I saw the Mayorathon advertised in the free weekly paper a few weeks ago, and knowing I wouldn’t be at work on this day, decided to take part. Each participant could buy a five minute slot to read to an audience an extract from a book, a play or a poem of their choice. You could buy as many five minute slots as you wished, so long as you raised sponsorship of a minimum of £5 per slot. So I pledged a fiver and rehearsed reading a five minute extract from The Rise of Serge and the Fall of Leo. The Mayor had chosen a charity that supports people with acquired brain injuries and this seemed particularly appropriate as it is the cause of Serge’s disability. I didn’t only take part for charitable reasons; I saw it as a potential opportunity to publicise my book and it was also a challenge to myself to read out loud in front of people. The thought was terrifying. I don’t know where my confidence has gone over the years. In my early twenties I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at the prospect – in fact I was in a local amateur dramatics group and even had the nerve to sing a solo in a pantomime as the Prince in ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Looking back, I was a different person then – although I doubt my singing voice was much better than it is now. What a cringe-making thought! I want to get a bit of confidence back you see, so that I don’t turn up at job interviews like a gibbering wreck.
So, I found an extract that wouldn’t entail doing Serge’s voice or Paddy’s Northern Irish accent and turned up, as instructed, fifteen minutes before my appointed time. The place was packed; standing room only. I had expected a more casual affair – but there was a platform, a lectern and, gulp – a microphone. Looking up, even the gallery was full – and they were mainly children. I can’t remember what was being read at the time, but it sounded good. I think it was an extract from a Dickens novel. I thought about the extract I had chosen to read and whispered to the lady at the door who was doing the register; “Will it mess things up if I don’t read? Only this isn’t a children’s book.”
She beckoned me out into the entrance hall and some of the other organisers followed us to see what was up. “There’s no rude words but urm … this guy’s about to top himself by jumping into the Thames on a freezing cold night and he doesn’t actually do it and it turns out okay but there’s a fair bit of detail and I don’t think I should read it to the children.” It was at that point that I wondered whether it was a good idea to be reading it to anyone.
They assured me it was fine – the children would be leaving in about ten minutes. They had been surprised and honoured that the whole school had come along to listen and to support the event. Sure enough, ten minutes later, the children filed out, leaving an audience of about six – plus the organisers and the Mayor. Cool.
I was surprised how good the readers before me were – and the ones I listened to after my turn, as I didn’t like to dash off the minute I was done. I waited until some more folk arrived and then slipped out. The readers I listened to had such lovely voices and great presence. I have a thing about voices – you know how sometimes someone looks gorgeous but then they open their gob and ruin it? I have never liked my own voice – it’s a bit nasal and I can’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ pwoperly; but I don’t mind sounding northern – if ‘a’ and ‘u’ were supposed to be pronounced the same there would only be four vowels in the alphabet. Northerners make good use of all five. I think swear words have more impact with a northern accent but am not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.
Anyway, my bit went okay. I didn’t faint or have a coughing fit or anything. It seemed odd to be out of the office on a week day, doing something different and being able to appreciate the time and effort that people put into organising these charity events. Then I came home, took off my Jules Lucton costume, put on my warmest top that smells slightly of yesterday’s cooking, and applied for a job as a Test Analyst.