Victoria Summerley: Town Life

'There's something about a high-kicking fortissimo finale that leaves everybody feeling upbeat'
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The Independent Online

I love musicals. In our household, any kind of family celebration is an excuse to go to see something that involves singing and dancing and sumptuous sets. There's something about a high-kicking fortissimo finale that leaves everybody feeling upbeat and in the mood to enjoy themselves.

So I was looking forward to this season's offerings, which include, among other things,The Sound of Music. This is a must, if only to discover one thing. You know the scene where Maria makes play clothes for the children out of her bedroom curtains? I want to see how big the windows in the average Austrian governess's room are, because she'd need a hell of a lot of curtains to make clothes for seven children.

Think about it. Each child would probably require at the very least four metres of fabric in order to make a shirt and either trousers or a skirt, not to mention the odd nifty waistcoat or headscarf. That's 28 metres altogether. The girls would probably need more, for all those dirndl skirts. There are five girls, so say another five metres, plus another couple of metres for pattern-matching and facings and so on. That's 35 metres.

Now think about the size of the average window. As someone who has furnished the odd house or two in my time, I can tell you that most manufacturers today consider that 2.5m is about the widest window you will have in your house, and that the longest drop you will need is 2.25m. (This is roughly the size of the average pair of patio doors.) For this you'd buy a pair of curtains each measuring 2.75m x 2.25m. That's a total of 12.375m. Say you had two of these windows, you'd still only have 24.75m of fabric. Even allowing for the fact that Maria lived in aschloss, she'd still be unlikely to have more than one window in her bedroom. At this rate, poor little Marta and Gretl will have nothing to wear.

And another thing. Where did all the buttons come from? And how on earth did she get the boys to wear clothes made out of old curtains? I can just imagine the reaction if I tried to get my son into a jaunty outfit composed of pink damask. It's pretty difficult to get him into anything that doesn't involve jeans, a black T-shirt and a pair of Converse All-Stars. Anyway, I'm longing to know how Andrew Lloyd-Webber has handled this tricky conundrum. Perhaps he gets Mary Poppins to nip over in a taxi from the Prince Edward Theatre during the interval. Never mind How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria. How do you solve the problem of the soft furnishings shortfall?

Today is Wednesday 15 November, which means that to date we have endured around a month of pyrotechnic bombardment in Battersea and Wandsworth. It starts around mid-October, when the parents of any child who has a birthday falling near half-term, or Halloween, or Diwali, decide that they might as well make the celebration a fireworks party.

Then there is the full-blown Shock and Awe of Bonfire Night itself, which encompasses the weekend before 5 November, the weekend of 5 November and possibly the weekdays in between, depending on your local authority and its programme of displays. We live at the top of a hill, so the sound effects of any of the municipal fireworks are doubled, echoing off the backs of the houses in neighbouring streets to provide a kind of explosive, surround-sound Sturm und Drang.

The remaining weekends in November are also likely to resound with big bangs, though by the end of the month there might be a bit of a lull until the middle of December, when Christmas parties are enlivened with the odd mortar attack or ear-splitting cannonade.

Then it all builds up again to another fireworks spectacular on 31 December, at which point, far from welcoming in the new year, you want to welcome in the council's noise pollution officer. And just when you've recovered from that, it's Chinese New Year (on 18 February 2007 to be precise). That's five months of intermittent explosions.

Whatever happened to the days when you oohed and aahed at a sedate Catherine wheel or roman candle at the end of the garden on 5 November while clutching a (silent) sparkler?

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