Heather McCartney and me

Herring reveals the inspiration he found in a children's Christmas show plus thoughts on the joy of

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Like Heather Mills McCartney I do a lot of secret work for charity that I don’t like to talk about. Like the charity gig I mentioned last time.

Really, Heather and me are the most wonderful people in the world. I don’t know why everyone gives us such a hard time, when we pretty much devote our whole lives to our secret charity projects. Never going on about them at all.

I have been supporting SCOPE for a few years now. They focus on helping people with cerebral palsy, but are also concerned with achieving equal rights for the disabled.

Pretty cool, huh? Though if I am honest my motivation to get involved was not entirely selfless. I wanted to run the London Marathon and a friend told me that if I collected money for SCOPE they would guarantee me a place.

I have been involved with fundraising since then. I give out free programmes at gigs in return for donations, but again I do this as much for myself as anyone else.

You know, it’s nice to be raising money, but until this week I hadn’t really thought about where the cash goes.

I headed down to West Sussex to Ingfield Manor School to see the kids do their Christmas plays. I have to say it was one of the most inspiring days of my life.

Although the children all have cerebral palsy, this means different things for different people, affecting movement and speech and coordination in varying degrees. But with the assistance of the staff at the school and Stephen Hawkins-style voice synthesisers everyone took part. And they clearly all got so much out of the experience.

To begin with, inevitably I suppose, it's hard not to feel sad and shocked that a child is disabled and unable to do all the things other kids take for granted, but seeing them all involved in something like this it doesn't take long before you forget about your prejudices and their disabilities.

They are just children. Children for whom life will never be easy, but who also all demonstrated through their dedication and commitment to these shows that in some ways they will get more from life than others who take basic attributes such as speech and movement for granted.

So the tinge of tragedy that I felt within me at the start of the day had transformed into a overwhelming state of triumph by the end of the day. Whilst it would be a wonderful world if no child was born with disabilities, the fact is that they are and whilst some might feel they should be hidden away (or worse) the fact is that with help they can live lives with more meaning than some people who just take their limbs for granted.

There were many moving and inspiring moments, but the one that will stay with me forever was the scene where three kids of around 8 years old, dressed as Christmas trees, with vastly varying degrees of mobility, all danced to the Toploader song "Dancing in the Moonlight".

It isn't a song that I particularly like and nor, I imagine, did the writer of the piece envisage that the people doing the dancing would be eight years old, have cerebral palsy or be dressed as Christmas trees, but the effort and joy that these kids put into the dance was an inspiration to me both as a performer and a human being.

It turned a catchy, though slightly vacuous pop song into something very deep and meaningful and made me look at Toploader in a totally different way. I wished that I had written "Dancing in the Moonlight" because it had created this wondrous moment.

Before, when I heard this song, I would have thought of young women, dancing around in revealing party clothes, drinking, taking drugs, about to commit lewd acts with the Toploader band members and I would have felt slightly soiled. But from now on I will think of these three tiny Christmas trees and remember what it actually means to be human.

Like the members of Toploader (I imagine) I have quite an empty and meaningless life and these little scamps reminded me that I should try and live it as fully as I can, just as they are. Certainly something like this puts one's own problems into some kind of perspective. We all have things we are unable to do and aren't very good at and most of us choose to not do those things at all.

But having the balls to do something difficult to the best of your abilities is as good as being the best at it in my opinion and when I see a child who has to struggle to form a word, delivering sentences of dialogue, it is a lesson for both my chosen profession and my life.

In the end I was just enchanted to be at a school's Christmas show. It was terrific fun and again something I have missed out on due to choices I have made in my life. I think the fact that I left this place wishing I had kids of my own is as much of a testament as I can give. The world seemed a better place than it had before.

I felt inspired to try and be a better person and make more of my own skills, which I sometimes squander. But also to have a go at doing things I am not so good at. There is pleasure in trying. If that isn't great art then I don't know what is.

It made the whole day seem magical. Later as I was heading to a gig. When I got off the tube a little bit late, I walked quickly towards the steps out of the station. A young woman beside me, who I didn't know, also moving quickly turned to me and said, "I'll race you up the stairs".

I like to run up the stairs at the tube station anyway, so it was weird that she should ask this, but I took her up on her challenge and we hurried up the dozen or so steps reaching the top in a dead heat. She couldn't quite believe that I had equalled her. But it had been fun to race a stranger. Then we came to the escalators.

There were two and they were quite long, one was moving upwards and the other was static. We looked at each other and I said, "Let's do it! I'll give you a chance" and I took the non-moving stairs. Although she had to negotiate other commuters she quickly took the lead and beat me by about eight steps, though without the advantage who knows? We shook hands at the top and went on with our lives. It was a charming, enchanting and exhausting interaction with someone I didn't know and would never see again. We were embracing life and victory was not important.

Life is about taking part. That's all I have to tell you. Happy Christmas.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
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