In one of my earlier posts; Lessons Learnt The Hard Way, I talked about how when I started out, I wanted to develop my own unique style and not read up on anything to do with children’s entertaining. That way, everything I did would have come from me. I wouldn’t be tempted to become a near clone of someone else. Whilst very noble on one hand, it was ridiculously naive and insane on the other. I’d be facing more potential pitfalls than Indianna Jones (on his latest crusade) and Road Runner (evading the traps of Wile E Coyote) together. Looking back now I can almost laugh at some of them. Some however still make me shudder and cry just at the very thought of them. Here’s part two of Lessons Learnt The Hard Way.
Lessons 7, 8 and 9 – You Need A Microphone / Be Prepared / Ask lots of questions.
I’d been entertaining at parties for almost 6 months and I hadn’t needed or used a microphone yet. Well, I say I hadn’t needed one, I probably did but got through without. All that changed when I was asked to entertain at a family day for the Polish Association of Bedford on the hottest day of the year. We’d agreed that I’d do a 45 min show in the small theatre followed by 45 mins balloon modelling outside. No problem at all I thought, although this was clearly going to be the biggest gig I’d done to date one thing I’ve never lacked is self belief. I was starting at 3pm and arrived 45 mins before……to the world’s biggest car park. Literally, cars everywhere and no free space for me. Well ok, there was a space but it was about 1/4 mile away.
After almost re-tearing my hernia carting my things 1/4 mile along a gravel path and accross a field I found the organiser. He explained that the air conditioning in the theatre had broken down so they were trying to fix it. Could I do the balloon modelling first? No problem at all, I went into the completely unsheltered playground and said, “Who’d like a balloon?” It was like the scene from the Michael Caine film, “The Swarm” where the boy hides inside a barrell and a million bees surround him trying to get in. Ok, so I’m slightly prone to exaggertion but there were a lot of people and they did come towards me with slightly manic / excited looks on their faces. The thought of getting a balloon model can do that you know. I almost immediately realised that standing outside in the 88c heat without any protection wasn’t the best of ideas. I didn’t have a hat with me and the only sunglasses I had were my giant Christmas ones. They had to do so on they went and I started twisting.
Five minutes in and I’ve got sweat pouring down my face, all over my christmas glasses and into my eyes. In addition to that I can feel my head starting to burn. I’m also extremely thirsty but didn’t have any water with me. Whilst making a balloon flower for a five year old her dad asks if I’m hot enough. He then very nicely enquires if I’d like a drink. I did have some money on me and asked for a small bottle of water. Fifteen minutes later he returns with a pint of beer as the water was sold out. Now apart from it looking unprofessional, me drinking a pint of beer is like asking Jason Statham or Danny Dyer to play Hamlet at the National Theatre; it’s never going to happen. Seriously, when I was 21 travelling through Australia I ended up playing cards with a load of people where losing hands resulted in drinking. I’m rubbish at cards and after finishing my bottle of Malibu with Fanta (I like girlie drinks, what can I say), the only other option was beer. It was drink or strip…………I ended up dancing naked on a table that night and I have some body image issues. THAT’S how much I can’t drink beer.
So, getting back to the burning sun. I somehow managed to make it through the 45 mins (still without water) and it was now time to perform my show in the theatre. The severely stressed organiser informed me that they still hadn’t mended the air conditioning but I had to go on anyway as they were way behind schedule. I staggered on stage to set up to be met by a completely packed audiance of around 500 people. In my head, when he mentioned it was a small theatre on the phone I envisaged around 50 people. I was now experiencing a mixture of sunburn, dehydration and complete fear of performing in front of so many people. My previous record had been 43. On top of that I felt immense pressure to set up quickly as the restless crowd were sitting there staring waiting for me to start.
Ten, very rushed minutes later I start. I’ve got bright lights in my face, the dehydration has become severe and along with the fact that my mouth is dryer than the Gobi desert I’m just grateful that I have a really powerful microphone. No hold on a minute, I don’t have a microphone. What followed was 45 minutes of a sweaty, delirious, extremely thirsty sunburt man shouting loudly with a monkey whilst staggering around the stage. Just like the crazy old man we’ve all seen and avoided either outside the pub or by a bus stop. THAT WAS ME. What made it worse was that the majority of it was met by near silence from most of the audience. I’d like to think this was because they couldn’t hear me without a microphone or that for a lot of them English wasn’t their first language. Unfortunately the more likely scenario was that seeing a sweaty, dehydrated man shouting incoherent gibberish just wasn’t funny.
My one saving grace was that when I left the stage to very mild applause I noted that not one person had left their seat. Having been told by the organiser that people may come and go during my act this was a real boost to my confidence. That boost lasted about 5 seconds after which the organising committee came on stage with the table of awards to give out. This was the main event of the whole day and the reason the theatre was packed solid when I arrived. It was also why no one left their seat during my act.
The final slap in the face wasn’t that I had to wait 45 mins for the awards to be given out before I could collect my cheque from thr organiser. Nor was it the 30 mins to get out of the car park / field. It was getting home, taking the cheque out to remind myself that after all that, at least I’d earnt some decent money. I opened the cheque, smiled and then cried when I saw it was made payable to Paul Arnold instead of Paul Albert. Somehow, I was called the following year to be asked back again as my balloon modelling and show had apparently been very popular. Like a News of The World reporter, I politely made my excuses and left. Well, I said I was busy. I was still far too traumatised to do it all again.
Since that fateful and very hot day I always carry water with me, I always ask the booker more questions pre-party and I haven’t been back to Bedford. Somehow, insanely I didn’t buy a microphone for another 4 months. I regretted that descision when I was asked to do a party in a mosque with 250 people and an overly helpful caretaker. That’s for another time though.
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