Last night I went to Charter Hall, the large conference hall attached to Colchester’s Leisure World complex, to hand out the prizes/a-level certificates to about 400 ex-Colchester 6th Form College Students. It was a huge event, there were about 800 people there and I was on stage for about an hour and a half shaking hands and saying “well done” and “congratulations.” To be adventurous sometimes I would say “well done” first, and others I would say “congratulations” first. Living by the seat of my pants. Sometimes I would dry up and when I went to speak I’d just sort of squeak. Sometimes I’d address the students by name, other times I’d just look them between the eyes and whisper “never come back here.”*
After the prize-giving I had to give a speech. I didn’t prepare anything on paper, I obviously gave it some thought before hand, but as I stepped up to the podium in that MASSIVE hall I wasn’t entirely sure how to start. I wasn’t sure if this was deliberate attempt to be off-the-cuff or a monumental game of social-chicken with my own sloth. On reflection I think it was the former. I was genuinely moved by the experience. Each of those students stepping up on stage to receive their certificates is the star of a story just beginning. Some of those stories will end gloriously, other less so, but there in front of me was life itself.
It made me realise how important our roots are, how all our stories start somewhere. It made me remember Kevin Murphy who used to teach English at 6th Form College and who gave me my first ever gig on The Concourse. To him it was a small favour, letting an enthusiastic student read his (rubbish) poems at lunchtime in front of a largely hostile crowd of townies who were trying to eat their lunch, but to me it was a small step that lead to half my life.
I have no doubt some of those students are unmoved by their time at that college, some might still be waiting for those tiny/huge moments, but there are plenty of others who will have been set on a monumental path by a teacher or peer in the last two years. I felt humbled to be a guest of honour last night; that someone trusted me to say a few words to bring an event like that to a close. I hope I acquitted myself well. People didn’t avoid me afterwards, so I don’t think it was an utter disaster.
After the event I had a lovely time talking to old teachers and a few Saturday Live listeners. Which reminds me, I’m on Saturday Live tomorrow with none other than Twiggy, who my dad informs me is “a bit of alright.” Maybe I’ll write a poem about my dad fancying Twiggy. It was embarrass my dad (and probably Twiggy too) and that is reason enough.
* I’d like to stress that I never did this. That was a joke.