You’ll never guess who came to one of my workshops the other week… Alan Partridge! Here’s how it transpired.
I start the Zoom for this week’s Write for your Life – creative group journaling workshop.
The first person arrives. It’s Jane, one of my regulars. I know this because I can see the top of her head and I can’t hear her. I say hello and know she’ll join us when her tech is working.
Various other people arrive and we chit chat and say hello to each other.
This time, (no pun intended) it’s Alan Partridge. Of course, I’d seen he was booked on and had also had a brief chat with Lynn (she did the actual booking naturally) where she confided, and asked me not to mention that it had been ‘suggested’ he attend the workshop by the BBC as part of an ongoing performance improvement plan.
He has ‘Peartree Productions’ where a name should be on his Zoom window. I seem to remember that Peartree Productions had long since folded, but I’m guessing he’s continued to use the name as it sounds quite good.
“Hello, hello!?” he says looking faux-confused, as if he’s never attended a Zoom call before, immediately taking up all the attention.
“Hello Partridge Productions” I say. I’m not being facetious; this is how I put people at ease. Slightly teasy, but always welcoming.
“Have I pronounced it right?”
Alan, irritated: “I’m sorry, isn’t this ‘Life for your life writing life’?” His obvious mis-quoting of my workshop title, a lame attempt to regain comedy control.
“Yes, Peartree productions, it’s ‘Write for your Life,’ you’re very welcome.” “Can you tell us your name so we know what to call you?”
“Partridge,” he says performatively, “Alan Partridge.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you Alan,” I say. “Are you able to change your name or would you like me to do that for you?”
“Change my name? Woah woah lady, calm down. I know women like to change men once they’ve got their teeth into a relationship, but this is all a bit sudden!” He smiles, pleased with his quick wittedness.
“Ha, yes…” I say, trailing off whilst he finishes laughing and looking around for visual support.
“I just meant your name, on the corner of your screen, so we can call you by your first name. If that’s OK? Would you like me to do it, it’ll just take a sec?”
“You go ahead Mish Money Penny,” he says turning on his best James Bond.
I change his name on the Zoom to “Partridge, Alan Partridge.”
“Are you flirting with me Mish Money Penny?” He asks as he reads back what I’ve written.
“Ha, no Alan, I’m just a bit literal. Right,” I say, “for those who haven’t been before, this is how it works.”
“Sorry,” says Alan – clearly not sorry – “Aren’t we supposed to introduce ourselves and tell our sob stories first?”
“No, no Alan, there’s no need to, unless you really want to, of course.”
“What am I here for then?”
“All will become clear, and don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for sharing and discussion after we’ve done the first exercise.”
“Star jumps or squats?” he says.
“What’s that Alan?”
“Exercises, star jumps, squats… oh you know… oh sorry, ahum, yes, let’s, let’s get going… I’ll be quiet now… shhhhh.” Alan says putting his finger to his lips.
“Any more questions before I go into what we’re doing to get up to today?”
“Where are the toilets?” Alan says with a snort. He catches his own silly joke and mumbles another apology followed by a deep look into the camera, with his elbows on the desk, “I’m here and serious. Let’s get stuck in!” He says as if he’s begun presenting a quiz show.
I begin my introduction covering what we’ll be doing which takes just a couple of minutes.
Half way through Alan interrupts again.
“Sorry, are we going to do any actual writing?”
“Yes Alan, any minute now, as soon as I’ve finished the brief introduction, we’ll get cracking.”
“Cracking!” says Alan, enjoying the sound of his voice.
I finally finish what is literally a two-minute introduction after three more interruptions; “Sorry, you’re on mute – only joking.” “Can someone actually tell me where the toilets are? I’m in a Premiere Inn using their Wifi but the signage is nothing short of appalling.” And finally, “Will there be snacks?”
“As it’s National Penguin Day we’re going to start with the following prompt: ‘I wish I could fly…’ We’ll write for five minutes. Write those words and keep your pen moving. I’ll set the timer for five minutes.”
“Are we boiling eggs now?” His face drops again when no-one laughs.
“So, if everyone…”
Alan starts doing an Orville impression “I wish I could fly, way up to the sky but I can’t…”
He sees the blank looks of the other participants and says, “It’s Orville. You know, the singing duck and – at best – third-rate children’s entertainer.” He chuckles, “Only in the 80s” “Sorry Keith, RIP mate.”
“OK, and your five minutes has begun.”
I start the timer and put everyone on mute.
Alan immediately unmutes himself. “Sorry, am I being a penguin who can’t fly or just a penguin?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well, a penguin who can’t fly in an overt way is different to an every-day penguin who is generally useless at becoming air-born.”
“I see what you mean Alan, try not to overthink it. Just write in response to the words, “I wish I could fly.” What does it mean to you?”
“Well, I wish I bloody well could fly but since the Big C, the new one, not the old one, Cancer” he whispers. “I mean Covid, the new Big C. Anyway, since that it’s so flipping complicated to fly. Lynn, my assistant god bless her, she helps out but she can’t get past security. “Yes Mein Fuhrer! No Mein Fuhrer!” he shouts. “Ach! Tung, you will show your Covid pass or I will have you executed! Ha!” he says with an evil grin.
“Try and forget about reality Alan, try and let go of everything.”
“Ooh er” he snorts again, eyes darting once again for support.
“Just see where the pen goes.” I re-set the timer, “OK five minutes, here we go.”
I see Alan searching for yet another interruption but eventually he gives in and starts writing. At first, he is resistant but once he starts his writing gets faster and faster. He grimaces and frowns, he looks thrilled and excited, then angry. This is free-writing at its best. He stops abruptly looking up to see everyone still writing.
“Jane, psssst… Jane” Alan whispers loudly. The fact we’re on Zoom continues to elude him, or at least that’s what he pretends. “Jane, what have you written?” Jane ignores Alan which isn’t difficult as we’re back to the top of her head and she’s probably muted the Zoom. “John… psssst… John.” He insists. John stops briefly but doesn’t look up.
I type in the chat to Alan, “Alan, are you clear on what you’re doing?”
“Yes,” he says out loud, ignoring my attempt at a private ‘chat’ conversation.
I type that I’d rather he typed the response as he is disturbing the others. He continues to speak anyway.
“Actually, no, I’m not clear. I thought I came here to develop myself, so that HR can, you know, tick the right box and leave me flipping alone to do what I’m best at. Do you know I’m a National Treasure, a household name? I’ve come up with no less than 712 ideas for quiz shows and 48 detective series alone. I’ve taken over 1000 calls from desperate and honestly, some pretty pathetic listeners on my radio show, looking for advice and words of wisdom and reassurance. From yours truly! And what do I get? A slap on the wrist for caring too much, for being too polite and calling ladies ‘ladies.’ I love ladies, and not just in the bedroom department. My assistant is a lady – just about – and she’s alright. It’s not just for my needs that I like women though, they make excellent receptionists, restaurant hosts and other things. No, call me a lot of things, but sexist I am not. I believe all women should get a fair crack of the whip, and I mean all of them, not just the attractive ones. So don’t haul me up on a charge of sexual harassment. I’m as woke as the next man. I woke up today, I woke up yesterday and I’ll keep waking up until I start getting paid to sit and dribble in front of my TV along with the rest of societies rejects. I can’t fly and I never will. Not as long as I’m a man. Not as long as I’m not a woman! I never will be a woman! Never!”
The sound of the timer interrupts the silence as the others finish writing. Alan’s verbal free-write is over and I see him begin to process what he’s just said.
I proceed to pair people off into rooms as usual and give everyone instructions to share what they’re comfortable with.
I put Alan with Jane and open the rooms. I’m ready for Alan to have a problem with joining his Zoom rooms but, with a look of concern, he quietly clicks to join, muttering “Aha!” quietly to himself and vanishes from my screen.
Five minutes later when everyone comes back, Alan is still quiet, but smiling slightly at what I assume is some relief at having got stuff off his chest. I ask if anyone would like to share. Alan jumps in and says thank you to Jane. He doesn’t say what transpired in their conversation, but as usual, the magic of writing and sharing has done its trick.
We finish the workshop with just a few more minor interruptions including Alan flinging his pen to his left and shouting “catch!” to the person who is presumably next to him to him on his screen.
Everyone says goodbye and after I explain to Alan that I can’t share people’s emails, (“Bloody HR police again…”) he says, with a final laugh that he may come again, not for self-development but for the ‘excellent snacks!’
PS Obviously, I wouldn’t normally share someone’s experience, but Alan practically insisted when I asked if it was OK to share his verbal free-write, on the basis that it demonstrated even those who can’t physically write can take part. “Diversity – back of the net!” was his parting comment.