Ian McMillan: Upstaged by a fly with an eye on showbiz

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I spent a happy morning recently regaling the Probus Club in Wombwell with my anecdotes and stories; the event was billed as ‘Ian McMillan gives a humorous talk’ so I thought I’d do my best to be funny and to be honest it went down pretty well.

One thing I noticed, though, as I entered the community centre, was that a fly came in with me. It may have been a Darfield fly that had nipped into the car I got a lift to the gig in, and, dizzied by a visit to the big city, ended up buzzing around the hall.

During the reading of the last meeting’s minutes I saw the fly sitting calmly on a curtain, surveying the scene. When the tea and biscuits were served it flew up to the ceiling and hovered around in a triangular fashion.

Then, when I stood up to speak, it began to get very agitated. It must have been the pitch or the timbre of my voice that unsettled it. I know it grates on some people, making them reach instantly for the off switch if I’m on the radio, or causing them to change seats if I’m sitting near them on a train. A woman in Goole once said to me, ‘I don’t mind you but I can’t stand your voice’ to which there really is no reply, unless you can manage a series of elaborate hand signals.

The fly was going mad; it zoomed around the room, almost but not quite colliding with the lights. It banged into the window a couple of times then returned to the body of the hall, flying round and round in diminishing then increasing circles.

My humorous talk was going quite well but I noticed that I was losing eye-contact with quite a few of the audience. They weren’t looking at me, they were looking at the fly. They were engaging in fly-contact. I tried to make my stories funnier and although lots of people were laughing, even more people were following the fly as though hypnotised by its wings. Some of them were laughing at me and following the fly, like it was the fly itself that was making them laugh.

As a grey-haired man myself I’m happy to report that many of the audience had grey hair; I like having grey hair because it makes you seem distinguished and wise. The fly liked grey hair too because it kept landing on grey heads briefly before taking off again. The thing was that certain members of the audience took it upon themselves to swat the fly off the head of the person sitting in front of them, like fly-vigilantes.

The fly would land on a head. A hand would flick the head from the row behind. The fly would fly off again and land on another head. It would be flicked off again. I imagine the fly was making little insect chortling sounds. The fly got a bit cheeky: it would flap down towards a head as though it was going to land and then ascend into the Wombwell air at the last minute, leaving somebody wafting nothing with their hand.

Eventually the fly did its party piece; it landed on somebody’s head and then jumped off onto somebody else’s head all the way down the line of Probus Club members. It was like a prototype version of Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb.

At the end of my talk some of the applause was for me but I suspect most of it was for the fly.