As some of you may know, I write a fortnightly column – alternating with My-Mate-Mike (he who hovers just to the right of Genghis Khan and is considered a suitable antidote for what he views as my ‘dangerously-pink” tendencies) – in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. In theory this appears online on http://www.thisiskent.co.uk. In practice it frequently doesn’t. If it does, you need a degree in orienteering to find it and then, when you get there, it doesn’t bear my name.
Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday November 16th 2012
As you may know to your cost, I do a spot of “speaking”. This has taken me to Manchester and Edinburgh, Telford and Torquay and on one best-forgotten occasion, a village hall buried so deeply in rural Wales that it took nine hours to get there (geography has never been my strong point).
But it all started, as so many things have, here in Thanet. When a lovely lady, Rusty Macintyre, invited me to address something called the Beta Ladies. One of them was married to the Hon Sec of the Omega Men (or some such) and they all had friends in the Rotary or Round Table – I never remember which is which. (One group are youngish and like a drink; the others are oldish, like a drink and then doze off.)
Further bookings followed and I learned on the job. “I generally recommend,” said the President of a Dining Club for Gentlemen of Mature Years, when I enquired how long I should speak for, “that you keep going until half the audience are asleep”. The average age in the room was 86 and one chap had already been snoring for ten minutes when I stood up. I punctuated each anecdote with any large noise I could muster. “And then there was a knock at the door,” I’d cry, slapping the flat of my hand hard down on the table and waiting while the front row jerked awake. “And the woman next to me shrieked…” I’d add, illustrating this with an ear-piercing scream to make sure they didn’t drop off again. It was apparently the most excitement most of them had had for years – previous speakers had held forth on “The Workings of the Local Authority” and the “History of the Rubber Stamp” (with slides) – and word spread about my ability to bring on a coronary till my oratory career was forged.
I’ve done Probus and the Over 41 Club, Retirees United; the Under 65 Society, Young Wives (they were eighty if they were a day), Old Mothers, Small Businesses and more fundraisers than you can shake a stick at. And whether the audience numbers six or a hundred some things never change. There is always a woman who glares throughout – even if it transpires she looks like this naturally – and another who cups her ear and says loudly to the first one “what’s she on about?” There’s a guffawing bloke who calls out “Can I heckle?” (as long as you stay awake, pal, I don’t mind what you do) and when you take questions at the end, someone who wants to tell a long, unrelated story about something that happened in 1976. The more courses they bring out, the more often your glass is filled and the longer they linger over the coffee and mints while reading announcements about the Christmas Coach Trip, the less you feel like standing up and trying to raise a laugh. Which is an inexact science to say the least – the quip that had the Bowls Club in stitches is greeted with stony silence at the Goldfish Appreciation Annual Lunch – and you have no way of knowing if the three people who’ve just left are disgusted by your last anecdote or having a bad reaction to the shellfish starter.
What I do know is that after six months of book promotion involving a more than usually-heavy schedule on the oral front, even I can get tired of the sound of my voice. Relief all round then that at the next gig, Lesley Cookman is coming too. Lesley lives in Whitstable and sets her highly-popular, Libby Sarjeant crime series here in Kent.
You can glare, you can ask questions, you can heckle. Just don’t fall asleep…
Jane and Lesley will be in conversation at Waterstones, St Margaret’s St, Canterbury at 6.30pm Thursday 22nd November. Entry free. But if you are thinking of coming along it would be great to know. Please do leave a comment or if you’re a facebooker Lesley’s made something clever here 🙂