The Artist – a taster

In order to give readers an idea what you can expect from The Artist, here is an extract from the book. Crystal has persuaded David to enter the annual Bala Has Talent competition. I am always interested in feedback, whether positive or not:

(Note: The extract has been taken straight from the original proof, and some of the words, particularly those in italics have come out a little oddly in translation, but shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the book.)



Bala Has Talent

Crystal nursed a cup of tea and watched from her window as

the last of the autumn leaves blew like rain-sodden confetti

from trees outside the cottage. The remnants of Hurricane

Harry had arrived in North Wales after crossing the Atlantic

from Bermuda, and a fierce wind whipped up the waters of Llyn

Tegid. White peaks topped the waves that ran across the lake and

crashed against rocks lining the causeway, drenching anyone

foolhardy enough to try and walk along the road.

From the upstairs windows of the cottage she could see that

flooding had caused the River Dee to burst its banks in several

places, turning fields into large ponds that had already become

temporary homes for ducks, seagulls and even a stately swan. A

lone windsurfer sped across the lake’s stormy water.

“Look at that daft bugger! Nice and cosy in here though isn’t

it Perkins?” She turned from the bleak scene outside the window.

Perkins squawked loudly, which she took to be agreement. “Only

eight weeks to Christmas. I just hope the cottage survives the

storm intact. First big test of winter weath—”

A large crash, and a flash that lit up the lane outside, interrupted

her and she gasped in surprise as a wooden electricity pylon fell

to the ground in a tangle of sparks and wires. The cottage lights

flickered, and died, leaving Crystal and Perkins in eerie semidarkness.

The TV stopped and the cottage was oddly quiet, as

background noises from Homes Under The Hammer and the hum



of electrical appliances was silenced. For once even Perkins was

speechless, hiding his head under a wing.

“Don’t worry, Perkins. I’m sure they’ll soon come and fix it –

I’ve got my old camping equipment somewhere.” Crystal tried to

picture where it might be in the jumble of belongings still piled

high in the spare bedroom and the attic. “A torch. That’s what I

need. And I’ll bring some wood inside for the log burning stove.

We don’t really need all these new-fangled things like central

heating, electricity and fridges do we Perkins?… shit, the freezer’s

full of lamb from David’s farm. Better ring him on the mobile…

bugger the old days.”

Crystal punched buttons on her iPhone. “Hello, Mrs Owen.

Sorry to trouble you, but there’s a pylon down in the lane and the

electricity’s off. I wondered if David could spare a moment? Yours

is off too – oh dear… Do you want me to ring back? OK. Thanks.

I’ll wait, if you really don’t mind.”

Sounded a bit grumpy, thought Crystal. She probably just has

a lot on her plate with the electricity being down, but she had

noticed Mrs Owen never seemed very cheerful or friendly during

their short conversations.

She heard Mrs Owen’s footsteps cross the flagged floor of

the farmhouse kitchen to the door, and her shout across the

yard, “Dafydd. Mae Crystal ar y ffôn.” Several minutes passed

before Crystal heard the door open and slam shut, and footsteps

approach the phone.

“Hello, David. I know you must be busy, but as I was just

telling your mum, the electricity’s off and all this lamb in the

freezer is going to start defrosting if it’s not back on soon. How

are you doing up at the farm? Your mum said you were off as


“We’re OK,” said David. “Working farm, you see, so we have a

generator. We’re used to this happening in winter. Last time there

was a storm like this, the electricity was off for nearly a fortnight.

Absolute chaos, and electricity cables down all over Wales, so I

wouldn’t be expecting miracles. You could come and stay here for



a while. Spare room, mind. Mum’s a bit traditional you know.”

“We’ll be all right,” said Crystal, picturing uncomfortable

silences. She suspected Mrs Owen didn’t approve of her, and

certainly wouldn’t take kindly to Perkins’ sometimes colourful

language. “We have the log burner, and a camping kettle

somewhere. Suppose I should have guessed there might be

problems when I found a big box of candles left by the last tenant

in the cupboard under the stairs.”

“I’ll come over when I have a minute, pick up the lamb, and

see you’re OK. I’ve got some lamps and I’m sure I have a kettle

if you can’t find yours. The gas hob’ll still be working, as long as

you have something to light it with, so at least you’ll be able to

make a cup of tea and live on food from the top of the stove for a

bit. Look, I’ll be over as soon as I can, but you can imagine, we’re

pretty busy at the moment.”

Crystal put the phone down and shivered – even though the

temperature in the lakeside cottage hadn’t yet started to drop.

“Welcome to winter in North Wales, Perkins. Just have to make

do – tell you what, let’s play a game – you be Bob Cratchit and

I’ll be Scrooge, sitting with scratchy pens in our unheated home,

with candles making big reflections on the wall.”

“Cobblers,” said Perkins, shuffling on his perch – his

composure now recovered.

“Suit yourself, killjoy.”

* * *

David was proved right, and days later the electricity hadn’t

been restored. The local radio news informed Crystal that

engineers were working flat out to mend broken connections

across North and Mid Wales, but with no timetable for when

the electricity would be back on. She almost began to enjoy the

new simple life. There was no television to distract her, and the

log burning stove cast a merry glow over the living room walls

– bit cold in the bedroom, though, even in her fluffy Beauty and



the Beast jim jams and with an extra duvet on the bed. “This is

all of getting me in the spirit of Christmas, Perkins, but if they

don’t get a move on we’ll be cooking the turkey on the barbecue

outside, or in bits in a frying pan. Tish is in the same boat as us,

but at least she can go and live in the yurt outside the farmhouse

if it gets too cold.”

Tish told her the yurt, put up in a clearing in the wood for

holiday lets, was warm in the coldest weather, even if it was a bit

smoky with the wind in the wrong direction. “Best thing I ever

bought,” Tish told her. She had spotted the Mongolian tent-like

structure on the YurtsRUs website. “Didn’t even need planning

permission as it’s not classed as a permanent structure, and the

grockles love it. What with the alpacas roaming round as well,

we look quite ethnic. Bit mixed up, since they’re from South

America, but most people wouldn’t know an alpaca from a yak if

they fell over one, so we just keep shtum.”

She offered Crystal use of the yurt, but Crystal said she would

rather stay in the cottage. It was only a little over a mile into Bala

town, and she could go and get warm, check her emails and

charge up her laptop at the internet café on the high street. The

farmhouse was miles from anywhere up a narrow, rough track,

which Crystal’s little Honda Jazz found hard going – particularly

in winter, with snow and ice on the road. The last time she

had attempted the road in bad conditions, the car had slipped

backwards into a gorse bush, and had to be towed free by a local

farmer with his Land Rover. Her little car still carried the battle

scars, and she didn’t want a repeat performance.

The sound of letters dropping through the postbox jolted

Crystal from her reverie, and when she peered through the

window, Wayne, the postie, gave her a cheery wave. Crystal

waved back, and smiled as she remembered Wayne’s recent visit

as a client. Soon to retire after more than forty years pushing

letters through boxes in Bala and surrounding areas, he had

commissioned her to paint a picture of him, to send out as cards

for his leaving do at the Glyndwr Arms.



Candlelight cast strange shadows on the old postie’s naked

form as Crystal worked her magic – including the signature

‘enhancement’ which most of her male clients requested – and

gave the painting an almost 3-D effect.

The finished result showed Wayne, naked apart from an oldfashioned

postman’s hat and sack, outside a house with parcels

and letters in both hands and a puzzled look on his face as he

pondered how to announce his presence. Underneath was the



She sifted through the letters he had left on her doormat – mostly

junk mail – but also a letter from best pal Freddie in Manchester,

the address written in characteristic looping handwriting, with

a smiley face after Crystal’s name. I’ll read that with a cup of tea

later, she thought. Looking through the rest of the pile she found

two gems in the general litter of leaflets. With an audible sigh of

expectation, she immediately opened the ‘Presents for Christmas’

catalogue from Such wonderfully silly gift ideas

– a large thermal sock that fitted both feet for relaxing in front of

the fire; a 6-foot tall inflatable Santa for the garden; a set of musical

nappies that played a merry Christmas tune when wet (suitable

for all ages); a nose-hair strimmer; a full-face turkey hat and a

pine tree-shaped stopper to re-seal a bottle of wine once opened

certainly won’t need that one. And that was just page one. David’s

Christmas stocking is going to be really daft this year, she thought,

setting the booklet aside for more detailed research later.

There was also a leaflet that looked like it had been printed

from a home computer, advertising the annual Bala Has Talent

charity show at the old cinema on the high street the week before

Christmas – all proceeds to Children In Need. Contestants

needed. The first prize was a candlelit dinner for two at the Plas-

Yn-Dre restaurant in the town centre and £100 worth of Co-op

vouchers. Now that’s an idea, she thought. What could David and

I do? A Laurel and Hardy double act… no that’s no good – it would

mean coming up with a workable script, and who would play the fat



one? David would insist it be her. Then Crystal remembered when

she and Freddie had wowed all their friends with a rendition of

Sonny and Cher’s ‘I’ve Got You Babe’, at a fancy dress wig party in

Manchester – even if The Bastard Jolyon had unkindly suggested

someone put the cats out. “What do you think, Perkins? Would

David and I be any good?”

Perkins regarded her with a beady eye, but said nothing.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Now all I have to do is persuade

David out of his ‘I’m a strong and silent farmer’ mode, and find

his inner self as a long-haired singer from the 1960s, who – let’s

face it – to our modern eyes looked like a bit of a twat. Just

need some sheepskin to make into sleeveless jackets, a couple

of wigs, and we’re off. If you feel left out, we can always get

you a mini-wig and jacket. How would that be my little Perky

Werky?” she said, tickling him under his beak. He made a

half-hearted attempt to nip her finger, but Crystal laughed and

pulled her hand away.

* * *

That night in bed, Crystal cuddled up close to David, her index

finger casually tracing circles on his chest. “David?” She felt him

tense. Bugger. He was getting to know her too well.

“What? Whatever it is the answer’s probably going to be no,”

he said, defensively snuggling deeper into the duvet until only his

eyes and the top of his head were visible..

“You know you like charity work, helping kids – that kind of


“I do my bit when I can,” he replied – caution in every word

and body signal. “Ran the three peaks last year in a sponsored

race, and this year I took part in the Young Farmers’ sheep

shearing contest. Even came close to beating Myfanwy – would

have but she had a more docile sheep than me. They were both for

charity, and I think they raised quite a bit. That the sort of thing

you were thinking about?”



“Something a bit like that, but not anything nearly as

strenuous, and something we could do together. Please, David.

Please, say you’ll help. Mr Willy thinks I can make it worth your

while.” Crystal slipped her hands under the sheets. “My my,

someone’s already standing to attention, ready to volunteer.”

Sometimes this was just too easy.

“The Welsh are great singers, and all you’d have to do is join

me in a song and dress up a bit – what could be easier?”

“What song? And what sort of dress? I’m not being a woman,

and that’s flat. No matter what you do. Ooooo – stop. OK, tell me

the worst – what is it?”

Crystal produced the leaflet from where she had put it, upside

down, on the bedroom table, and watched as David read it.

“Sonny and Cher – remember them from the old Top of the Pops

re-runs? I think we’d be great. We might even win. You’ve gone

very quiet, David. Speak to me.”

David turned in the bed. “Thank God for that. I thought

I was going to have to be a Pussy Cat Doll or something. You

know what they say – In for a penny, in for a pound. Let’s do


Crystal shrieked with delight. “There are times, David, when

you surprise even me. Come on, give me a hug you big softie.”

* * *

The next day Crystal downloaded a 1965 version of ‘I Got You

Babe’ from YouTube onto her laptop, and began to practice,

singing along to Cher’s vocals and trying to copy her mannerisms.

Bit shaky on the top notes, she thought, but plenty of time before

the show. “God, I wasn’t even born when this was made, Perkins.

Hard to think it was fifty years ago. You not joining in? I know

you prefer something a bit raunchier, but come on. Give me the

old Perkins perch shuffle.” Crystal wiggled her hips to the music.

Perkins regarded her with a cold beady-eyed stare, and a grumpy

shake of his head.



“Killjoy. Get into the spirit, Perkins – it’s nearly Christmas,

and we already have the candlelight – just need the crackers and

the turkey, and a bottle or two of wine… ”

The practice session was interrupted by a knock at the door –

Old Huw standing there cupping his hand to his ear.

. “Come in Huw. I’ll put the kettle on. Any reason for the visit,

or just popping in for a chat?”

“No reason,” said Huw. “I was just passing, and heard what I

thought sounded like someone was in pain. Are you OK?”

“That was me singing, Huw. Cheeky bugger. Perkins and I

thought it was lovely. Didn’t we Perkins? Well, I did anyway. I

was practising for the Bala Has Talent competition just before


“Funny you should say that. I’ve entered too,” said Huw.

“I’m doing my celebrated version of the classic ‘Keep Right On

To The End Of The Road’, but in my native Welsh language and

dressed like the great Harry Lauder – crooked walking stick and

all. First performed for Opportunity Knocks In Bala in 1966 and

in competitions every year since. I have great hopes for a win this

time – fiftieth time lucky.”

Crystal pondered whether she was stating the bleedin’

obvious. “Sounds interesting Huw, but you do realise that Harry

Lauder was Scottish?”

“That’s it. Exactly. Got it in one,” exclaimed Huw excitedly,

his rheumy eyes glowing with enthusiasm. “It’s a sort of Gaelic/

Cymric crossover, if you see what I mean. Leaves people

wondering – makes them think a bit.”

Think, and wonder whether the daft old git’s lost all his marbles,

thought Crystal – but said nothing. If this is the strength of the

competition, David and I have it in the bag – I can almost taste the

fillet steak.

“Any word yet on when the electricity’s going to be on, Huw?”

asked Crystal from the kitchen, as she poured boiling water into

what had once been her mother’s stained old teapot, and reached

for the tin of home-made bara brith.



“Still not got past repairing the downed lines in Dolgellau, I

heard,” said Huw. “Fellow in the Glyndwr Arms last night reckons

it could be another two weeks before they get to these parts –

and he’s one of the men working on the line, so he should know.

He’d had a few, mind, but it was the worst storm in twenty years

for damage, he reckoned. Should be back on before Christmas

though, with a bit of luck.”

“That’s reassuring,” said Crystal. “Let’s just hope we don’t have

another little puff of wind, or a flake of snow falling between now

and then.”

Huw sipped his tea, and wrapped his dentures round a slice of

bara brith. “In the country now, Crystal love. Things happen a bit

more slowly here. Rest of our lives to live – no point in worrying

about little things like a bit of electricity.”

“Need to get some extra staff in – a few Poles up those poles, if

you know what I mean. Be fixed in a week. Rural life is one thing

– I want my leccy back. Go, go, go,” said Crystal in her best Welsh

accent, poking Huw in the ribs. “Anyway, how about giving me a

bit of Harry in Welsh?”

Huw put his cup of tea down, cleared his throat and sang, his

voice filling the tiny kitchen – not exactly Land of My Fathers, but

not bad Crystal had to admit.

On the other side of the room Perkins joined in – bloody

traitorous bird. “Have a bit of bara brith, Perkins. I hope it bloody

chokes you,” she muttered under her breath.

* * *

The day of the competition drew near, and David was finally

persuaded to take it seriously, and join her for an hour’s dress

rehearsal, before leaving to muck out a cow shed or something,

Crystal supposed. Sheepskin jackets, crafted from an old nolonger

fashionable rug, wigs borrowed from the dress shop on the

high street and two pairs of bell-bottomed jeans she had found

online completed the ensemble. Crystal thought David looked



more like a rugby player in drag than Sonny, but kept quiet

in case it put him off – anyway, it added a comic touch to the

performance, she decided.

But for now the show had to take a back seat to work – it

seemed the must-have Christmas present this year in Wales was

a nude painting, and today her clients included an elderly couple

of keen walkers. Beats a selfie in silly hats with tongues hanging

out, thought Crystal, as she consulted her diary. Maybe she would

have to get a waiting room if it got much busier, draft Perkins in as

receptionist. “The artist in residence will see you now. Just leave

your clothes on the chair when you go in,” she imagined Perkins

being trained to say, though he’d have to drop his customary

“bollocks” at the end of the sentence.

Seen more genitalia than the local doctor this month, she

pondered. All shapes, sizes and ages had paraded through her

little studio – now moved from the unheated studio-cum-shed

to the front room until the electricity was back on. The couple,

naturists from Llandudno, were two lovely old ducks – but had

given Crystal quite a task, coping with the nuances of their

wrinkly torsos. Like a couple of Shar Peis, she thought, as she

posed them before the backdrop they had asked for – a picture

of the towering crevices of Cader Idris. Complete with walking

sticks, their tanned but droopy faces were poised over a map, as

if planning their ascent of the mountain that towered over the

market town of Dolgellau. It was a rather surreal scene, thought

Crystal, as she laboured over the canvas to catch every crevice

– on both mountain and subjects. It put her in mind of one of

her favourite Lake District walks, Crinkle Crag. She smiled as she

painted – bit of finishing off needed, but the preliminaries were

almost done. The rest she could complete from memory. “I’ll have

this ready for you in about a week – just need to paint in some of

the backdrop and finish off some of the finer details.”

“That’s fine. We’ll call round and pick it up. It’ll be hanging

over the mantelpiece in time for Christmas dinner with all our

friends,” said the woman.



Crystal pictured the couple and their friends all sitting down

to a naturist Christmas meal – only the turkey arriving at table

with dressing. “You must come walking with us one day,” said

the man. “I saw when we came in that you had a decent set of

boots by the door, and I’m sure you’d enjoy it. From here we could

go on the little railway to Llanuwchllyn, and walk from there to

the summit of Aran Benllyn – it’s about 10 miles of pretty rough

scrambling, but the scenery along the way is spectacular with

views of several mountain ranges, and looking back is Llyn Tegid.

On a clear day I believe you can see all the way to Ireland – not

that there’s many of those. What do you think?”

Both looked expectantly at Crystal, who thought she’d have

to choose a particularly cold day, so everyone would be forced to

dress up warm. She conjured up an image of them striding across

a bleak landscape with no clothes on, everything swinging apart

from the old fellow’s todger – shrunk to nothing in the cold. “That

would be nice, but I’m pretty busy at the moment – what with work,

and rehearsing for Bala’s Got Talent the week before Christmas. I

haven’t even thought about what I’m doing on Christmas Day yet.”

Crystal immediately regretted what she had just said.

“You must come to us,” announced the woman. “We only live

just up the coast, and you can bring a friend if you want – stay the

night, so you don’t have to drive. It would be lovely to see you, and

you can meet all our friends – I’m sure some of them will want

paintings too.”

“I’ll have to talk to David, see what he wants to do,” said

Crystal diplomatically, sure it wouldn’t be eating his turkey in the

buff with a load of old wrinklies.

She was relieved when they finally started clambering into

clothes to make their exit – at least they wouldn’t scare the sheep,

who were munching grass in the field next to the house, on their

way to their car.

* * *



The day before the show, and Crystal woke up with the feeling

something was different, but couldn’t quite work out what, as

she lay snuggled under piled-up duvets. Then she had it – it was

warm. In the background she heard the faint metallic click of a

radiator warming up. The electricity must have come back on,

and automatically fired up the boiler.

She felt slightly sad that the adventure was over – her days

making do without the usual home comforts finished – but

was still relieved when she tried her bedside lamp and found it

worked. “Perkins,” she shouted. “As they would say at Houston

space centre – we have lift off. And it’s my special day to watch

Homes Under The Hammer.”

Nearly nine o’clock, she thought, as she clambered out of bed.

Getting lazy. Must be country living. In Manchester the traffic

always woke her as the rush hour got underway, and she rarely

slept past 7am. Here, there was no noise apart from birdsong and

sheep. Crystal found that now she sometimes slumbered on if she

forgot to set the alarm and the dawn chorus didn’t wake her.

“Lot to do today, Perkins,” said Crystal, as she walked to the

kitchen. “Everything that’s been keeping cool outside needs to go

back into the fridge, and I have to finish off that painting. Droopy

and his mate will be back today to pick it up, and I need to do a

final practice for the show tomorrow night. David’s coming over

later, so I need to go into Bala and get something to eat – and

stock up the fridge again while I’m at it.”

Crystal had been living hand-to-mouth for the past couple of

weeks and realised she would soon have to think about Christmas.

The letter from Freddie, inviting her to spend Christmas with her

and Nigel in Manchester was still on the mantelpiece. They lived in

a luxury apartment near the top of Beetham Tower, Manchester’s

tallest building and one of the highest residential developments

in Europe, with sweeping views over the Cheshire Plains. But

Crystal thought she would prefer to spend it in Bala. She knew

David wouldn’t be able to get away for Christmas, unless he had

his widowed mum in tow, and as a traditional Welsh country



woman, Mrs Owen would be decidedly frosty in the company of

Freddie – loud even by Manchester standards.

Freddie’s usual Christmas cast-list of waifs and strays from

the far corners of the city’s louche set were also a virtual guarantee

of disharmony – she even doubted if David would be able to get

along with them, never mind his mother. Mrs Owen already

seemed to regard Crystal as dangerously bohemian, but just about

tolerated her for the sake of her son. Crystal recalled telling her of

their plans to impersonate Sonny and Cher at Bala’s Got Talent,

and got the look that said “Why would I be surprised, dear?”

No, it would probably be lunch at home, and maybe after that

she and David would hopefully have a little time together. “That’ll

be nice, won’t it Perkins?”

“Can it, schmuck,” said Perkins in perfect imitation of a New

York accent.

Crystal had put the television on for background noise, and

saw that an old James Cagney film was playing on the movie

channel. “I think life was definitely better before the electricity

went back on,” she said.

“Eat lead, sister,” said Perkins.

* * *

The day of the competition finally dawned, and as Crystal enjoyed

her early morning cuppa in bed she saw through her window

that the high winds and rain had returned. Waves again swept

along the lake, and the reed beds on the shore had disappeared

underwater as rivers and streams that fed Llyn Tegid swelled

the lake, and again filled the River Dee almost to overflowing.

Fir trees outside the cottage whipped around like they were in

the midst of a tropical storm and the wind’s melancholy howl

sounded like the agonised cry of a huge beast. Crystal hoped this

didn’t mean another spell without electricity, and she touched the

wooden table at the side of her bed in a superstitious good luck




She and David had practised the song together, and she was

pretty sure they could remember all the words – which were not

exactly complicated. She had the soundtrack to sing along to and

the lyrics written down. They’d be all right, touch wood, but she

might need to hug one of the bloody trees outside for the magic

to really work if David didn’t buck up his ideas, thought Crystal.

She had a bottle of champagne in the fridge in case they won,

and a much cheaper bottle of Spanish Cava, picked up on the

last visit to Aldi in Wrexham, if they lost – in which case the

champagne could wait till Christmas.

Crystal quickly dressed, and sat at her workbench, to put the

finishing flourishes to several commissioned works. The naturist

couple called to collect their painting. She was relieved when they

didn’t repeat their invitation to spend Christmas with them, and

was surprised when she went to the door to wave them goodbye,

to find it was already getting dark. She glanced at the wall clock

and it was 3.30pm, time for a quick snack and to start getting

ready for the competition.

Where had the day gone? David was due in an hour, and the

competition started at 7pm.

Crystal stepped into the shower, luxuriating in the spray

of hot water that splashed over her body. “Thank you, God of

electricity. Long may you be with us.”

Finished, she towelled down, and walked into the spare room

where her outfit was laid on the bed alongside David’s. Quickly

changing, Crystal tied her unruly red locks into a tight bun and

completed the transformation into Cher with the long black wig.

She was applying lots of black mascara to her eyes when she heard

David’s pick-up in the drive.

The door opened, and she heard David’s welcoming call:

“Hello. Where are you?”

“I’m up here,” shouted Crystal in reply. “Come up. I’ve got

your costume ready.”

She heard footsteps on the stairs, and David appeared. “What

do you think?” Crystal treated David to a pirouette.



“Sure you’ll look better than I do,” said David noncommittally

as he struggled into his bell-bottomed jeans, to which Crystal had

added large ornamental metal buttons down each outside seam.

“Must have put a few pounds on since you bought these. I’m sure

they fitted better last time,” said David, struggling with the top


Crystal noticed that, indeed, David’s belly was hanging over

the jeans – crash diet for you, after Christmas, she decided, but

said, “You look fine. Get the wig on and we’re done. Just time for

a quick pint at the Glyndwr Arms – bit of Dutch courage before

the show.”

“You’re surely not suggesting we go in dressed like this,” said

David, regarding himself in the full-length mirror.

“It’ll be fine. Who’s going to recognise you?” said Crystal.

“Come on – live a little, and stop looking like you’re going to a


The Glyndwr Arms was packed when Crystal and David

walked in. Johnny Cash had lined up pints of lager on the

bar, and his companion Dolly Parton downed a pint of Rosie’s

Scrumpy cider. Elsewhere, Crystal noticed what looked like a

very spotty version of One Direction, and Elvis was leaving the

room – heading in the direction of the lavvy. Old Huw turned

and waved. He was dressed in a kilt nearly down to his ankles and

held a walking stick made from what looked like a sturdy piece of

corkscrew willow. “Hello, looks like we have a couple of hippies

here,” he greeted. “Up from Glastonbury for the day in the VW

campervan, are we?”

“Pot and kettle, eh Huw? You look like a hobbit version of

Braveheart without the blue face. Bilbo MacBaggins. Mine’s a pint

of Brains bitter, and David will have the same.”

She glanced round the pub. “Quite a crowd in here tonight,

and most look like they’re here for the show judging by some of

the get-ups.”

Hugh scanned the bar, while he scrabbled in his sporran for

his purse. The landlord Taff was already pulling two pints. “What



is it?” He peered over the bar at their outfits. “Mick Jagger and

Keith Richards?”

“Cheeky bugger,” said Crystal. “Don’t you recognise Sonny

and Cher when you see them?”

Taff looked them up and down. “No. Can’t see it myself.

Could be Max Wall and Tommy Trinder in drag though – that’d

be worth watching.”

“Ho ho ho. Very funny. You won’t be laughing when we’re

heading off for a steak dinner with £100 of Co-op vouchers in our

back pockets,” said Crystal, quickly slurping back her pint. She

noticed the bar was rapidly emptying. “Come on David. Show


* * *

Crystal and David entered the old cinema by a back door,

which had a large placard with an arrow and the single word

‘Contestants’ written on it. The place smelled slightly musty, but

the ancient heating system had been cranked up, and at least it

was warm. Crystal peered through the stage curtains, and saw

the auditorium was filling with people – many of whom she

recognised, but there were also quite a few unfamiliar faces.

Turning, she saw the contestants, who had earlier been taking

a pint or two in the Glyndwr Arms, limbering up for the show.

Old Huw had dug out a small flask from his sporran, and was

liberally lubricating his vocal cords with the contents; Elvis was

practising his stance and curled his top lip as if he had something

stuck in his teeth; and Dolly was busy re-inflating her boobs with

a bicycle pump.

Master of ceremonies, Jones the Butcher, dressed in his best

suit for the occasion, looked more nervous than the contestants

as he fingered the collar of what Crystal guessed was a new

white shirt, still stiff and pristine. She thought his stringy neck

sticking uncomfortably out of the collar gave him the appearance

of an ill-at-ease turtle. “OK. Let’s get this show on the road.” He



turned to the contestants with a strained smile, before stepping

through the curtains to muted applause. “Welcome to Bala’s Got

Talent – the show where a star may be born,” he announced with

little conviction and a definite question mark in his voice. “As

always, your applause on the clapometer decides the outcome.”

The clapometer in this case being Mavis, who served behind the

cooked meat section of Mr Jones’ shop.

“Anyway, let’s get started with Huw – who has appeared in

the show in all its guises over the years, and is our most senior

contestant. Take it away, Huw – this could be your year.”

The curtain opened just in time for the audience to spot Huw

hiding away his flask. “Donald, where’s yer trousers?” shouted

one wag, but old stager Huw chose to ignore him as the backing

track began to play.

He more or less ended in time with the music, and earned

polite applause, but Crystal noticed as he stepped off stage that

Huw’s eyes seemed strangely glazed. She realised he was utterly

pissed, and guided him to a chair in the wings, where he sat with

legs splayed apart, oblivious to the world, and began to gently


Next up was a juggler who dropped all his balls. Elvis split his

trousers – and earned the biggest round of applause so far that

night, and Dolly’s boobs slowly deflated as she told the story of

‘The Coat of Many Colors’. Crystal was feeling quietly confident

when she and David were called to the stage.

They climbed onto a couple of tall stools, and as the music

started, began to sing. Crystal gazed lovingly into David’s eyes,

and David stared back cross-eyed. She suppressed a giggle and

managed to keep in time with the music. David sounds pretty

good, she thought. Hidden talents, that boy.

The crowd fell silent, and as the music finished Crystal felt

a second of panic. Then the applause started. Looking round,

Crystal spotted many of the farming community who had turned

up to support one of their own, clapping, cheering and stamping

their feet. David turned and winked at her – crafty bugger.



“I think we’ve got it in the bag,” whispered Crystal, standing

with her back to the stage.

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” said David, gesturing over her


A thin young girl in a wheelchair slowly propelled herself onto

the stage, and reached out a frail hand to take the microphone

from its stand. There was a collective “Aaaahhhh” from the

audience, as the music started and the pale-faced waif began to

sing the Titanic theme song, ‘My Heart Will Go On’.

“That’s us sunk,” said David, as the child’s wavering voice

filled the hushed auditorium. “She doesn’t have that great a voice

but I doubt anyone cares.”

Half the crowd began singing along, and Crystal saw that

many of the women were openly weeping. Even some of the men

wiped away a tear. The child ended her song with a weak smile

and the audience rose as one in a standing ovation. Crystal could

see that even if the clapometer was Mavis – who sold boiled ham

and gala pies to her on a weekly basis – the chances of winning,

for the rest of the contestants, had just been hit by an iceberg.

Crystal and David joined the applause as the child smiled, and

weakly waved a spindly arm before she was wheeled off-stage by a

large woman with peroxide blonde hair and tattoos on her sturdy

arms, who had appeared from the wings. “Come on David,” said

Crystal. “Let’s get out of these clothes. We’re just in time to catch

last orders in the pub. I’ll buy you a consolation pint.”

Crystal changed into her ordinary clothes, rather glad to put

Cher into a Co-op carrier bag, and went to the Ladies to get the

caked mascara from round her eyes.

As she entered, a young girl in a mini skirt and stiletto heels

was applying carmine red lipstick at the mirror, and with a shock

Crystal realised it was the girl in the wheelchair. “Congratulations

on winning,” she said. “What happened to the wheelchair?”

The teenager’s made-up face contorted into something ugly.

“Listen Grandma. It’s about winning – and there’s nowhere in

the rules to say you can’t use props. Just like that old tosser



with a skirt and stick. It’s a competition – get it? Duh,” she said,

pointing a finger to her head in a gesture that clearly meant she

thought Crystal was an idiot. “Out the way, loser. I’ve got my

winnings to collect.” She brushed past Crystal and walked down

the corridor, the click from her high heels echoing off the bare


“It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part,” shouted Crystal, to

a retreating back.

“Yeah, right,” came the reply.

Over a pint, Crystal related her encounter in the cinema

lavvy to David and Old Huw, who had partly come round from

his earlier alcohol-induced snooze and now nursed a pint of The

Reverend James bitter. “Well, I suppose she had a point,” said

David. “I had some mates from the Farmers’ Union over to give

us a cheer, and I suppose you could say that was cheating a bit.”

“God, David – you are always so reasonable. I suppose it’s

why I like you so much – that and the fact that it’s your round.

Same again for me, and I’ll have a packet of crisps. Are you all

right Huw? You’ve turned a bit green.”