Are you there?

10 May

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Are you there? Good.

So I went to Alex Horne’s Word Watching at the Swindon Festival of Literature last night, a tad concerned it might be a bit Radio 4, you know, cosy in a Louis Theroux sort of way. And yes, I guess it was. No agit-comic Mark Thomas-style clashes with authority or Frankie Boyle controversy for Alex.

That’s not to say he didn’t get some sound tellings-off. During his quest to get an Alex-original (or rather: re-appropriated) word into the Oxford English dictionary he was nearly banned from Wikipedia for repeatedly changing Natasha Kaplinski’s entry to describe her height as 6’2” tall and removing all references to ‘hands’ and replacing them with new word ‘paddles’. And his knuckles were virtually rapped via email by Only Connect presenter Victoria Coren for being responsible for a deluge of emails to the BBC which insisted that ‘honk’ is a bona fide word for ‘cash’.

But, you do have to respect someone who grows a beard to get on their favourite TV programme, Countdown. And I laughed a lot.

Word Watching has been knocking around for a bit so I quizzed Alex afterward about how his quest would fare today, four years on, in this age of social media and Twitter hashtags. “It would be too easy,” he said. “When you’re attempting to be ambitious, failure is fun.”

PS I’ve changed Alex’s height on Wikipedia to 6’2”. I suspect I’m not the first to do this. I wonder when they/he will notice? I’m wondering, however, if he actually is 6’2″?

PPS ‘Are you there’ was Alex’s attempt at new telephone greeting. Apparently it was in popular usage for about 6 months after the phone was invented until ‘hello’ was coined. It was no more successful for Alex, over 100 years on.

Afterwards, Alex took part in the BBC Radio 4 recording of Wondermentalist, a poetry-comedy cabaret with host Matt Harvey.

First up the audience voted on a title for the audience-composed poem. ‘Cupboard Under the Stairs’ won, narrowly beating ‘bacon butty’ and way ahead of ‘wasp’. Then just before the interval, it was time to scribble our contribution on a strip of green paper supplied on the way into the auditorium. Mine was: ‘Let’s not split hairs, the cupboard under the stairs, is full of scares.’

Matt’s poetry was about slugs (‘you can hide but you can’t run’), buses and – on behalf of the Love Food Hate Waste campaign – potatoes:

I still need you
So I’ll freeze you
See ya later
Mashed potata

Cardiff-based poet Mab Jones (I last saw her at Cheltenham Poetry Festival) treated us to a distain for sonnets and a Pam Ayres homage, changing ‘teeth’ to, well: “I Wish I’d Looked After Me Tits”.

Alex was back with his standup routine, espousing body language to punctuate sentences, taking the double-finger quotation to its logical extreme – such as a full body tilt for italics, cupping hands to denote brackets, etc.

I felt a bit sorry for the ‘house band’, Jerri Hart. Making clever use of a loop machine he performed all the parts in the intro and outtro music and was the warm-up act to boot, but, it was revealed, is only paid in biscuits – pre-dunked, broken ones from Lidl at that. Afterwards I offered him some Duchy Originals in exchange for composing me my own theme tune. To his credit he bargained me up to a home-made cake. I’m holding him to it.

PPPS My audience poem contribution was used! It was quite fun to hear it read out. Wondermentalist will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 11pm on a weekday this autumn. When I know the date, I’ll let you know.

I did some tweeting live at the event. Follow the Festival Chronicler on Twitter at @festchronicler

Check out all the pictures on Add your own if you were there.

One Response to “Are you there?”


  1. Levelling up to Shakespearean | Festival Chronicle - 11th Oct 2017

    […] (Mab was one of the first performers I chronicled back in Cheltenham in 2012, and then a few weeks later at Swindon Festival of Literature.) […]

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