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14 August 2008

Dancing in the rain

There was something rawly sexual about this gaggle of half-drowned young people cavorting and huggin

By Richard Herring

I have been in Edinburgh for over a fortnight now and am half way through the run of my latest stand up show, The Headmaster’s Son. It’s going rather well this year, thanks for asking (oh you didn’t), although I have just nearly crippled myself by trying to leap frog on to a high stool on stage, forgetting I am 41 years old and twatting myself in the ribs.

Every breath I take brings with it searing pain. And yet the show must go on and I struggle through, complaining to no one – oh no hold on, I am complaining to everyone. Absolutely everyone. Even strangers on the street.

The weather, as it so often is in Scotland in August, has been awful. I made a resolution to not take any cabs this year and to walk everywhere, which I have only broken twice (and one of those was to go to the hospital to get my ribs checked out. Did I mention the constant pain?). So a consequence of all thie perambulation is that I have been soaked in the frequent deluges on an almost daily basis. Mainly it is a deeply unpleasant experience. But sometimes it feels like God is washing away my sins. It’s like a baptism of fire, but with water instead. These water baptisms are much more preferable to the fire ones. I question any church that immolates infants in order to purify them. Just stick them in a bird bath and sprinkle magic water on them.

You can see that mid-Fringe hysteria has descended.

It’s faintly ironic that I am annoyed about getting soaked in the rain, because one of the stories I tell in the show is about an incident from school where I regret not staying out in a downpour.

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I was about 17. It was break-time and I was out on the school field with my group of friends. It was summer and had been a beautiful sunny day. When suddenly out of nowhere (not literally, it came out of the sky, but what I’m saying is there was no warning) it started to pour with rain.

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My natural instinct was to run back inside into the common room to avoid a drenching, and that’s what I did, but the others stood their ground. They wanted to celebrate this unexpected event, to revel in it. They began laughing and dancing and ironically praising some ancient god for his bountious generosity. The heavy rain drops soon had them soaked to the skin, but the rain was warm and soothing, not sharp and stinging. I stood in the doorway outwardly expressing the opinion that all my friends were insane idiots, but I think even then, in my heart, I envied them this primeval experience.

They were being subversive and celebratory at the same time and there was also something rawly sexual about this gaggle of half-drowned young people cavorting and hugging and splashing in the mud. Not in an obvious and cheap way, but in a slightly beautiful and sublime sense.

It was one of life’s seminal experiences and I was standing in a doorway looking at it rather than taking part. It would have been cooler to just walk inside and have a coffee and wait for the fools to get bored and come in, but not only was I too uncool to drink coffee, I preferred squash, I chose the dweebiest of options to stand as near to outside as I could without being outside and watch them. I was too proud or too stupid or too embarrassed to run back outside and join them. I had made my incorrect gesture and had to suffer the self-inflicted punishment of missing out on the madness.

I probably opined to no-one in particular (as none of my friends were with me) that they would catch their death, but of course in fact they were catching life. Something I have managed to fumble and drop fairly consistently for the last twenty years.

Finally they ran inside, high on adrenalin, cheering and panting, looking for something to dry themselves off with. They had been so alive to the moment that they hadn’t even considered the fact that it wasn’t games today so they didn’t have their towels with them. I had considered this -it was one of the initial reasons I’d left – which just made me all the worse as a person. Spontaneity is a much under-rated virtue.

Of course, with hindsight I wish I’d joined them, but it’s too late, I can’t go back. It was all about that moment and trying to create it artificially would not be the same. Now I’m 41 it wouldn’t be the same to just rush out into the next rainstorm and dance about on my own, laughing and encouraging the Shepherd’s Bush locals to join me. And if I hung around at my local school waiting for a downpour and then when it finally came I tried to persuade 17 year old boys and girls to cavort around with me and get soaked and then hug me, then it might lead to misunderstandings. The police may become involved.

But if you are under 18 then don’t walk out of the rainstorm. Stay and dance a while.

And stop reading the New Statesman website. There’s plenty of time for that when you’re old and jaded. Go out into the world and make the most of your youth. It will wither on the vine quickly enough without you speeding it along by reading about the regrets of an old man like me.