A few weeks ago I was asked to judge a poetry competition in my home town. It’s harder than it sounds, especially when you are handed no less than four (count ’em!) fat folders of entries. The winners, thankfully, stood out, injecting as they did a little honesty into the theme of Christmas – instead of the usual holly and ivy, I read of drunken relatives, 4am stocking runs, exasperated mothers and (this was the winner) the fervent prayer of an eight year old NOT TO BE GIVEN CLOTHES.
The awarding of the prizes was memorable for several things; for me not least because I managed to write off my car an hour beforehand, rolling it into a ditch at 50mph, and had to hand out the prizes with tiny shards of glass still sticking into my head, having been delivered there by police car. But also because the children were charming, and one, Rosa, asked if she could have one of my books. I took her address, promised to send one, and then promptly forgot.
Which brings me to Tony Hart. When I was eight the television programme Vision On was required viewing in our house. How desperate I was to have one of my paintings featured in the gallery. And how excited to hear Tony Hart was doing a demonstration nearby. At the end I queued for ages to get his autograph (it was probably only about 20 mins, but at that age it’s dog years) but when I reached the head of the queue, he said – grumpily – that he didn’t have time to sign my piece of paper, as I hadn’t bought his book.
Oh Tony. If you knew what childish tears you prompted that day. How I could never again look at Morph without wanting to crush his tiny little plasticine head. But thirty years on, with perhaps a little insight of what it means to be eight and easily disappointed, it meant that I did send a pristine copy of my new book to Rosa, with the instruction that her mother might read it first and decide when she was ready for it. And today I got a thank you card. Rosa was thrilled, told me her Mum thought it “exellent”, and that she had not stopped talking about it. There’s a moral in there, somewhere. (And a Morph, with a load of pins stuck in it…)