Sometimes you just have to do what you want to do.
Last Saturday my wife had a photography gig at a wedding which meant I had the kids all day. I had also committed to helping out at a hospital radio roadshow at a fete about an hour and a half away – this being Cornwall, remember, that is the average distance between most places of note.
To top it all, it was a miserable gloomy day where every moment the rain was threatening to dampen things further.
The easiest option would have been to stay in – certainly it is the one that the six year old would have chosen. But as I say, I had committed myself to this roadshow pretty much. And more to the point, I wanted to go. I didn’t want to stay at home and potter about tidying and getting cross with the dog while back-to-back Spongebob Squarepants played in the background.
My wife was quite keen on the idea too. Though her wedding wasn’t until the afternoon, she had some work that had been given to her last thing on Friday that she needed to do. In other words: ‘just get them out of the house, I don’t care how you do it.’
And I don’t quite know how I did it but I got them in the car in good time. The lure of sweets probably helped but even so there was absolutely none of the usual protests.
They were also well behaved enough en route for me to think up a few links for the show. Er, I mean fete. I could play Don’t Rain Upon My Parade by Barbra Streisand and Those Lazy Hazy Days of Summer by Nat King Cole to encourage the sun to come out. I had Roy Orbison playing in the car (you have to take these moments to musically educate your children, you see) and as he sung ‘anything you want, you got it’, I thought I could ask for requests then play that. And maybe I could even hold a competition to find the oldest and youngest person at the fete.
I was going to be on FIRE.
Unfortunately, as I reached the town of destination, I couldn’t for the life of me find the hospital where this fete was being held. As the length of time between my four year old’s pleas for the toilet decreased at an alarming rate, I muttered obscenities under my breath about there being no signposts to the flamin’ place. Hmm, maybe that’s what they’re trying to raise money for. Maybe I could make that gag/controversial remark during one of the links. In radio you learn to turn these negative moments into positive ones.
Anyway a woman in the Lidl car park gave me brilliant directions and we were soon there. Approaching the venue, a woman in a fluorescent jacket waved me towards the car park which was some distance away from where anything was happening.
I wound down my window.
‘I’m with hospital radio,’ I told her assertively, but without any hint of self-importance, subtlely eyeing the ample parking clearly available nearer the site.
‘Haven’t been told you can park anywhere else,’ she said impatiently, as the kids began to play up by me. ‘Over there please. Follow the signs.’
Hmm grumpy car park attendant. Another target for me to hit during the show.
So after trekking a good quarter of a mile the kids and I reached the roadshow van. Everything was set up, Dancing In The Moonlight by Toploader was playing. Dear oh dear, I thought, reaching in my bag for my recently burnt CD compilation that I was sure was going save the day.
It would have to wait, of course. My boy needed the toilet.
Now the toilet was situated right on the other side of the hospital gardens. We walked past the bouncy castle, some swingboats and a vintage train that was pulling people on a trailer around a stretch of grass.
Suddenly the kids had set an agenda for the afternoon. They wanted to do all those things. And more. There were even teacups. I hadn’t even clocked the teacups.
But what about my show?!
I insisted on going straight back to the roadshow but before I could even think about changing the music, a woman came over with a CD to play for the dance troupe about to perform on the fete arena (i.e in the middle of the field).
They were good. They danced to the first two of three tracks on the CD and I got the crowd to give them an extra cheer and said how they’d be back for the fete finale, then went straight into Start Without You by Alexandra Burke. A karate club hadn”t shown up for their display – ‘maybe they were beaten up on the way here,’ I jested to the crowd, hoping they actually weren’t there.
I was on a roll.
The kids, meanwhile, had been enjoying the dancing but boredom and bickering were beginning to set in. With my eye off the ball and on the brawl, I did the link about Barbra Streisand making sure no-one rained on our parade but played Glen Campbell instead.
Clearly I was in no fit frame of mind to continue and took the kids off to go on some of the rides. They did the teacups, the swingboats and the train ride and then I compromised my way back to the van.
By this time though a dog show had begun in the arena. The compere for this had borrowed our portable mike and with a long list of categories like – get this – ‘dog or bitch the judge would most like to take home’, for the next 45 minutes all we could do was play Now 78 softly in the background.
But at least the kids got to do more stuff: a donkey ride and an inflatable hammer each as a prize for ringing the bell with the hammer. Then an ice cream and back for a go on the bouncy castle – £1.50 for five minutes or pay a tenner and…
Now that is one gag I got to make back on air. Before I got too into my stride, though, the dancing troupe came back on for their finale and I put on their third track for them.
Very quickly their manager (or whoever this woman was) said it was the first two tracks. Oh, I shrugged, the same two routines again. I’d seen them before and so had the kids. By the time the second track had started – a mix-up, sorry mash-up (I’m getting old) of, among other things Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough – they were belting each other with their inflatable hammers and I was thinking what song to line up after the troupe were done.
I pressed the stop button on the CD player with Now 78 in it and…
Silence. A deathly silence.
I’d stopped the troupe’s CD, bang in the middle of Michael Jackson’s, well, you know. The dance troupe – who were a group of nice looking teenage girls but no doubt could hold their own down Costcutters on a Saturday night – all swung their heads round and looked at me, flabbergasted. The spectators near the van were staring at me too. Some glared, others tutted in complete disgust or shook their heads in pity as though I might be a bit special needs.
‘Sorry,’ I shouted in my best John Cleese voice. Then I did all I could and started the second track again from the beginning. At least it had only been 45 seconds in.
I couldn’t even blame the kids as they had been behaving very well really. I thought maybe I had blown it, that maybe I would never kickstart my radio career after such a public schoolboy error.
The troupe finished and I encouraged the crowd to cheer again, then decided to do a quick link into the next song as if it was going to be my last.
‘Can I have the CD back?’ the troupe manager said.
Inwardly I snared: ‘oi, I’m trying to concentrate on doing my job here, don’t interrupt’ but I thought better of it, given what had happened.
The fete was winding down and the dog show guy hijacked the mike once more to do the raffle. All that was left for me to do after he’d finished was start packing away the equipment.
As I did, I vowed not to bring the kids on my own to an event like this again. Too much of a distraction. I hadn’t made the jokes about the car park attendant or the lack of signposts, let alone ask for requests or done the oldest/youngest member of the crowd competition. I’d miscued tracks, almost ruined the show for the main act…
But then the fete organiser came over to say thank you for all our efforts. No mention of any cock-ups. She even asked about how to invoice us and whether we could come back again next year.
I looked across to the ‘arena’ where my two kids were happily playing with one another and had even made some friends. They’d had a great time, going on all the rides, eating ice cream.
And do you know what, so had I. OK I hadn’t exactly been Mike Smith circa 1984 at the Radio 1 Roadshow in Bournemouth – one reason why I was where I was standing now – but when it had gone right, it had been fun. When it hadn’t, ah, so what. The Costcutter troupe hadn’t come after me, anyway.
By now the sun was shining and I drove the kids home, stopping at McDonalds en route.
I was right. Sometimes you have to do what you want to do. Chances are your kids will enjoy themselves more than if you hadn’t.
Next day the sun was out again by the afternoon, a perfect day to go to the beach, splash around in the sea, have an ice cream, maybe some chips.
Alas my wife remembered she had arranged a play date with one of my daughter’s friends for them all to go to the cinema. To see Kung Fu Panda 2. Then a trip to the milkshake place in town. As there were three kids, she needed me along.
Normal service had resumed then – for the both of us.
As I say sometimes you just have to do what you want to do. Because usually you don’t get that much of a chance.