So, off to the wonderful, never-must-it-disappear Wilton’s Music Hall last night for a 5x15 event – five speakers get 15 minutes each, for ‘unscripted stories of passion, obsession and adventure’. On the schedule were writer/director/composer Mike Figgis, filmmaker Franny Armstrong, artist and collector Victor Wynd, blogger The Gentle Author and singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan. Afterwards, I felt quite blessed to be living in London and here’s why:
Simply because I was able to leave work on a Wednesday night and end up listening to such an eclectic and inspiring bunch of people. Just like that and at your fingertip.
Because I went home afterwards feeling a tiny little bit different than before (which is enough) – enriched, inspired and impressed by the passion of each one of the speakers. Each one very different but what they have in common is that they’re all passionate about something. Whatever it may be. Storytelling, campaigning, collecting, writing or making music.
I now know about something I had not heard of before - police spies who infiltrated British activist groups over the last 50 years. It’s the topic of Franny Armstrong’s next project, a TV drama series called ‘Undercovers’. So, undercover police spying on people who get together to campaign for causes that they believe in? Not how I would define democracy.
How Mike Figgis was knocked out by a flugelhorn while on tour with the fringe theatre group ‘The People Show’ in the 1970ies, after having travelled from France to Poland where he met the drunk son of a German World War II bomber pilot on the train journey, was a story delightfully told. It’s important to add that a venue the size of Wembley Stadium and a depressed Polish assistant play an important part in the course of events because, as Mike Figgis quite rightly said at the beginning of his tale, it’s all in the detail.
Because I was moved. In our age of irony, it’s very endearing to see someone being so earnest about something they really care about. And when I listened to the Gentle Author talk about the ‘Spitalfields Nippers’, a book that accompanies his extraordinary blog Spitalfields Life (one story about London’s East End per day to amount to altogether 10,000 stories which will take 27 years and four months), I was simply touched by the way he did it. The Nippers are a unique collection of pictures of London’s poorest children in the early 1900s, taken by self-taught photographer and Quaker Horace Warner and hidden in family albums for 100 years. With the help of Spitalfields Life readers who donated the necessary funds, The Gentle Author has now put a book of the images together. And they are amazing. The photos essentially show, as I felt, proud children, despite the poverty they were living in. They look you in the eye, and it’s all incredibly real and close. With the child poverty rate in Tower Hamlets being the highest in the UK with 49%, he feels as if the Nippers have come back at the right time to say “Let’s not go back to this” – a poignant remark made by The Gentle Author at the end.
Ok, this might be a particular thing of mine as a non-native speaker of English but to me, nothing sounds as charming as an Irish-English voice (Same for natives? Let me know). I could have listened to Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan forever. Her ‘talk’ at the close of the evening which mainly consisted of her performing three songs, was just the right bit of magic to see me off into a cold January night.
Where I wished for a moment I would be wearing the enormous fur coat that Victor Wynd had come on stage in earlier on. It almost looked as if he had decided to wear one of the exhibits usually on show in the museum in East London he runs and that is full of - well, basically, things! Will check it out …