2009-05-07 Travel Diaries.No1 // 23 April.
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In typical freelance fashion, I get an email inviting me to Glagow to share new work, anything, they just wish to have me there. And in typical freelancer fashion of grabbing any opportunity with both hands, arms and thigh death-clutch (see James Bond's Goldeneye) I jump on the opportunity, pack an overnight bag and speed towards the highlands, harr!
I loved Brave Heart, anyone Scottish reading this will want to decapitate and stuff my skull with haggis, don't get me wrong, I don't expect to see kilt clad barbarians charging around with swords, but I am exited about the land of macho skirts who throw trees for fun. As the train pulls outta London's Euston St at 8:30 and I settle into Coach B, seat 34a for the five hour journey, London's concrete mountains and tarmac hills slowly turns green and this elusive place called 'Outside London' breathes me in.
The coach is loud and full, I sit opposite a man named 'Phil' who complains of a headache but I tease from him: a job with BT and his loyalty to apple macs before the noise from the guys further down the isle in matching pink shirts, cackling loudly and air-kissing each other between sips of champagne gets to him. I smile at the stereotype, Phil puts his head in his hands and holds it there for the next 45 mins until he gets off.
It starts again, stops at another station, much in the way of trains, fills, empties, swallows, swells till the monotony sends me to sleep. I wake up in Carlisle. The coach is empty except for two raised heated voices I try not to listen until I pluck the word 'Arches' from their tirade. The Arches is the name of the venue in Glasgow I am to read at so I tidy myself up, approach them cautiously, Hi, my name is Inua...
Five mins later we are talking to the dozen, she wonders how on earth I slept through their much louder first argument, -isn't it a coincidence we are on the same train, you are playing the Arches too? you know Angie? - They are Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari. As Louise talks, Nigel chomps on Sushi. Lou reaches out, plucks a fallen piece of fish from his jumper, parts her lips, chews slowly and I know, before they tell me, that they've worked together for years and arguments are muck-common.
It clocks two when we pull into Glasgow Central. I want to explore the city so leave my new homies, load up Google maps on my mobile phone and trace through the city. Glasgow, like New York, is built in a strict grid system and the streets could easily be name4th Avenue, 5th Ave etc... Thankfully the Scotts guard their culture with brave hearts (sorry) and opted for actual street names. My goal is the Glasgow School of Art, to get there I pass 'Sauchiehall St', pronounced, I kid you not 'Sucky-hole' street. The child in me giggles to the surface and I walk into Sainsburys, TK Max and Superdrug asking each checkout girl, straight faced, 'erm.. sorry, what is the name of this street?' I turn right then left unto Renfrew Street, walk up the hill and I am the school of Art. It is a bustling place, resplendent in student chic, tight jeans and bleached hair, but I want to see their creations even though I know I can't ask for a guided tour.
I was once told by a creative consultant, “If you've got it, flaunt it, if you don't flaunt it more”, so I waltz through like a third year student, taking random lefts, rights, double-backs and walk through the first set of doors. It a studio where half born paintings struggle through canvas, sculptures freeze mid-forme. The darkly beautiful, green eyed girl behind a laptop tells me the good stuff is across the street near the café. I leave, cross the road into a white walled room stuffed with installations and sculptures... but find I prefer the half finished works.
I end up in the student bar. It is red walled, well lit and half filled. I grab a tray and join the food queue. The guy behind the counter whose smiles like a welcome mat names himself Douglas. He says of his long list of rubbish jobs, this is the least rubbish and asks we where I am from. I tell him I am a writer from London, come to tell a story at the Arches, can he recommend something to eat? Like an MC calling out his crew, he points to steaming pots, listing off virtues, finally chooses the 'Mushroom Stroganoff' on a bed of noodles. I add chilli till its strong enough to take out most men, Douglas' jaw actually drops and I reply 'It's okay, I'm African'. I exit the bar and sprint towards The Arches.
'The Arches' does what it says on the tin. Very similar to London's Shunt, the venue is a series of well lit wide spaces under railways arches. There are 4 acts tonight, 2 per half. One comprises of four performers, the other, roughly twelve. Both experimental, brave performances.
2nd half. I am first up. I choose to read 'Knightwatch' a 15 minute story about gun/gang culture, friendship, loyalty and violence set in a stylised South London Estate. I perform slowly and deliberately, flitting between the three characters till the end. The moment after is interesting...
The brief between the narrative and the audience's response, where you wonder if they GOT you, is the real-est place to be. It lasts a few seconds, but in it you question... why am I here? why did I tell this story? have I just alienated these guys? does that even matter? These questions flood till the lights change. When I surface, there are whoops, boisterous hollers and the Arches echoes with such thunderous applause till I bow a second time, a third.
The guys from shunt get on to perform a hilarious 7 minute epic with video, sound effects, smoke, talcum powder and nudity that totally rocks the show. In Glasgow, the Londoners hold our own.
After the show, we go to the closest club which plays techno and bad dance. Too loyal to hip hop head, I won't rise to the occasion but chat happy till closing time. Outside, Glasgow's calm and the dark streets feel like London to me. Slightly tipsy, I tooter till the hotel, climb into bed and drift. The sun creeps in. I shower, eat a huge breakfast of croissants, fruit salad, mushrooms, sausages, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, eggs, muesli/cornfalkes and Oj on tap, rush through Glasgow Central's 9.30 train, part read, part sleep till London's Euston welcomes me home 5 hours later. A days passes where the swift of London life sweeps me up again, but through my website, an email comes:
“I felt compelled to leave you a message after seeing you perform in the Arches in Glasgow yesterday and even though I was lucky enough to thank you briefly afterwards, it just didn't seem enough for the amount of time and energy you crammed into your 10 minute masterpiece.
Maybe it was the way you spoke about city life - so emphatic and beautifully that I'm sure even the most estranged country bumpkin would have no trouble transposing your lucid metaphors into urban imagery. Or perhaps it was the fact that I felt I could relate to a lot of what you were talking about - growing up in South London can be pretty grim when you have no interest in social hierarchy and only use knives for buttering toast and sharpening pencils - but by the end of your performance I had tears in my eyes and dreams in my head.
Please keep doing what you're doing.”
This is battery enough to last me a month. It is all worthwhile. Till next time. Inua Ellams x