Monday, 10 February 2014
After helping out a local charity over the last few months, I was kindly invited to an awards ceremony they were holding at St James's Park.
It was a formal evening event, arranged as a way of saying thanks to the hardworking volunteers and employees involved. It was also entirely free - something which spoke to the all-encompassing good nature of the charity's organisers. (On this night their goal was not to make money, only to celebrate the generosity of their supporters)
Grateful to spend an evening amongst others who I admired, I had no trouble ignoring grief from the hostess as I arrived. (I was happy to hear that the free cocktail was non-alcoholic - not sure I deserved to be put down.) I expected to meet some very interesting people, it being a charity event and all, but what I didn't predict was quite how offbeat some of the volunteers appeared to be, not just the victims being supported.
I was informed that one girl, Jane, had recently completed a bungee jump to raise money for the charity. Jane was a lovely but quiet girl, hidden in plain view like the last bag of bread on the shelf. A lady introduced herself to Jane and inquired about the aforementioned fundraising activity, but Jane said she didn't know what they were talking about.
It seemed as if Jane was so afraid of having to talk about herself, that her subconscious mind had actually prevented her from recalling the memory! It wasn't until another volunteer caught her out by saying, "yes, you did, you wally... you jumped off a bridge," that she was forced into owning up.
Jane was evidently a brave and giving woman, and I hoped her perceived shyness was not the result of her peers' repeated disinterest in her. I bet she was fascinating, really. (As a side note, I also overheard her say that the event had only made a pittance on account of her friends being "very stingy." I think she meant very imaginary...)
After dinner the awards ceremony started and our host Carl was introduced. (I'm not sure what his affiliation was with the charity but apparently he had done "this sort of thing" before.) It was during his warm up speech, while provoking us to "make some noise," that the microphone cut-out, leaving his mouse-like voice in the corner of the room.
It was a shame, yes, but these were only momentary silences, no more than four seconds long. Just before the interval, however, I became troubled by something I'd heard earlier; rumour had it that there was to be a surprise performance. I hoped it was a mime act...
No sooner had this occurred to me than local singer KJ was being beckoned to the stage.
I'd heard KJ sing before, as it happens, and his voice is sensational. He's a complete professional, too. Surely he'd brought his own equipment, and some roadies, to help carry off this special performance?
Nope, he was using the same banged up sound system as everyone else.
Delighted to be at the show, KJ announced he would be opening with Skyfall, a certain crowd-pleaser and perfect for displaying his sultry voice. I felt a sickness I'd not felt since my first girlfriend told me she "kinda" wanted to "bang this other dude."
"Is the introduction always this long?" I thought, and when he finally eased in with the opening line, "this is the end," a part of me wanted to take him at his word, ushering him off before things turned sour.
I can't have been alone in my anxiety, the whole room had been hearing the same problems all night long. Maybe he had, too? He'd realised the issue stemmed from a volumetric overload and was planning to tailor his style to fit? Yes! You wonderful man, KJ! I can relax my twisted body and feel safe in your capable hands...
A triumphant "let-the-sskk" was greeted instantly with silence, followed closely by an elderly woman's half-arsed moan, as if discovering her grandchild had dropped an ice lolly. I measured the tables around me, people were hiding on their phones and inside their wine glasses as KJ struggled on. I did the same, I tried to escape, far away from the ceaseless conflict of performers and audience and expectations. Maybe we didn't want him to know we were watching him, or could hear him (which, to be fair, we regularly couldn't), so we tried to make ourselves disappear, like a thoughtful but shy girl at a charity dinner.
It didn't feel right and I soon altered my approach. For the remainder of his set I gave him my full attention, trying to convey how fantastic he really was and how this was out of his control. During which time the projector behind displayed intimate holiday snaps as the organiser's laptop drifted through sleep. It was such a bizarre mix of talent and disaster - we were watching Winona Ryder loot a department store, and it was making everybody uncomfortable.
KJ finished his plagued three-song set and apologised for the technical hiccups. It pained me that this great singer had suffered such trouble, while Michael Bublé's interval music had never faltered. (Not that Bublé isn't a great singer, just that his songs are the product of a careful and costly recording procedure, rather than that of a humble charity event, and a humble man's spare time.)
Alas the show must go on, and an undeterred Carl returned to short circuit the microphone until the end of the ceremony, when the highly anticipated raffle commenced.
Let down by my lazy bladder once again, I returned from the bathroom having missed the first few winners. As I was taking my seat, the gentleman across the table was quizzing the girl next to me with an almost accusatory tone.
"Is that all you've won?!" He asked.
The lady was staring down at a packet of Maynard's Wine Gums resting on the table. She solemnly looked from bag to man and said "yes."
But just when I thought the prizes couldn't get any better, I heard the announcement that one "lucky" winner was "taking home a copy of the Lorraine Kelly book." Well, I'm surprised they made it back to their seat in one piece! Kelly's book had been eyed up all night, I'd thrown good money after bad on those tickets just for a chance at it...
Of course, I am only playing for laughs, here. I have not forgotten that this was a wonderfully kind evening, and one which I felt privileged to be a part of. Truthfully, it mattered not that the prizes seemed as if they had been selected from a bin bag beside a bowling alley because IT WAS A FREE CHARITY EVENT!
I love that it had been patched together by a few generous people without any selfish agenda. What did some of those who were rolling their eyes expect? They should have laughed at the shortcomings. It was endearing; it was "homemade." When the host said there was still some great prizes to be won, including "a trilogy of novels," everybody should have just played along with the banter. (At least I hope it was banter...)
The charity were celebrating support through an Oscars style awards ceremony. It was not a "fundraiser", the only form of donation was an optional raffle, and one man told me he thought the whole evening had been "crap."
What an entitled fool.
Talented singers, charitable adolescents and tireless employees had given their time and energy in the support of an important cause. Who cares that the evening had its problems? Don't we all?