In my day it was about this time of year as the seasonal festivities loomed large that folk would seek out entertainment. Of course, the pantomime would be available in January but before then you had to look a bit further afield. Now I remember one year when the McKinley Theatre did a Ballet.
This Ballet was of particular interest to us because it had its origin here in Finedon. Let me explain. I expect some of you will remember Mary Chicle’s sweet shop in the High Street just along from the Tudor Gate. Mary stocked all those old fashioned sweets like Sherbert Dabs, Blackjacks, Gob-stoppers. About this time of year she also had a healthy option. For one month she stocked Almonds, Walnuts and Brazil nuts.
Now Mary liked to experiment with new flavours or ingredients. It didn’t always work out, her cough drops were a choking hazard, and her Parma Violets tasted of ham.
However, she did manage to perfect her own chewing gum. She had read that you could eat the sap of the Sapodilla tree. It happened that there was one of these trees growing at the back of The Tudor Gate Hotel. Mary sneaked around one night, sliced into the bark and collected some sap. The stuff quickly hardened into a gum but softened when she chewed it. Bingo!
What’s all this got to do with Ballet? I hear you ask.
Well it happened that a tiny composer called Peter Kovsky was staying at the hotel and that night had trouble sleeping as he had bad writers block. He spotted Mary on one of her nightly escapades.
Next day, passing the sweet shop he spotted Mary serving chewing gum to a queue of kids.
He was intrigued and once the kids left he went in. He waited patiently, to be served, but it happened that Peter was so short that his head didn’t peak over the counter. Some polite coughing was needed to attract Mary’s attention.
“Hello Titch. Didn’t see you there.”. She said.
Being foreign, Peter didn’t take offence and they quickly got into conversation about Mary’s night time antics. Peter was fascinated by Mary and took a great liking to her. Mary for her part felt a certain warmth for him and before he left she presented him with a small wooden carving of a man that bore an eerie resemblance to him. Peter was grateful but wondered what he would do with it until Mary pointed out that it was a novelty nutcracker.
Peter thanked her and promised to use it to crack any novelty nuts that he found in his pocket.
Now old Peter ‘Titch’ Kovsky could never get Mary Chicle out of his head and was to put it frankly, inspired by her. He went back to The Tudor Gate, borrowed their grand piano and wrote a ballet. Some years later it was performed in Kettering. Mary was guest of honour on the opening night. You’ve guessed it was called The Nutcracker but now you also know the origin of The Dance of the Chewing Gum Mary.