‘When in disgrace with poor puns and men’s sighs’ It was on a trip to the beautiful countryside of Warwickshire, visiting the birthplace of the greatest writer in history, that I came across a curious irony. Here I was, in the home of the world’s unsurpassed wordsmith – one William Shakespeare – only to witness the worst play on words ever perpetrated. In the centre of the town of Stratford upon Avon, a toy shop had taken its reference point from the immortal Bard, presumably to emulate the town’s lexical legend, and came up with a ‘pun’ that really defies belief in its conception. The name of this establishment? Much Ado About Toys. I was in a pub at the time, directly across the street from this store, and contemplated that I might be completely Falstaffed off my tits. I actually did a double-take. On an entire building. But there it was, clear (and unclear) as day: Much Ado About fucking Toys! My companion and I, recently enriched by a performance of A Winter’s Tale at Stratford’s Other Place Theatre, were left in the cold – and lost for words – by, um, this baffling non-clever badness of word making-upage so as to not know how to, like, say what we was thinking about what to say about it all. And that. You could say it literally and figuratively rendered us dumb. Literary dexterity had imploded. Much. Ado. About. Toys. There it stood, across the street like some colossal fuck-you to the English language – a torn out brown-stained page from the Complete Works wherein Hamlet now seems to utter forth the phrase “Turds, turds, turds”. What’s the matter indeed. Caught in a quandary, under the looming shadow of this lexical pun-ishment, the thought occurs that this is a place that could, if it wanted – or indeed had the talent to – indulge itself in as much wordplay as it desired. On the heels of that, suddenly a whole new town o-puns up. Much Ado About Toys, I decide, should have been called The Play’s The Thing, and after that I declare myself the newly elected mayor of Stratford a-pun Avon, and it’s time to go to town in my own little Shakespearean metaworld… First up, as with any visit to a strange new place, one needs to find out where the hell one is. So it’s off to the tourist information office, the aptly named Strat Is The Question, itself flanked by the public toilets, To Pee Or Not To Pee, on the left, and As You Might Shit, stage right. Exeunt indeed. Pursued by a bear… in the woods, presumably. Down Main Street, my mayoral self decides to exorcise this Much Ado fiasco once and for all with some new, more apposite outlets: the town’s taxidermist, Much Ado About Stuffing; a shoe-shine outlet, Much A-Shoe About Buffing, next to which you have the clog specialists, Dutch A-Shoe About Buffing. Be warned, the notorious Much Ado About Muffing is not a glove-makers, and association with it can land you in the care of the local constabulary’s Much Ado About Cuffing branch. After which you might spend some time in Denmark, the town’s prison, also known as The Bard. This is not to be confused with local watering hole, You’re Bard, a traditional pub which is adjoined by the brewery’s very own distillery, You’re Still Bard. Step out of line in that place and Bard For Life is an alternative prison for drunks that will gladly accommodate you. Indeed, for a town of such ostensibly conservative English sedation, there is much to get you into trouble here. Look out for/avoid As You Like Tit (a whorehouse), or its counterpart As You Like Dick (a stud farm), inside both of which is the 24-hour peepshow/strip club, Balls Swell And Ends Swell. Similar entertainments can be found at To Peep, Perchance To Cream, which comes with complimentary ‘massage’ service Aye, There’s The Rub. If you’re not into paying for such things, Tightass and Runnypuss is Stratford’s leading gay/lesbian dating agency, and is the most widely debated as having association with the Bard’s authorship, as is local pawn brokers, Tightarse Handownicus, which is not to be confused with the charity shop, Righteous Handownicus. Actually, there’s much that can cause confusion here. Just a few examples: The Trainers Or The Shoe is a footwear outlet, whereas The Training Of The Shrewd is a business development class. The Draining Of The Poo, on the other hand, is a sanitation specialist, a surprisingly competitive field that gets stiff sanitary rivalry from Double, Double, Toilet Trouble and Hoover Through Bogs And Filthy Air. All three, however, employ the services of The Merchant of Men’s Piss, the attendant flunky in the gents’ conveniences. Don’t confuse Suites to the Suits, a group of hotel conference producers, with Suites to the Cheat, a by-the-hour hotel room service. Although, having said that, the two frequently collaborate. Go figure. Elsewhere, A Lass Tours Your Ricks is a female-fronted rickshaw company; A Lass Whores Your Dicks is, as if you couldn’t guess, a service that offers a different kind of ride. And even if you were in the dark about its function, it comes with the sub-title ‘I Blew Him, Fellatio’. Those wanting to avoid such illicit temptations, however, can seek out the cold-shower properties of the patented FrozenPants™ and Chilled-astern™ products, knob-bound underwear that leave you pretty much dead ‘down there’, where nothing comes up heads. Colloquially, these are known as ‘Stop-Hards’.
More confusion can abound as some places have identical names. What’s In An Aim? is a career advisory service but also the name of a shooting range. Try not to confuse the two, or you might have your career cut short and end up not smelling so sweet. After which it’s off to the local undertakers, a profession in which even bodily disposal has its competition: Macdeath, for a long time Stratford’s preeminent undertakers, now receiving, ahem, stiff competition from My Kingdom For A Hearse!
In fact, competition is pretty rife in this here town. Estate agents Hamlettings are stuck in a perpetual thumb-bite with Capulettings – a plague that apparently affects both their houses. Similarly, commemorative earthenware stockists A Plaque O’ Both Your Houses are constantly at odds with dry cleaning firm A Pleat O’ Both Your Trousers, who themselves are competitors with men’s tailors When In Disgrace With Costume and Men’s Flies. Dental hygienists Plaquebreath were caught in a sexism row as a men-only outlet, leading to the establishment of Lady Plaquebreath, which in turn led to the downfall of the former surgery, which lost out in the famous ‘Man delights not me’ court case (though the ‘Nor women neither’ plea almost overturned it). However, both their dentally hygienic smiling suggested otherwise. So don’t come here if you’re a bloke with a tooth complaint. Builders’ merchants The Clay’s The Thing are at constant loggerheads with construction vehicle-hire firm Is This A Digger I See Before Me? And I would be wary of getting a loan from To Borrow, And To Borrow, And To Borrow, because they tend to creep in your place from day to day, planting bugs that catch all your syllables in recorded time. But it’s not all antagonism. There are some supportive and enterprising services here: the David Beckham-endorsed football training camp, Ball’s Well That Bends Well. In social services, there is the anger management class, All The World’s A Rage, which meets in the mornings, followed by the evening class for severe anger management …And All The Men And Women Nearly Slayers. A rat can be rendered dead (for a ducat) with the services of The Pest Is Silenced. Ladies’ needs can be tailored for at Measure for Pleasure, the preeminent and protruding dildo specialists; likewise, men’s needs can be equally met, if cards in Stratford phone boxes are to be believed, the likes of Julie’s Arse: Seize Her being a too brutal example. In fact, as befits the home of the world’s greatest poet, romantic pursuits are well catered for: speed-dating agency, Too Short A Date, is also a midget dating agency, which incorporates the more risqué service, ‘Elf Night, Or What’s Your Willow’. For those with more adventurous inclinations, there’s always When Shall We Three Mate Again? the ménage a trois dating service. But the more fiscally cautious of you, be warned: when the hurly-burly’s done, the fare is foul. However, the entertainment isn’t all country matters. Outrageous For Tunes is a good karaoke night out in Slings And Arrows nightclub – which frequently is MC’d by Shall I Compére Thee? Unless it’s indie night, in which case Shall I Compére Thee As The Strummers Play? are apt to get the revellers up for it prior to guitar-based action. However, be cautious of rough wind instruments. Alternatively, Where Be Your Vibes Now? is a recently opened nightclub, formerly known as Yorick’s. Most excellent for dancey tunes. On a typical night out, most patrons usually end up in Curryhole Anus, a dangerously spicy Indian restaurant, inside which the house toilets befittingly go by the full title of The Tragedy of Curryhole Anus – “But soft, what shite through yonder anus breaks? It is the East, and curry jets out his bum” being its prominently displayed disclaimer. But don’t get the wrong impression of ye olde Stratford a-pun Avon. There are plenty of other amenities: hardware shop O! For a Fuse or Wire! is handy; Wherefore…? a contemporary painting outlet (art now); The Springs And Marrows of Outrageous Fortune, a rather exorbitant fruit & veg shop; Toupé or not Toupé, is an eminent wigmakers, next door to which stands Strat is Equestrian, a horse-riding equipment suppliers. Birds, Words, Nerds is a parrot emporium, wherein the cage-bound tropical squawkers have been taught to recite various comedy scenarios, especially well-worn, bird-based Monty Python sketches. I would, however, avoid Doubt Thou The Car’s For Hire, a notoriously cantankerous vehicle rental firm, whose sub-title, Doubt That The Van Doth Move, should tell you all you need to know about their love of customers. They truly put the ire in hire. Well, that’s about as comprehensive a guide as you’re going to get to Stratford a-pun Avon, home of the immortal Bard and his great legacy, the erstwhile Much Ado About Toys. If you should pay a visit, car space is available in Such Sweet Sorrow (where parking really is just that, and also offers the 24-hour service, ‘Til It Be Morrow). If you should need further information, just head to the town’s twitter page, @tweetstothetweet. This article has been in commemoration of the anniversary of the immortal Bard’s birth/deathday, the 23rd April, which also happens to coincide with England’s patron St. George’s day. By an even more extraordinary coincidence, Miguel de Cervantes, widely regarded as the Spanish version of our very own Bard, also died not only on the same year as Shakespeare, 1616, but also exactly the same day, which happens to also be the same patron day as St. Jordi, the Spanish version of our own sluttish St. George, who seems to patronise everywhere. He’s dragon it out, if you ask me. Perhaps it’s why in Spain they manufacture Donkey Oaties, Cervantes’ favourite brand of animal-shaped biscuits. So, happy Shakespeare day; happy St. George’s day. Feliz dia Cervantes; feliz dia St. Jordi. The rest is silence.
Stephen Brolan, ye olde mayor, Stratford a-pun Avon April 23, 2014