Race in the Derby

I wake at 6am and make it to Euston Station for 9am then a train to Derby. I’m early to check into the Hallmark Hotel but eventually get a room.  I  change rooms from the one offered.   I like choice.  I put the plastic key fob in the slot and enter. To my total surprise an old irish gentlemen is changing his tie in the mirror. I apologise in a sort of Woody Allen way and back step out of the room. And hunched in embaressment  close the door. I return to reception fuming but keeping it under my hat.  Eventually with no apology from the person who made the mistake I get a new key to another room.

The Hallmark Hotel, just outside the train station used to be The  Midland n the heyday of train travel.   I change and descend to reception. A n old gentlemen walks slowly and gently  by with a walking frame.  It is the impeccably dressed man who was changing his tie in the mirror. He didn’t notice me as he was concentrating on his walking frame,  but I stopped and apologised profusely once again, think woody allen,  and explained the inadequacy of service.  He looked at me and it took a while for him to lift his head  and said “are you okay though”  It stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t know what to say. He continued.  “you got your room then?”  still stunned “ummm yes” I replied  “well that’s okay then” he said and smiled.  All he did was care that I was ok. 

The taxi rank is directly outside the hotel.  As I have lost the details of the venue  but know the name of the place and the street though not the number,  between us, the
driver and I work out where it is. At 2pm  I arrive at The Voice Box and deliver a workshop that leaves all participants including myself excited invigorated and enlivened. Even if those three descriptive terms mean the same thing it is difficult  to find the language to define the event  only words that can skirt around the force  of a workshop which was an anti-workshop that made everyone feel that it was the ultimate workshop. There it is. Language does it in the end.  Bingo.  I then got a lift back to  the hotel. 6pm. A steak sandwich with gorgeous bread and a check of email later and…

Back in another taxi….  At 8pm I arrive at  The Big Blue Coffee company on Sadler gate, for the second half of my  commitments here in Derby:   The performance.  I want to paint the picture. The Big Blue Coffee Company is on the most lively  beer drinking pedestrianised alleyway  in Derby. Each second building is a public house. Across from the coffee please is ironically The Shakespeare.

 It is Saturday night and the street is full to bursting with drunk  people. I am so thankful
that I don’t drink anymore. And though I am no better than them I must keep my
wits about me as my mere colour draws attention and  what with people losing their inhibitions I could be challenged on either my manhood or my masculinity at any given moment.  I clutch my manhood and try not to be masculine. The smiling asian taxi driver drops me off at the top of the street “it’s down there he says”. I look into the sea of drunk people and all I can think is Shaun of The dead and  Zombies.

I arrive at the  cafe an oasis in a desert of drink  and it to me is the perfect gig. Why can’t there be more events like this in the centre of town where all the bars are on a Saturday night.   

Someone whispers to me outside before I enter  “hey lemn Jean Binta Breeze” is here. Jean Binta Breeze is one of the most famous living poets of the Caribbean and an old
and cherished friend.. She is dreadlocked  and beautiful.  Jean lives in Leicester now, has returned from Jamaica for summer  in England.  Wise woman.  We have been together in different parts of the world, performing our poems for many a year. More importantly she was there helping me at the beginnings of my career.  It is like meeting an older and wiser sister. The event is long, there’s a short film shown, singers and poets and all,  but it’s good hearted.  Finally I am introduced on stage. The cafe is packed.  By now the audience is full of both poetry fans and Saturday night revellers who saw it through the big glass window – the joint is packed. The lighting is atrocious and the sound is not too good –  It’s a beautiful beautiful reading. Laughter and tears in the same breath.

I walk out to run the gauntlet of The Street to catch a cab at the top. Smiling it is the same taxi driver as earlier… It’s an impossible coincidence that I can’t ignore and a great ice breaker. We laugh. He speaks terrible English so our conversation is kept in  context. We speak about the drinkers I hear about five  syllables of the cheery man  “…all over my cab” and then the universal language of laughter.  As the cab pulled up at the hotel the taxi driver says to me “you. You are a good man.” I slipped the knife back into my pocket and smiled.

4 thoughts on “Race in the Derby

  1. I guess this is the knife post..?
    I like the idea of you as Woody Allen…and the anti-workshop…and the manhood-clutching…and the picture of small-town, drunken England with a lively poetry event slap bang in the middle (rather than hiding away far from the action…). Sounds like an exciting trip.

  2. Lemn,
    Still reeling form the workshop. Still thinking about it…every day.
    We're really glad you had a good time with us and, maybe next time, we'll have some lamps along and some more amplification.

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