A Magnificent Beard, AF Harrold, The Dome at Station Hill, Sunday 23 July
Review by Juliet England
It’s early Sunday afternoon just outside Reading station in the Dome at Station Hill, a structure local poet AF Harrold aptly describes as ‘the world’s warmest igloo.’ He’s not wrong. There’s also a bar, though not much in use today, this being primarily a children’s event.
The splendidly bearded, bespectacled and sandal-wearing Harrold is clearly well-used to performing for little ones, and has written extensively for children – poetry and prose. He is good with them, too, uncondescending and unselfconscious, and full of energy, warmth and wit. It’s not everyone that can communicate with kids in this way, and hold their enthralled attention for a full hour – there were only a few minor fidgets towards the end.
Harrold listens as well, engaging his young audience in conversation while also making the grown-ups chortle.
There were off-the- cuff comments about his fizzy water, the pack of mints in his pocket, about what one young lady had for breakfast. Harrold also talked about two of his novels for young readers – The Imaginary and Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away From The Circus (And Joined The Library).
We were here, too, of course, to listen to his brilliantly imaginative poems for children, including a particularly inventive one about a penguin with a nut allergy, another about giving a dog a bath, another about the very real dangers of bears lurking in morning bowls of cornflakes.
Many of the poems were new, and Harrold is talented at his craft, with strong use of rhyme, rhythm and repetition to engage a younger audience, which he did effectively, quite possibly inspiring some of the children there to write their own poems. Often, there’s an alphabetic theme – ‘R is for Rabbit’,’Z is for zilch’ and so on. He has some good anti-bullying advice, too, in ‘O is for Onion’, striking a potentially slightly more serious yet still entertaining note. Keep an onion to hand, wax lyrical about it:
“And then, when the bully’s thoroughly confused
Kick them in the shin and run away.”
It was a shame that only half a dozen (I counted them) little people came to this event, and that thumping music and a few admittedly fascinatingly costumed people larking about outside with a contraption bearing a dummy sporting an old-fashioned diving helmet, were distracting.
Nonetheless, this was still a great fun way for the whole family to spend an hour on a summery Sunday afternoon.