eIt’s 10.25am on a Thursday and I am sitting in the front row of the Civic Theatre, surrounded by approximately four hundred 10 and 11 year old children. Aside from their adult supervisors, teachers and parent helpers I am the oldest there. Why? Because in 5 minutes Nikki Gamble, the owner of children’s bookshop and story centre Just Imagine, will be introducing Michael Rosen, former Children’s Laureate, to the stage and the 5 year old inside me has pushed aside all social boundaries and decided to go. Suffice to say I feel overwhelmingly intimidated by such a mass of excitable children – I frequently glance through the double doors at the back of the theatre where my mum can be seen at the book stall; it reassures me to know that in the event of a bundle at least one person would know I was in there.
The lights are suddenly dimmed and I chuckle at the squeals of delight from the red-uniformed gaggle to my right; the sort of chuckle which distracts you from dwelling on the thought that that child was not so long ago you. Nikki walks onto the stage and begins with a story that happened last year, when an ash cloud covered the country and she and Michael Rosen were stuck at an airport and had to sleep on suitcases on the floor. Whilst sitting there Nikki told Michael that she was going to open a bookshop in Chelmsford and he said, “When you do, get a theatre, let me know and I’ll be there.” She then encouraged the audience to give a hearty welcome to one of the funniest men she knew, Michael Rosen! A bearded man with a rucksack strolled onto the stage with a wave, a face so recognisable, one that I could picture in my mind long before meeting him and suddenly there he was in front of me, no longer just a name on a book but a friendly, instantly at ease man in jeans and a stripy jumper. The stage is decorated as a living room for the play currently on at the Civic and Michael moves straight to the sofa and lies down. He turns to the audience: “Like my house?” A wink.
The next hour is undoubtedly one of the most amusing experiences I have ever had. Michael only recites two of his poems however he spins together stories of his childhood and parenthood in order to entertain his willing audience. Sitting in my seat I became increasingly aware that I was not listening to an author drone on about the painful climb to become a published writer but in fact a stand-up comedian for children. Michael’s expressive face and effortless humour has not just the four hundred 10 and 11 year olds in hysterics but me fighting back tears of laughter. The poem I enjoyed listening to and indeed joining with the most was perhaps aimed at the youngest children however it is so rhythmically written that I couldn’t help finding it later and reading it out loud, only capturing a fragment of the eccentricity that Michael Rosen conveys as a performer. I absolutely love it!
This poem was recited more as a song than a poem as Michael tapped his foot and kept the audience giggling with amusement. After the performance was over each school in turn had the opportunity to visit the book stand, buy as many books as they wished and then line up at a table opposite where Michael Rosen was waiting, pen in hand, to sign them. Once all 400 children had been through the queue and had filed off to their coaches and buses I had a chance to meet Michael and, unashamedly get my copy of “We’re going on a bear hunt” signed. He said “My, this is a well loved book!” It was undeniably a little worse for wear, sellotaped pages and bent corners however it had been undoubtedly one of both mine and my brother’s favourite picture books when we younger. He wrote “To Emily and Edward, Michael Rosen was here.”
Michael Rosen’s latest book “Even my ears are smiling”, a collection of poetry, is available in hard back, including an audio CD. Whatever your age this would be a thoroughly enjoyable buy. That day I learnt that however old a person might say they are, on the inside they are still every age that they have ever been and when opportunities such as this one come along, it is those different ages within you that grab it with two hands.