I was feeling a little pessimistic about Tuesday, as it was my birthday, one of the ones with a bit fat 0 on the end, but I am fortunate in having some very good friends, one of whom booked tickets for us to go to the Foyles event of Neil Gaiman reading the whole of his new children's book, 'Fortunately the Milk' at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster, and another friend came over too, and was generous enough to take me out for (a truly superb) lunch, so I began to feel more cheerful.
There may have been some wine involved, too.
We all met up outside the venue, and without ever quite deciding to do so, we wound up waiting for the doors to open, which meant we were very close to the front of the queue and able to sit in the front row once they let us into the hall. Inevitably, we bumped into several friends and acquaintances. The hall is an amazing venue - huge auditorium with a massive dome (and a stonking great pipe organ!) and has a fascinating history -
It was built on the site of the old London Aquarium, to mark the centenary of John Wesley's death, and opened in 1912. The first ever meeting of the UN General Assembly took place there, and it has hosted speakers as diverse as Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama (not all at once, obviously)
And now Neil Gaiman.
This was no ordinary reading. The evening was introduced and compered by Andrew O'Neill, who started out by explaining he had a list of words he isn't supposed to say on stage, which he carefully read to us so we would recognise them when we heard them (including 'Bum', 'Number 2s' and 'Beyonce'), experimented with how loud, high and low we could all sing and let us in a brief but rousing chorus of 'We Will Rock You'.
Then we had music, from TV Smith and Tom Robinson. With some audience participation.
It was a lot of fun, and all before Neil even came on stage.
Once he did, things got even better. Which was quite an achievement.
Chris Riddell, who illustrated the (UK) version of the book was there to draw pictures as the story progressed - lovely pictures, especially the careful labelling to ensure that we could not miss the Milk. (after all, as Professor Steg says, "Where there is milk, there is hope")
Neil read the whole of 'Fortunately the Milk', with help from friends who played the Green Globby Aliens, Pirates, Worshippers of Splod, Wumpires, Ponies, Dwarfs and Space Dinosaur Police Officers.
|Grumpy Pirates, as read by Mitch Benn and Tom Robinson|
It's hard to pick out a favourite part of the evening,
|Lenny Henry, Space
One of the final special guests was the lovely Lenny Henry, who appeared in what I am sure will come to be known as a landmark performance in his acting career, as the Galactic Police Dinosaur. (lots of people can play great Shakespearean roles. Not eveyone can manage a Galactic Police Dinosaur)
|Tash, Andrew O'Neill, TV Smith, Mitch Benn, Neil Gaiman, Niamh Walsh,
Lenny Henry and Siobhan Hewlett
all too soon, the story came to an end. I'm not sure who was having more fun - the 10 or so people on stage, or the 2,000 or so in the hall.
The final treat of the evening was a brief appearance by Amanda Palmer herself , who performed her 'Ukulele Anthem' (with an extra milk-related verse)
A perfect end to a perfect evening.
My friends and I then took a walk through Trafalgar Square to admire the giant blue cock, and finished the night with dim sum.
It's true what Neil said on his blog, though.There were no ladies jumping through rings of fire, and no human sacrifice. Although the milk had a close call.
So, based on my experience, I would say that if any of you are considering turning 40 in the near future, and are feeling down about it, there are a few simple steps you can take to combat those aging blues:
1. Make sure you have some amazing friends who will provide good company, and treats.
2. Get Neil Gaiman to write a new kids book and read it to you with a large backing ensemble.
3. That's it.
Honestly, if I had known turning 40 would be this much fun, I would have done it years ago
Full set of photos here