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Who’s got Talent? Part Three: Where is Arthur?

Copyright J. S. Raynor 2010, 2017

Chapter One

After her extra-ordinary experience singing for the Queen at the Royal Variety Show, Kimberley Raynor’s life could be described as anything but ordinary.  Sales of her single, the Carpenters’ “Top of the world”, were climbing steadily, thanks to the efforts of Simon Growl’s huge marketing machine.  She had, with the head teacher’s permission, taken more time off from school to promote both her single and album.

Songs on her album were a mix of some of the best Carpenters’ and “Smile”, Lilly Allen’s creation.  In addition, Simon had managed to convince Lilly Allen to write several new songs especially for Kimberley’s debut album.

It seemed very strange to actually appear on the programmes she had listened to for years, but, by now, she was becoming more relaxed when talking to disc-jockeys or presenters.

BBC’s Radio Two had put her single on the play list, guaranteeing many plays, but, to be in the London studio, talking to Steve Wright was one of the most special moments of her life.  She found every person in the studio to be helpful and friendly.  Steve did not really believe in magic and asked about Arthur and all the strange happenings which surrounded him.  She could tell from the tone of his voice that, like the astrological predictions he featured on Mondays, he did not have to believe in everything his visitors told him.

Kimberley answered honestly that every event mystified herself as much as everybody else,

Steve was particularly interested in the strange events on the Royal Variety Show, where Arthur and Karen Carpenter had turned from screen images into three-dimensional, real people, even though both characters had died many years before Kimberley was even born.

“It was so strange.  I held their hands, which felt just like anybody else’s.  They even felt warm to the touch.”

“Really?”  Steve still sounded sceptical. “Are you sure that Simon didn’t get look-alikes for the effect?”

“Definitely not!”  She felt a little hurt that Steve still doubted her.  “You didn’t see the look on Simon’s face as I came off the stage.  He was as surprised as anybody.”

As soon as Kimberley finished this statement, she felt the now-familiar tingling on her ring finger and knew, instinctively, that Arthur was about to prove a point.  She wondered just what Arthur would do, but was still taken by surprise.

Steve began coughing uncontrollably, his face turning bright red, while his cheeks puffed up to enormous proportions.  Tim Smith rushed to Steve’s aid, slapping the presenter hard on the back.  After a few forceful thumps, the shock did the trick and something small and black shot out of Steve’s mouth.

It was only when it landed on one of the faders that the object could be seen clearly.  It was a miniature black, bowler hat, now perched, at a jaunty angle, amidst the controls on the mixing desk.  As everybody stared at it , the hat began to enlarge, until it was full-size.

Steve stared incredulously at the object.  “How…?  I don’t understand…”

It was Janey Lee Grace who put the obvious conclusion into words.  Laughing, she said, “I think Arthur is proving the point made by Kimberley.  You wanted proof and now, you’ve got it!”

Steve was obviously shaken and picked up the perfectly-formed bowler hat, turning it round and round, as if inspecting it thoroughly.  For once, the experienced presenter was lost for words.  Pulling himself together, he perched the bowler on top of his head, propped up by his large BBC headphones.  He gave a weak smile of acceptance.  “Yes, well, thank you, Kimberley, for coming on the big show and we all wish you every success with your recording career.”  Still flustered, he needed a diversion and played some music for the listeners, while he regained his composure.

Kimberley smiled as she left the studio to join her mum.

“What was all that about, Kim?”  She had been watching through the control room window and knew there had been panic for a few minutes.

“Oh, it was just Arthur proving to Steve that magic is real.  I think he may believe in it, now.”

There were no such problems when she appeared on Radio One’s top forty countdown and Kimberley was thrilled to find that her single had reached number four.  Even her album was at number five, which was better than she had expected, considering the competition for the top spot.

Simon had warned Kimberley not to expect huge sums of money instantly.  Revenue gathering was a slow process and commissions had to be deducted before she received her own royalties.  In truth, Kimberley did not mind as she still had most of the £100,000 invested for her future.  Life was good and as she went to many places around the country, promoting her album, she enjoyed traveling in style and staying in luxurious hotels.  Her mum had become traveling companion, chaperon and organiser for the heavy schedule, but Kimberley did miss her dad and brother.

At last, the promotions were over and she was able to get back to a reasonably normal life.  It was even a relief to return to school and see her friends.  Maddie and Charlotte had heard her interview on the radio and laughed at the weird happenings.

Apparently, much to the annoyance of Steve Wright, someone had made a video of him coughing up the bowler hat which expanded to full size and, with clever editing, it showed him again swallowing the hat in a never-ending cycle.  This video had been put on U-Tube and succeeded in attracting millions of hits from all over the world.

Kimberley smiled to herself every time she thought of this incident.  Somehow, she seemed to have gained Arthur as a guardian angel, but why her?  In an attempt to discover the reason, she spent hours on the internet, researching every bit of information she could find about Arthur Stanley Jefferson.

He was born in his grandparent’s house at 3 Argyle Street in Ulverston on sixteenth June, eighteen ninety and, during his childhood moved to Bishop Auckland, Tynemouth and Glasgow.

His parents, Arthur and Madge, were both very active in the theatre, which, presumably, influenced the young Arthur.  By the age of sixteen, he was performing on the stage at the Britannia Music Hall in Glasgow and, when he was twenty, he joined the Fred Karno’s Troup, which included Charlie Chaplin.  Then, he toured America and changed his stage name to Stan Laurel.  Later, he met Oliver Hardy and, together, they made many films and became world-famous.

Arthur married four times and had a Daughter Lois who was born in nineteen twenty-seven.   A son was born two years later, but he died at only nine days old.  Arthur died twenty-third of February, nineteen sixty-five at the age of seventy four.

After Kimberley had finished reading all the information, she sat quite still, deep in thought.  “But, I still can’t find a link.  There must be something, but, what?”

As she said this, Kimberley stared in amazement at the mirror above her dressing table.  Words were appearing, in bright red lettering.  When complete, it read, “For what it is worth, start with the place of birth, enlarge the space a bit and everything will begin to fit.”

She read the lines a few times and, with sudden inspiration, she grabbed her mobile phone and took a photo of the writing on her mirror.  It was disappointing to discover that, when she looked at the recorded image on the screen, it was a very good picture of her mirror, but the writing was not visible.  Then as she looked again at the mirror, the writing began to fade until no trace of the message was left.

After this, Kimberley used Google to check on the house in Ulverston.  A Mrs. Radcliffe lived at the house where Arthur had been born.  Apparently, she had once put the house up for sale, but withdrawn it when she realised just how much she would miss the famous landmark.

With no evidence of the cryptic message to show anybody, Kimberley made a note of the message as well as she could remember it.  Then she ran downstairs to ask a question.  “Mummy, can we go and have a look at the house where Arthur was born?”

“Why do you want to go there?”  Kimberley’s mum was puzzled by the interest in Arthur.

“I still don’t know why he is helping me and I feel that, somehow, the answer lies there.”

“Okay, if you feel that it would be helpful.  We can go there next Sunday.”

“Thanks, mum.”

 

Chapter Two

The rest of the week seemed to pass very slowly for Kimberley.  When Sunday eventually arrived, she was excited, but also a little nervous as to what she would find at Arthur’s birthplace.  She watched, with interest, as they drove into Ulverston and they found the house without much difficulty.

It was a stone-fronted, terraced house, which had a plaque to the side of the front door.  Kimberley hoped that, in time, she would be famous enough to have a similar plaque near the door of the house where she had lived as a child.

Mrs. Radcliffe, a friendly woman in her nineties, opened the door after only a short while.  She noticed Kimberley craning her neck to look up at the plaque.  “Somebody stole the original a year or two ago, so we had a new one made and put it a bit higher.  Please come on in.”

Kimberley’s mum had phoned to check if they could see the house and Mrs. Radcliffe had agreed without hesitation.  They entered into a small hallway with stairs leading to the first floor and a doorway into the living room.

It was a typical, small terraced house, where space was quite limited, yet it had a friendly, homely atmosphere.  Several photos of Stan Laurel adorned the walls and, looking at them, Kimberley recognised the man  who she met at the talent show from the photos taken later in his life.

“What started your interest in Stan Laurel?” Mrs. Radcliffe inquired.

“It was when I auditioned for ‘Britain’s got something extra’.  This man auditioned at the same time and I knew there was something very unusual about him.  But, to explain better, I’d like to show you something.”  Kimberley had brought her portable DVD player, which she opened and pressed the buttons to begin playing a recording.

When Mrs. Radcliffe saw Arthur on stage displaying his magical talents, she gasped.  “But that’s Stanley!  But, how?”

Kimberley replied, with a smile, “He introduced himself as Arthur Jefferson, But Simon Growl did some checking and realised that Arthur and Stan Laurel were the same person, but forty-five years after his death.

Mrs. Radcliffe was visibly shaken, sitting back in her chair.  “I don’t understand!”

Kimberley continued.  “From all the photos of Stanley, how old would you say he was when the programme was shown?”  She paused the recording to show his face in as much detail as possible.

Mrs. Radcliffe pondered on this question.  She brought out more photos and held each of them close to the screen, comparing the images.  Satisfied with the comparison, she said, “My guess would be that he would be in his late forties.  Perhaps forty-eight or nine.”

“Did anything significant happen in his life around that time?  Say around nineteen thirty eight or nine.”

Mrs. Radcliffe looked apologetic.  “I’m not an expert on the whole of his life.  I just happened to buy the house in which he was born.  His daughter, Lois, is in her eighties, now, but I understand that she still answers questions about her father on a web site.  If you Google ‘Louis Laurel-Hawes’, I’m sure you will find it.”

Kimberley felt disappointed, but, then, had a sudden idea.  “How old would Lois have been when Stan was in his late forties?”

Mrs. Radcliffe looked thoughtful.  “Stan was thirty-eight when Lois was born, so I suppose she would have been about eleven years old.  Why?”

“There could be a connection with me.  I was eleven when I first met Stan and my middle name is Lois.”

“Really?  Stan was very close to his daughter and , perhaps you reminded him of Lois.”  Mrs. Radcliffe began to leaf through many photographic albums.  “Yes!  There we are!”

Kimberley looked, with curiosity, at the photo Mrs. Radcliffe was pointing to.  The girl in the picture could have been about eleven years old and had similar looks to Kimberley.

“That is Lois when she was about your age and, even with my poor eyesight, you look very much alike.  She has been to visit here twice while I have lived in this house, but I don’t think she travels much, now.”

Kimberley had a sense of excitement to think that Lois had been in that very room and felt curious about the possible link between Stan’s daughter and herself.  “Do you mind if I look through this album for a few minutes?”

“You are welcome.  Just be careful as they are getting a bit fragile, now.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll take great care.”  Kimberley soon became absorbed in the mass of amazing photos of Stan and his family.  Her mum was talking to Mrs. Radcliffe, but Kimberley was concentrating so hard that she heard nothing, being lost in deep thought as she looked, fascinated through the album.

 

Chapter Three

Eventually, she lifted her head, only to discover that she was on her own.  Something strange had happened.  Somehow, the room felt different.  Alarmed, she stood up and walked to the door separating the living from the dining area.  “Mum!”

She pushed open the door, expecting to find the two women chatting.  Instead, she discovered that it was not a dining area, but a huge, brightly-lit room.

She wandered in, looking in all directions.  It was, by far, the most weird room she had ever entered.  She could see no light fittings, yet the ceiling, if there was one, was as bright as the sky on a hot, sunny day.  The ground was not flat, but had huge mounds, which reminded Kimberley of sand dunes in a remote desert.  In the middle of all these mounds was a solitary slide similar to that found in a children’s playground, though it was much bigger.

She thought back to the words written on her mirror.  “For what it is worth, start with the place of birth, Enlarge the space a bit and everything will begin to fit.”  She was at the place of birth and the space had certainly expanded a lot.

Kimberley felt compelled to wander over to the steps and, then, almost in a trance, she, bravely, climbed the many steps to the top of the slide.  As she looked down, she could not see the end of the slide, yet she still sat at the top, holding on to the frame.

She did feel frightened, but a calming voice said, “Let yourself go, Kimberley, and enjoy the ride.”

As soon as she let go, she wished she hadn’t.  She shot down the slide at high speed and felt certain that she was about to crash.  Instead, the end was nowhere in sight as she slid down past what should have been ground level.

Kimberley had closed her eyes when she was sliding at high speed towards what she thought would be the bottom of the slide, but, as she slowed a little, she, gingerly, opened her eyes again.  She was amazed to see a flat stage area to her right, on which seven dwarfs were marching and singing, while Snow White was waving.  Kimberley realised this was what she had seen during Arthur’s illusions on the talent show.

Then she heard the fairground organ and following the sound, saw the huge roundabout with horses rising and falling.  Then she noticed a figure on one of the horses.  The person waved at Kimberley and she recognised Amanda Wholesome, smiling radiantly.

Kimberley was still falling down the slide, but her speed had slowed, presumably to allow her to see the spectacular scenes.  A drum roll startled her and she turned to see the dogs walking the tightrope.  Even more strange, Arthur was also walking on the same tightrope, while lifting his bowler hat and waving towards the bewildered girl.

Watching all these performances was a huge audience made up entirely of teddies, all cheering and clapping enthusiastically.

Even more weird, brightly-coloured tropical fish, all wearing sun-glasses, appeared to be swimming all around Kimberley without actually touching her, yet there was not a drop of water.  The fish were literally flying, though leisurely as though they were in a deep tropical ocean.  She also noticed that , on some fish, a tiny, glittering, Tinkerbelle-like fairy was sitting, as though riding side-saddle on horse-back.

The slide was not straight, but curving to both left and right as she continued on this strangest of journeys.  Then she saw the boys from the bus being juggled by the huge hands of a gigantic smiling teddy bear, similar to the one she had seen in London.  Each boy had a look of absolute terror on his spinning face as they continued turning, endlessly.

Kimberley slowed a little more as she came to another scene, which startled her even more.  It was herself in her room at home and she was sobbing uncontrollably.  There was no sound apart from her sobs and, suddenly, Kimberley remembered the occasion.

Struggling to speak through her tears, the second Kimberley said, “Please God, help me!  I want to do well at this talent show, but I’m terrified of failing.  If there is such a thing as a Guardian Angel, I need one right now.  In two days time, I will be at the audition for “Britain’s got something extra” and, I feel certain that I won’t be able to sing even a note.”  Kimberley had forgotten just how desperate she had been, but this scene emphasised her feelings of despair, at that time.

She seemed to pause at this scene for ages, but, then she started sliding downwards, yet again.  Then, at last, she saw the end of the slide and braced herself for a bump.  It never came.  She slid, gracefully to a halt and was able to step off the end of the slide.  Confusingly, she was in the same area where she had started.

Kimberley walked around some sand dunes, looking for a way out of this strange maze.  She had no idea where to go and hoped that she would not be lost in there for ever.

Then she saw him.  Arthur was sitting in a comfortable chair, while another chair at his side was empty.  Somehow, the fact that Arthur was sitting, comfortably, in a chair in the middle of a desert area did not seem so unusual.  He scratched his head, smiled and beckoned her to sit in the vacant chair.

“Do you understand, now, the connection you have been looking for?”

Kimberley smiled.  She liked to hear his voice as it was calm and re-assuring.  “I think so.  I guess you are my guardian angel, but, why am I so lucky?”

“When you were crying and desperately pleading for a guardian angel, your voice was heard.  Many wanted to help, but I volunteered, as you reminded me of my Lois, when she was about your age.”

Kimberley looked grateful.  “Thanks for everything you have done for me.  I really could not have managed without your help.  Does this mean that you will no longer be looking after me?”

The simple, yet re-assuring smile appeared again.  “That is up to you.  Do you want me to?”

“If it is possible, I would love it if you would continue helping me when I need it.  I would really miss you if I did not have any further contact.”

“Anything is possible when your heart is in the right place.  Babe has taken to you, as well.”

Kimberley looked amazed.  “Really?”  Babe was the nickname Stan Laurel used for Oliver Hardy, his partner in the many films they had made together.

“Oh, yes.  He likes to hear you singing.  You do have a good voice and just lacked the confidence.  All I did was to create a few diversions with all the illusions.”

Kimberley stood up and gave Stan a hug of gratitude.  “Thank you so much for everything.”

“That’s okay.  If you ever feel that you don’t want my help any more, just take off your ring.  That’s all you have to do.”

Kimberley looked down at the glittering ring.  “Nobody else can see it, you know.”

“But you can.  And, don’t worry – it will never feel tight, even when you are grown-up.  Now, you had better find your mother.  Be good to her!”  He pointed towards one of the smaller sand dunes.

“I promise, Arthur.  Thanks for everything.  Goodbye!”  She waved as she walked in the direction he had pointed.  She walked around the dune and saw a door just standing in the middle of a large, flat, sandy area.  Gingerly, she approached the door and pushed it open.  Kimberley walked through into the front room of number 3, Argyle Street.

Her mum and Mrs. Radcliffe were sitting, talking.  They both looked up as Kimberley entered the room.  “Are you alright?” her mother asked, seeing the look of shock on her daughter’s face.

“Yes.”  She sounded distant, as though deep in thought.  Then, it was as if she had come to a sudden decision.  “Mum!  Come and look in this other room.”

Her mum and Mrs. Radcliffe stood up and walked with Kimberley to the now-closed door.  Kimberley gasped in amazement as the door was pushed open.  It was a typical dining area with another door to the small kitchen, that one would find in  many small, terraced houses.

“Yes.  What about it?”  Her mum was uncertain what she was supposed to be looking at.

“Oh!”  The young girl sounded disappointed.  She realised that what she had seen was for her eyes only.  “It’s nothing.  I thought I had seen something, but, perhaps, I was mistaken.

She seemed to be far away in thought as the two older women chatted, contributing little to the conversation.  Eventually, they thanked Mrs. Radcliffe for her hospitality, deciding that they had taken up enough of her time.

She insisted that they sign the visitors’ book, which included many famous names.  Kimberley and her mum gave the elderly lady a  hug of gratitude and returned to their car, ready for the homeward journey.

Kimberley’s mum noticed that she was unusually quiet during the journey home.  “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine.  I think the visit helped me to understand the connection, at last.  Apparently, I reminded Stan Laurel of his daughter, when she was about my age.”

“Really?  How do you know?”

Kimberley had to be careful.  She realised that Arthur did not want her to explain the strange events to anybody else.  “The photos in the albums showed that Lois and I are very similar in appearance, so, I guess that is the simple explanation.”

Her mum was not absolutely convinced by this, but could tell that her daughter seemed more relaxed about all the strange events of the last year.

When they arrived home, it was six-fifteen and Kimberley quickly switched on the radio, tuning it to Radio One.  The top-forty programme had reached number eight and it was not her own.  Anxiously, she waited, listening closely to every song, expecting to hear her own any minute.  She listened intently, not daring to move in case she missed anything.  When the chart reached number three and it was still not her song, she felt that her song must have fallen down the charts.  When it came to the number two spot, the D.J. teased the listeners, pausing before revealing the last two songs.

Kimberley was both shocked and amazed when he teased the audience even more by asking, “Can twelve-year old Kimberley Raynor with her song, “Top of the world” beat off the stiff competition to reach number one?”  After a pause which was far too long, he played number two and, miraculously, it was not Kimberley’s.

“Mum!  Dad!  I’m number one!”  The beaming smile on her face said everything.

“That’s fantastic!”  Her mum gave her a hug.

“I never thought that my daughter could be at the top of the charts.”  Her Dad joined in the hug.

Kimberley smiled as she looked past her parents. What they could not see was a dazzling display of many tiny, fairy-like  figures dancing, excitedly, in mid-air, behind her parents. “Thanks, Arthur.”

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