Simply, being 56 and having a slightly sardonic mien, I am not archetypical Disney material. Nor is my partner, though she is markedly less sardonic than I. Our children are all grown up. We think that a cup of chocolat chaud is pretty exciting and if we want to push the boat out we will visit the theatre, the cinema, an historic house or read a particularly stimulating book. Disneyland, in the normal run of things, would not be on our radar. We were visiting because the eldest fruit of our loins and his sparkly, terpsichorean partner-in-life both work there. We were finishing off a week at our Norman hideaway in the rain [near the Mont St Michel - very peaceful, very beautiful, very wet] by visiting progeny in the big city. Clear? Good.
So, sitting in the bar at the Disneyland Hotel Paris, I saw a man who, for me, was a strident, defining voice of a generation. A man who, in my memory, invented the word 'farty'. A man whose comedy existed on the edge of acceptability, who wrote plays and books which pushed the boundaries before, miraculously and slightly disappointingly, he became adopted and ultimately absorbed by the very Establishment into which he was trying [and succeeding] to push deflationary pins.
The Young Ones, Friday Night Live, Blackadder, Popcorn, Stark, books for The Beautiful Game and We Will Rock You are all to his credit, both in artistic and financial senses of the word. I guess you're there by now. Yes I saw Ben Elton in Disneyland. Ben Elton in Disneyland - think about it. That should be like seeing Brigitte Bardot in an abattoir or John Prescott at a Tory Party Conference. But there he was, sipping his beer, playing 'Cheat' with two children and a lady [presumably to whom he is related] and looking for all the world as if he belonged there. No-one bothered him [yesterday's man perhaps?], they were all far too interested in the antics of Pluto, Goofy and friends. He didn't sneer at them, demand attention, shout, jump up and down or swear. No, he just continued to be mildly amused and look as if he was actually enjoying himself.
I am bound by our family's strict behavioural code not to misbehave in public. When I see things that upset my sense of perspective and what is right, there is an unwritten compact with my nearest and dearest not to find my high horse, mount it and sound off. I am allowed to think dark thoughts just so long as I don't spoil it for anyone else by opening my mouth and give voice to them. Consequently, I rely on others to do the complaining about bureaucratic ineptitude, exploitative pricing, systematic brain-washing and the like. And, Goddammit, Ben Elton was one of those voices through which I did my vicarious rebelling and complaining.
So how dare he be so mild in a place where the drinks cost the equivalent of Ecuador's GDP there is more manipulation of reality than anywhere else I have ever been? Perhaps he knew something that I didn't. Perhaps he had a deeper insight into what actually goes on at Disneyland than I do. And this is when I begin to waver and start to wonder whether this is just my being grumpy.
My son's beautiful dancing girlfriend briefly made friends with a Mum and a little blind girl whilst we were sitting having a drink. The little girl was quite literally in heaven. She couldn't really see her heroes and heroines but she was quite obviously supremely happy. Her dreams had been fulfilled by the Disney experience. They came over to our table whilst Ben Elton was being mild and tolerant of the place and its excesses. They spoke in glowing terms of their favourite characters, the experiences they'd had on this, and other, visits. They thanked my son's girlfriend for being so lovely and helpful and making this time special. And then, on leave-taking, the little girl kissed her new friend. Then she kissed my son. Then she moved to my wife. And finally she kissed me.
That was finally, after too many years of cynicism, when the penny dropped. It doesn't really matter whether it's for me or not. For others it is life affirming and utterly fullfilling. That should be enough. Perhaps that's what Ben Elton knew and I have yet to come completely to terms with.