Sian swishes onto the stage, basking in the applause of the packed audience.
Sian: Whew! Thank you! Thank you everyone and welcome to Comeuppance, the show where the public get their say and the guilty are made to pay! I’m Sian Welby, and it’s my pleasure to serve up yet another helping of just desserts.
The audience cheer as Sian positions herself at the front of the stage with the Mucky Dip behind her.
Sian: A couple of people have asked me how and why contestants come on the show. The how is easy to answer: we approach people and invite them to take part. Sometimes our researchers visit a workplace and look for suitable candidates; other times we receive a nomination from family and so-called friends. But as for the why… your guess is as good as ours. All of our contestants sign up voluntarily, knowing they have little to gain and lots to lose. There’s no five-figure cash bounty on Comeuppance, no exotic holiday, no shiny new car – [chuckles] none of this lot deserve anything like that! No prize to speak of except the Jammy Dodger trophy. Our contestants receive no payment except reimbursement for travel and – [grins wickedly] if they’re unlucky – cleaning!
The audience laughs.
Sian: Of course, some people decline our invitation, but we’re astonished at just how many are willing to try their luck against the muck. It’s an enduring mystery what motivates them.
Casually strolling around the Mucky Dip, Sian arrives at the area where the cages will shortly be parked.
Sian: Tonight’s three contestants, however, all have a tangible motivation for signing up: self-promotion. It’s not easy being on the first rung of the ladder to stardom, and exposure is everything. Even if it means exposure to abject humiliation. So let’s meet our fame-hungry hopefuls!
The fashion vlogger
Our first contestant is Princess Priscilla, 18 years old from Derry. She’s run a fashion and makeup vlog since age 14, and has amassed 50,000 subscribers.
Unfazed by the booing, Priscilla blows several kisses to the audience and then adopts one pose after another, staring suavely into the camera.
Sian: Excuse me. Uh, excuse me! You’re not on the catwalk! Now, for the benefit of those that don’t know much about fashion vlogging – i.e. blokes – Princess Priscilla is one of hundreds of young ladies who upload videos of themselves modelling or discussing clothes and makeup. One of the most famous vlog formats is the “haul”, in which the vlogger goes out shopping and then talks us through their purchases – [grimaces] in excruciating detail. Let’s take a look at one of Priscilla’s videos.
The scene cuts to Priscilla, dressed in a white strapless top, addressing a webcam in a gushing tone amid a table piled high with makeup boxes.
Priscilla: …and here I have the latest lipstick from Eugene Parry, the colour is called Watermelon Fusion, and it’s actually the lipstick that I’m wearing right now…
The picture goes wavy and Priscilla’s voice fades into an echo. The scene then cuts to Priscilla still talking, with the caption “
20 minutes later...” in the upper corner of the screen.
Priscilla: …and this is mascara by Nigel Norton, I took the liberty of applying some earlier…
Sian: And it goes on for another twenty! Now Priscilla, I love fashion and makeup as much as the next woman – [pats her lacy dress] as you can see…
Priscilla: That yellow really doesn’t go with your hair.
A sucking of breaths and a chorus of “Oooohs” results.
Sian: I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that [scowls]. …as much as the next woman, but even I find this a bit much.
Priscilla: [shrugs flamboyantly] I have plenty of happy subscribers, Sian. And no-one’s forced to watch me. I don’t do anyone any harm.
Sian: Your parents might disagree with that. They say that your advertising revenues don’t cover the amount you spend on designer goodies, and their credit card picks up the shortfall. And many of your friends and family think this vlogging has made you [makes an exaggerated whisper] rather vain.
Priscilla: No no, I’m not vain at all! The vlog is all about the products; the fact that my elegant figure and classical good looks are perfect for modelling them is irrelevant!
Sian: I think we’ve heard enough. Priscilla, we have a new makeup product called Dippe de Muque by Sasha Holdsworth, and I’m sure everyone would love to see you model it!
The audience cheers while the Princess puts a hand on her hip and pouts.
Sian: And such a fashion debut could well happen later tonight… or will one of our other hopefuls beat her to it? Let’s meet contender number two!
The rock musician
Sian: And she is Veronica Pleasance, 22 years old and from Lincoln. For the past three years Veronica has been vocalist and bass guitarist of the upcoming heavy metal band Cyanide Honeymoon.
Veronica: [sneering] Who does your research here? We’re not “heavy metal”, as you call it (that term’s so 1980s); we’re post-gothic, megalithic dirge-punk!
Sian: [snorts] Oh! I stand corrected – and by the way you don’t speak until you’re spoken to on this show. I’m sure the viewers know exactly what kind of music that is, but in case anyone has any doubts, we can watch an excerpt from one of your recent gigs. The song is called Lucifer’s Luncheon Meat.
The scene switches to a low-res phone video shot inside a darkened club, with a three-piece band performing on stage. At the back, a brawny figure of shaven head and indeterminate gender bashes a drum-kit as if clubbing a venomous snake. On the left of the stage, a green-haired woman in a boilersuit shreds away on a seven-string Ibanez. On the right, Veronica hollers into a microphone, intermittently pounding the strings of her bass. Her voice varies between an owlish screech and a guttural growl.
The scene cuts back to the studio where Sian looks a little disturbed.
Sian: Hmmmmm… I see why you’re called a vocalist and not a singer. Think I’ll stick with Adele, thank you very much.
Veronica: [rolls her eyes] Says it all.
Sian: Why does it have to be so dark?
Veronica: [shrugs] It’s the way these clubs are. Guess it’s to hide the bloodstains.
Sian: No, I mean the music. All about death and destruction and doing deals with the devil!
Veronica: Isn’t that what all great works of art are about?
Sian: I can tell you one thing: a lot of folk don’t find that racket a work of art. In fact, the reason we approached you to take part is because a neighbour of yours contacted us. Apparently he has to listen to that din for several hours every Sunday!
The audience boos and hisses.
Veronica: Well we have to practice, otherwise we wouldn’t sound so good!
Sian: [scoffing] Day job, Veronica, day job. I see you’ve tried to preempt the Mucky Dip by dyeing your hair a strange colour, but things could get a lot more lurid than that. As someone who writes songs about descending into the pits of Hell, it’ll be interesting to see how you cope with the real thing!
Veronica goes cross-eyed and sticks out her tongue.
Sian: [facing outwards] Maybe the thought of Veronica being vanquished in our vile vat is music to your ears, but before you commit to a decision, let’s meet our third and final contestant.
Sian: Her name is Claire Voyant, she’s from Totnes in Devon, and she’s put her age down as “seven eons”, whatever that means. At least one or two of those eons have been spent as a mystic.
Sian: Now Claire, let me get this straight. You’re a fortune teller, an astrologer, a tarot card reader, a palm reader, a tea-leaf reader and a water diviner.
Claire: [in a whimsical voice] Indeed I am, Sian. And I’m a medium too.
Sian: Ah yes, a medium. I take it you’re referring not to your robe size, but your ability to commune with the dead?
Claire: That’s right. Since a young age I’ve had a natural affinity to departed spirits.
Sian: Really? Well that’s convenient cos I’d really like to get in touch with my Great Aunt Gertrude.
Claire: I see [nodding serenely]. You should drop in for a session some time.
Sian: How about calling her up now? There’s a lot of scepticism surrounding this sort of stuff, so it would be great if you could demonstrate your powers in front of a live audience.
The audience agrees keenly.
Claire: Er, I’d love to. But you see, summoning the spirits requires a, erm, very special ambiance. [Looks around] The light in here is far too bright.
Sian: We can deal with that, don’t worry. [Looks sideways to a crew member] Can we dim the lights?
The lights go down until there are only two soft spots on Sian and Claire.
Sian: All yours!
Claire: [looking cross] Very well. Your Great Aunt..?
Claire closes her eyes, waves her fingers rhythmically in the air, and hums gently. Sian pulls a face to the audience.
Claire: I have now passed into the spirit realm. I can see your aunt now. She is in a tranquil place. I hear the sound of gently running water.
Sian: Oo dear. Uncle Sid’s bladder must be playing up again!
Claire: [rocking her head in time with her arms] Your aunt says she misses you dearly, Sian. But she is watching over you. She is very proud of your achievements.
Sian: What does she think about my engagement?
Claire: She says you’ve chosen a wonderful man and she wishes you both every happiness.
Sian: Aww, isn’t that nice? Would you be able to send her a message from me?
Claire: [nods] Speak my child.
Sian: Tell her thanks for the socks she knitted and I’ll pop round for tea on Sunday. She’s still alive, you pillock!
The lights go up. The audience roar with laughter. Claire looks rather less serene than when she entered.
Sian: Oh, and I’m not engaged either!
Claire: [snarls] You might regret this! The spirit world doesn’t like to be deceived!
Sian: Oh I’m sure it doesn’t. But the regret will be all yours if you travel to the murky depths of the other realm!
Claire stands fuming in her cage.
Sian: So ladies, that concludes the introductions. You know how this works: third place walks away clean and dry with a Jammy Dodger trophy, second place remains in purgatory, and as for first place, well that’s where the fun really begins. Fun for us at least!
A high-mounted camera sweeps over above the Mucky Dip. As is standard for this part of the show, the chair is suspended above it and a thick mist of dry ice obscures the contents within.
Sian: [strolls forwards to the edge of the stage] Oh yes, all of our contestants are hoping for their big break, but only one will break the congealed skin on tonight’s muck! It’s over to you the public. Which of these wannabes do you find most wanting? Who deserves that comeuppance? Should it be Princess Priscilla, the makeup vlogger whose vain vids bore you to tears? Should it be Veronica Pleasance, the moshing metalhead who has you reaching for the earplugs? Or should it be Claire Voyant, the mystic who cons you with her mumbo-jumbo?
Poll closes at 10 pm Friday. Repeat voting is allowed with a period of at least 12 hours between votes.
Poll not showing?
Note: if Sian Welby actually does have a Great Aunt Gertrude, living or otherwise, it’s complete coincidence and something I have no knowledge of.