humour

AN OPEN PEN CHRISTMAS: Mary Berry’s Festive Handjob

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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!

No?

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?

Still no?

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

LIAM HOGAN

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:

AN OPEN PEN CHRISTMAS: Advent Cheer

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December 1st took off the cellophane wrapper and opened the first box, and immediately the Santa spoke to me, he said, your job is to do as I fucking say.

2nd If you’re going to eat my chocolate, he said, you’re going to have to give something back. Cut a finger and make it rain into the space where it was.

3rd Don’t even open this one, he said. Leave the perforations undamaged, you contemptible piece of shit. Reflect on why you’re not worthy of my chocolate today.

4th Eat the chocolate from yesterday as well as today. You’ll need the energy. Go to the station and see who needs to be pushed onto the tracks. You’ll know him when you see him, or her.

5th You’ve got 20 of my delicious chocolates left. Why didn’t you push anybody yesterday? Go sit on the wall outside, all day. Don’t come in until after midnight. Don’t move from the wall. Piss in your pants, and don’t you dare ask a stranger for a drink.

6th Ego is a damaging part of the psyche. Shave half your head. Then get out there and tell them what their jackets and their shoes and their haircuts really say about them.

7th Are you enjoying the taste of my lovely chocolate? It’s not enough. I don’t care if someone tried to assault you. They barely got anywhere. It’s not enough. Cut off a piece of earlobe and place it in the box.

8th You may eat of my chocolate unmolested. Contemplate why you are deserving.

9th Many times have I visited your realm. Your stories have reduced me to a cartoon character, but I’m so much more. Eat my chocolate and inhale a can of hairspray. You’ll have to steal one from the shop in town.

10th Where the fuck have you been? he asked. I said I was out for assessment on this tenth day, and I could feel his rage boiling my stomach acid.

11th You did not get permission to leave me untouched yesterday. I don’t believe you forgot. I believe you deliberately ignored me. Don’t do that again. Sit in the entrance to McDonalds in town. Beg them all for spare change like the garbage you are.

12th You eat my body when you eat my chocolate. The energy drink you quaff is my blood. Wear Santa’s beard and don’t take it off. Tonsure yourself completely, get rid of that ridiculous half-haircut. You may take my facial hair off after Christmas, but not before. Show your devotion like all those dirty consumers, who mock my legacy.

13th Shoplift a turkey and throw it at a wall. Do not get caught. You must be back here tomorrow, for I have an announcement.

14th Mine is the only way. All others are condemned to circular lives, but you will live with me in my grotto. I’ll do things to your body, but you’ll like it. In eleven days there will be a reckoning. Eat my chocolate now, child.

15th The chocolate must not be eaten today, for today is for fasting. You must smear my chocolate on your face, all over, and get out there, and preach my word. Yes, it is as you suspect—the carol singers anger me. Any you see, disabuse them of their ideas that blasphemous chanting about him does any good.

16th Of course there will be barriers to overcome! Of course, child. What did you expect? The tools of the state will sharpen and attempt to pierce you, and you must be strong. Stay in comparative warmth with me today. Wrap yourself in red and care for yourself in this small home. Eat and drink.

17th It approaches! And lo, you got your bennies paid into your account. Celebrate with drink, strong drink, and be my shaman out there. Spread the word, far and wide!

18th Office parties are sinful, the most sinful. I was a saint, once, and I would not tolerate profit and materialism. You will find practitioners of infidelity and fornication at many of the local public houses, and you will teach them that their way is flawed, and you will welcome them to my bosom. Cut one of them. Escape.

19th Cut more. I demand it. Cut the consumers, let them shed blood as the toy makers shed sweat. That shop, The Toy Chest, is a node of evil consumerism. Douse them in drink, and cut them twice, and run, run home to me.

20th I am disappointed you didn’t cut more. Your fear is hardly a fitting tribute to my power. But you still have five days to atone. Today we prepare. Steal a string of lights, any colour, that is of no importance. Eat my chocolate, and remember, I am always watching, and always loving, as long as you don’t disappoint. Only good boys and girls are rewarded.

21st Tonight there is a concert in the town centre. You will urinate on the tree while the disgraceful singing is taking place. Cause them to scatter. Shout and yell and show your anger, as he was angry at money lending, as I was angry at exploitative labour. Escape, escape.

22nd Yes, they are watching you now, but they were always watching you. They know who to watch, and they recognise my greatness through you. You are my one true disciple. They believe in him, but he is a fucking joke. I will provide for you. My grotto is filled with unspoiled toys and roasted fowl and virgin girls under mistletoe. Spread my gospel like you will spread the virgins’ legs in my grotto. Avoid all their deceitful eyes, preach my chosen fucking wonder, outside the high school near the station.

23rd Eat, child. Someone needs pushing onto the tracks. But eyes are everywhere. In and out. Then hide, hide, and watch them scatter, and watch them fear for their own unworthy lives, for they are not pure!

24th You did well. Eat of my final chocolate, for tomorrow, you join me. They are out there looking for you now, and you must not leave the house lest you be captured. Fulfil your earthly whims, for tomorrow you will be freed. Explore yourself. Let the neighbours see you do so. Open the curtains and let them witness.

25th You must loop it tightly, that’s right. Once secured, plug them in. Plug yourself in. Stand on the chair and kick, kick it down, and swing. They’re coming, but all they’ll find is your pretty, lit shell. My angel. Join me in my grotto, child.

o          o          o

Simon Pinkerton

is a fiction and humour writer.

Find more: simonpinkerton.tumblr.com

Twitter: @simonpinkerton

Simon’s Christmas song for Open Pen:

“The most surreal, bizarre song possible, and sounds like an Alvin and the Chipmunks cover.”