Happy Birthday Ian

January 20th, 2016, 5pm

Facebook friends know I post pictures of signs in an album, I Know What They Mean But… Signs written to mean one thing but read another.

You know …. Customer Wrapping Table. If Your Height Exceeds Ten Feet Report To Reception. In emergency please ask customer service if nappies are required.

People send me stuff now, it is more often than not fake, like a sign in a railway station saying, Stand Behind the Yellow Lines Or The Trains Will Suck You Off. I don’t why you would spend so much time photoshopping when there is so much out there.

Open Hand Car Wash, Early Music Rehearsal Change of Start Time.

It is kind of a disease. I have to distinguish between things that make me laugh just because they are words made portentous because someone has fixed them in a sign and things that people without this condition see. Exit. Downward Slope. Toilets (Use Lifts).

It is that man’s fault. Him on the left.

This evening a bunch of people hung outside a BBC studio in Media City (for a Manc the tram announcement “Eccles via Media City UK” is an audio trigger for this disease) then at the end of a staged interview with the poet Michael Symmonds Roberts, we filed in to silence the most garrulous man we know with a 60th birthday surprise.

We all had a reason for being there.

One of mine was that many years ago, Ian McMillan and his friend, collaborator and brother in law, Martyn Wiley, were poets in residence for me at Ilkley Literature Festival. All three festivals I directed. I am sorry other writers who were around then, but I had so much fun I couldn’t contemplate anyone else, pure selfishness, the pleasure their company, the pleasure of classrooms of children screaming poetry, the pleasure of seeing teachers try so hard to contain their laughter they slipped bursting from their chairs.

And between schools, between events, I would drive them about and every road would be a recital of signs, shops, A boards - some of them not funny at all, Ian and Martyn just needed something to say out loud, maybe a kind of poet resting. But I caught it.

So happy birthday Ian McMillan, a man with accent, heart and an insane passion for whatever everyone else is trying to do - a brilliant exception in a solipsistic world. A man who with his Radio3 show The Verb has carved an alternative mainstream space apart from the comfy literary laziness of the the rest of the mainstream media. A champion of great world literature, a champion of the rest of us, a champion of the demotic, a surprising arrival on twitter but one of the most human @IMcMillan

And a writer. His Barnsley Seascapes is the great poem of the Miners’ Strike. He is still kicking language and thought about in a way few of the people he champions can. He touches the north in the bit of us that is knowing ourselves, wherever we are from.

In the lift full of your friends going up to your do, there was a BBC woman with a BBC sign under her arm, we couldn’t read it. She got off at the floor below.

Happy birthday Ian. And thank you.

David Wade and Adrian said thanks.

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Steve Dearden

Writer, producer and Director of The Writing Squad - www.stevedearden.com

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