and there seems to be no room on the custom cut counter for the traditional sherry trifle.
You see, I’m afraid I can’t bear to even look at whipped cream.
Not until next Christmas, anyway.
o o o
is an Oxford Physics graduate and award winning London based writer. His short story “Ana”, appears in Best of British Science Fiction 2016 (NewCon Press) and his twisted fantasy collection, “Happy Ending Not Guaranteed”, is published by Arachne Press. Find out more at http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk/, or tweet @LiamJHogan
Liam’s Christmas song for Open Pen: