The lessons I best remember often involved laughter. Humour is a great gateway through which it is possible to lead a host of interesting and often complex ideas, bypassing the natural desire to resist.
When I started talking about hedgehogs, most often to the Women’s Institute, I found there were a few moments that the audience would laugh. I found that most appealing as, selfishly, it made me feel pleased to get that reaction.
Now I am not talking the sort of life-limiting laughter that will come from a good stand up comic, more it was animated smiling. But it still made me feel good.
But I was greedy, I wanted to hear more laughter and in a fit of madness agreed to do a little bit of hedgehog stand up at a friend’s party in Somerset – a big party, there were bands and lots of promises of extra performances like mine. In the end it was just me, and the music. I consider that night to be a key part of my mid-life crisis. First and last ever stand-up, first and last ever tattoo and first and last ever dance class – all in November 2009.
It was one of the scariest things I have ever done and I vowed never to do it again (along with the dancing and the tattoo … BUT … I have been dancing every week since then and am getting my second, and last, tattoo in two weeks!) … and now I am preparing to do something similar again, at the wonderful Idler Academy in west London.
Why am I putting myself through this?
The answer requires an admission. While Springwatch was on the BBC earlier this year I found a moment when I had a choice to watch it or Top Gear … now, I care not one jot about cars. I have one and use it as rarely as possible, but I know so little about them as to be a liability. My wife reminds me of the time when a mechanic came to fix the car we were borrowing from a friend and asked me how big the engine was. Apparently holding ones hands about a metre apart and saying, ‘about this big’ is an inadequate answer.
And I love nature, I love wildlife and will watch it for hours.
So why would I want to watch a programme about cars rather than nature? Because Springwatch was embarrassingly dull and Top Gear was entertaining. Worse, actually, there was obviously an attempt to make the nature programme entertaining my trying to get people who were not naturally comical to partake in a crude homage to Benny Hill (if my memory serves me correct).
I am no fan of Clarkson and his kind – in fact was thrilled to be present as a friend of mine stuck a custard pie in his face a while back … here is the photo I took.
But I would love it if that sort of nature programme could be as entertaining.
Now I am glued to the new Attenborough epic, but who wouldn’t be. It is an aesthetic triumph as well as benevolently informative. But I think there must be a space to wallow in the sort of fun it is possible to have with nature – nature does not need all of its promoters to be earnest. Sometimes you have to let the fun in.
Which is why I am trying to do the funny again … I even created a genre ‘ecological stand-up’ and was thrilled to be in the vanguard (only to discover THIS happening a few days before … darn those clever funny folk for stealing a march on me).
So, come to the Idler Academy on 22nd November and see if it makes any sense. I have been trying to picture what I do – and the best I have got to yet is the weird offspring from an unlikely union of Sir David A and Mark Thomas … trying to get the funny into taxonomy. And please share this – anyone who might like a laugh at the madness of hedgehog-lovers while learning why hedgehog love is key to the salvation of humanity should be told …