At Suffolk's Latitude Festival earlier this month nine of the attendant folk stood up and applauded Keith Moore and myself at the end of our performance. It brought to mind a run at the Edinburgh Fringe some years back, when I would nightly follow a Canadian company who would invariably get the whole crowd up, then receiving in adulative closure what they referred to as a "standing O". In comparison my own ovated nine might not seem that impressive, but its personal significance is underlined when one realises that in an extensive career I have previously only managed to rouse a single audience member to his feet. And that was my father.
It had been a week of festival performances for me, leading up to a regional radio interview in Thirsk where it was pointed out to me that people in that nook of the world might not enjoy my style of wordplay as readily as the seasoned Edinburgh festival crowd. I understood what the broadcaster was politely trying to tell me: don't expect a standing O.
As it turned out, my North Yorkshire audience, if not ovative, was appreciative and astute. During the interval, they came up with some right good responses to the two written tasks that I had set. First, I asked them to describe the differences between dogs and a deckchair; and second to provide a probing political question for the New Statesman, for whom, I explained, I was doing this column. The winning entry responding to the first challenge was, "The deckchair never vomited half a digested rabbit in my lounge." Another good one was, "We haven't got a deckchair." For task number two, one person asked as to the provenance of John Prescott's alleged wealth.
Before going to sleep last night, I was wondering about my performances at this year's Edinburgh Festival. Should I try and make something out of the fact that it is a lunchtime event? I wondered about dividing the audience into those who have eaten and those who have not. Should I feed the abstinent?
At the Bedfringe festival in Bedford, I tried out the first paragraph of this diary on a cheery audience in the Civic Theatre. They seemed to find my lack of previous ovatory experience a bit depressing, but were enlivened by the following tale of the county's footballing giants.
Luton v Preston
Today I go to see Luton versus Preston (who are top). We have lost eight games in a row, and are fourth from the bottom. Talking of bottoms, today I've had to cover mine with a pair of women's briefs, as there was nothing else available. The Luton boss, Mike Newell, is someone with more traditional values, and would hold that in football a clear degree of separation between the sexes is a tribal prerequisite. Luton wins handsomely and brings the house to its feet. But now I face a dilemma. Do I wear the lucky pants again or not?
It's Tuesday and I have just been working with some adolescents in a Braintree secondary school. I asked the students what demand they might make of a new statesman. They suggested: "Make stuff cheaper for younger people", "Stop people going to war" and that "All the people hiding in dark alleys should stop doing that". All good suggestions, I felt.
I also worked with some nine-year-old students writing a menu poem in which you make an acrostic using each letter to initiate a weird, wonderful or unpleasant menu item. The most fruitful letter was "U": unusual soup, unicorn with popcorn, upside-down umbrella with hard-boiled mice (that was mine).
Finally, this week's French lesson provided two major flashpoints of joy in the language. The first was the discovery that trombone is the French word for paper clip (and presumably trombone as well).
The second was the discovery of the subjunctive. I mentioned the revelation to a friend during a conversational lull and he informed me that in English "lest" is the last bastion of the purely subjunctive form. Fascinating . . . And here is a poetry competition for NS readers. In up to six lines complete the following, and possibly win a copy of my new pink book: "He was new to the office, was Brown . . ."
John Hegley's "Uncut Confetti" is published by Methuen (£9.99)