Pam Ayres – My night with Auntie Pam

15 May
Pam Ayres recites 'But Don't Kiss Me' to Chronicler, Emma Smith 

Pam Ayres recites ‘But Don’t Kiss Me’ to Chronicler, Emma Smith

At the risk of sounding gushing before my evening with Pam – well, mine and the two hundred and nineteen others in the audience – I was prepared.

She was, I had been told, incredibly nice and funny. A fellow Lit Fest author, Gill Sims, referred to her as Auntie Pam even though she had never met her. And, it appeared all of sundry wished to claim her as their Patron.

All I knew was that she was a Patron of the Arts Centre and a funny poet, much loved by my now passed father in law. Therefore, it seemed only fitting that my mother in law and I came to see the poet that her husband had once repeatedly and loudly played from their stereo.

However, I clearly underestimated Pam Ayres’ legacy: she is instilled in both people’s psyche and hearts; a scene I witnessed and experienced first-hand with its fit to bursting, excited audience.

On gracing the stage with her beaming smile and eyes that sparkled, although that could have been the lights, I understood. I felt as if I was in the presence of stardom.

I also wished she was my auntie and had an overwhelming desire to hug her. Looking directly at me and as if hearing my thoughts Pam responded with her opening poem;

But Don’t Kiss Me

I want to ask a favour of the friends that I might meet,
To all of my acquaintances who pass me in the street,
Give me a cheery wave: ‘Hello ! How are you? Bye! So long!
‘But don’t kiss me. Please don’t kiss me, for I always get it wrong.
I do not want to do it, I would rather pass you by,
I miss, you get a smacker on the ear or in the eye,
I’m standing on the pavement thinking ‘Blast! Damnation! Heck !
He went the other way and I have kissed him on the neck.

I find it so embarrassing it makes my knuckles clench,
It’s a very dodgy habit we’ve imported from the French,
What’s wrong with ‘Oh good morning!’ or a handshake if you must,
A lovely smile of welcome or, all right, a smile of lust.
But I do not want to kiss you! I am sure you’re very nice,
But I find it so confusing, is it once or is it twice?

I’m filled with apprehension, and a feeling close to fright,
Who leans forward first? Is it the left cheek first or right?
And I feel a strange awareness as we stand around and speak,
That there’s a disconcerting trace of your saliva on my cheek,
So don’t kiss me, no, don’t kiss me, say ‘Enchante! Ciao! Good health!
But I’m telling you, don’t kiss me, keep your choppers to yourself !

Oh don’t kiss me, I implore you, for I cannot stand the strain,
I seldom kiss my husband and you don’t hear him complain,
So au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen! Just tell me that you’ll miss me
But please if we should meet again, don’t pucker up! DON’T KISS ME!

However, my warmth of appreciation was rightly placed as Pam shared how lovely it was to be back in Swindon, having grown up in Stanford on Vale, and her feeling that she was amongst friends.

It was a  great way to introduce her new book The Last Hedgehog and her desire to rescue the hedgehog’s demise as numbers drop below a million. An advocate for animals, she told us of the importance of making space for other species in our gardens: hedgehogs, bumblebees, and birds.

As if to forgive our lack of awareness of their plight, she read a poem she had written on hedgehogs in the 70’s/80’s which joked of hedgehogs littered on roads squashed like pancakes. She, too, had never thought that they would die out and used it only to illustrate her own past opinion.

To restore the atmosphere, she followed with classics such as A Racehorse Called FRED, a last will and testament of a racing horse before competing in the Grand National, and I wish I looked after my teeth.

After an hour in her company, our faces aching with smiles I felt  I knew Pam. And, if I didn’t, I certainly knew her optician, children, and opinion of flying. For Pam’s greatest trait is the ability to make you feel as if you know her or is that the forty years of experience in performing shining through?

Asked by an audience member if she had become braver with her writing as she aged, Pam responded: “Maybe a little. However, it is thrilling to make people laugh. I feel so lucky to be able to do that.”

Auntie Pam, I can assure you we all laughed very much and we all thank you for it.

Pam Ayres appeared at Swindon Arts Centre on Monday, May 14, 6.30pm. Words by Emma Smith. Image © Fernando Bagué

 

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