COMEDIAN and renegade wordsmith Alex Horne enthralled a Swindon Festival of Literature audience with a show that, in his parlance, was well worth the honk.

The Radio 4 regular is on a mission to change the face of the English language by planting new words in the dictionary.

His quick-fire show at the Arts Centre in Old Town took in his efforts at placing his creations in forums ranging from an obscure classics magazine, to the Times, to Countdown to a global TV audience on BBC World.

His goal is for dictionaries to list entries for words including honk, meaning money, bollo, meaning a cry of disgust, and honest, meaning fat.

Other side-missions, such as planting a rumour that petite newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky is 6ft tall, have been added just for fun.

“I started with a rumour that it was impossible to balance one shoe on top of another,” Horne quipped. “But unfortunately it was too easy to disprove.”

Sporting a handlebar moustache and ploughing a jolly hurrah through his assault on the hallowed tomes of the English language, Horne’s show had the audience hanging on every made-up word. As well as proving a nuisance to the likes of Wikipedia, where he changes Kaplinsky’s height on a “daily” basis, he recounted trying to introduce words to friends and neighbours with varying degrees of success.

“I once told my neighbour what an honest hound he had,” Horne told the crowd. “He thought I was very strange, it’s more of an in-joke.”

But Horne did a clip of a Ginster’s advert promoting the pasty maker’s “real honest food”. Another of his eccentric quests is to gain recognition for TK day – your 10,000th day on Earth. Horne is trying to become the world’s oldest person and, at 33, is breaking his personal best every single day.

The award-winning comedian, who is the co-creator of BBC 4 show We Need Answers, has erudite leanings underpinning his quick-draw wordplay.

Horne was followed last night by a recording of Matt Harvey’s comedy poetry show, Wondermentalist, for Radio 4. But his mission to change our dusty old word banks is unlikely to be upstaged by fellow comedians or the guardians of the English language. And that’s no bollo.

A life working with children

CHILDREN’S advocate Camilla Batmanghelidjh gave an inspirational talk to a packed auditorium for one of the highlights of Swindon Festival of Literature.

Illuminated behind the lectern in multi-coloured head wrap and robes, she gave an engaging, compassionate and at times unsettling account of her work.

The enigmatic founder of the Kids Company, a charity for vulnerable children in South London, began with the words “this is terrifying”.

She then told how she had documented the life stories of 400 children from deprived backgrounds, finding they had all suffered some form of abuse.

Batmanghelidjh said far from being a cause of society’s ills, the “extraordinary” children she has worked with for the past 21 years simply needed their dignity restored.

Speaking at the Arts Centre in Old Town, she told of the psychological trigger-points left behind by childhood trauma.

“It was the dignity and the fortitude and the extraordinary compassion that I saw in these children that made me realise because they don't have a voice in our public spaces, their needs aren’t being adequately met,” she said.

Batmanghelidjh, a trained psychotherapist, said children were “banking” traumatic memories of catastrophic abuse which were being replayed later in life through acts of violence.

Since being set up in 1996, the Kids Company has healed the scars through gym and martial arts facilities, art and complimentary therapies, before guiding young people to work and education.


Coming up today

Arts Centre, 12.30pm – The curious site of a huge fibre glass shark penetrating a rooftop became quite a talking point in 1986. It’s the subject of a presentation by author and broadcaster Bill Heine, who draws from his book The Hunting Of The Shark to tell his tall tale.

Arts Centre Studio, 12.30pm – To mark the centenary of the publication of local writer Alfred Williams’ first book, A Wiltshire Village, a group of experts and devotees gather to discuss the man’s legacy.

Arts Centre, 6.30pm – Has radiation had a bad press? For more than half a century it has been accepted that radiation presents an extreme hazard. Scientist and author Wade Allison attempts to redress the balance.

Central Library, 7.30pm – The evening begins with Swindon’s regular Open Mic Poetry night, followed by guest poet Jane Weir reading from her books.

Arts Centre, 8pm – Radio presenter and writer Ian Skelly gives an illustrated talk on the work and vision of the Prince of Wales. The Prince himself makes an appearance – on film.

Arts Centre Studio, 8pm – The Mum’s The Word women’s writing group, which meets twice a month to tell stories and swap ideas, launches its first magazine at tonight’s event.

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