Penguins and the Theatre

Here I sit, pondering life and how amazing it is, and why I at my age find it so much more interesting than almost 17 year old Horace, who seems permanently bored unless listening to her type of music (which sounds just like the stuff I used to listen to) or talking to her type of boy or reading her type of book.

My musings lead me to the conclusion that experience of life is the only thing that enables a person to understand its diversity and potential. As a child I hardly experienced a supermarket and now I would find it hard to live without that automated, beeping, brightly lit, all providing entity. My first transistor radio was state of the art and measured about six inches by three, I now have a tiny thing about an inch square that hooks on my belt on the infrequent occasions when I exercise. The swings, when I was a child, consisted of apparatus no modern day child would be allowed to go near: the ‘extremely dangerous’ witch’s hat and rocking horse, as well as swings embedded in a concrete base. Nowadays the slides aren’t slippery, the rocking horse barely moves and the witch’s hat is too risky for councils to even contemplate. These things, among many, make me appreciate that the future could be beyond my wildest imaginings. I sometimes think of what we have today and compare it to the lot of stone-age man. He lived a mere millimetre away on the time-line of history and yet he would not recognise this world in which we live.

Two completely amazing facts, one about the theatre and one about a penguin, came to my notice recently and I was delighted and entertained by them. The first, an assertion, by Mr Keith Waterhouse in that distinguished publication, Saga Magazine, stated that in any week in the UK more people attend the theatre than go to a football match. I take this to mean that there are more bums on theatre seats than football match seats. This seemed amazing to me and I thought I would report it here, however first I needed to establish its veracity.

It was not easy to find appropriate statistics for this year, 2005, but I found some figures for 2002, I can’t believe that they would differ greatly from those for this year.

First theatre: According to the office of National Statistics who used BMRB International and the Cinema Advertising Association for its figures, 24% of the UK population go to the theatre these days. I surmise that this is not necessarily every week but I suppose some of them might go to the theatre more than once a week. According to the Optimum Population Trust the population of the UK in mid-2002 was 59,322,000; so according to my basic maths, 14,237,280 people go to the theatre these days.

I’m afraid I can’t remember the precise source of my football information, there are several websites offering data on football match attendance figures and I looked at most of them. The figure I came up with was 30,988,548 bums on football stadium seats in 2002.

Now I know that strictly speaking the two totals cannot be compared but looking at them I find it very difficult to believe Mr Waterhouse’s claim and I am disappointed.

Now to the Penguin. This story was related to me by my mother who swore it was true and had happened to a lady she knew who looked after people with special needs. It seems that this lady was taking a group of SN people to the zoo when one of them was noticed to be missing. He eventually turned up soaking wet and unable to explain what had happened to him. The staff opened up his ruck-sack to look for a change of clothes and found instead – a penguin.

Oh how I wanted this one to be true, and indeed it may have happened once, but not to the lady of my mother’s acquaintance. The original story was apparently set in Drayton Manor and featured a 12 year old with Downs Syndrome. It can be traced back to 1993 according to Snopes.com, which investigates Urban Legends.

So, all that amazement: was it wasted? I don’t think so. I had fun investigating and exposing the truth and then there’s the contemplation of the inexplicable nature of the human being. Why, I ask myself – and you the reader, would anyone want to pretend they were involved in the penguin story? Why not just relate it truthfully as having been told by a friend of a friend, the classic scenario of the urban myth? And why would a respected and successful journalist mislead the Saga generation about the relative popularity of football and the theatre? Now that’s interesting.