A Life in a Day of Phlegm Sissay

“What’s it like” said The Journalist. To put no finer point on it she was talking about the contents of my nose. Between sneezes and coughs I answer her question.   “it’s a head  cold but not a flu virus” she says  as I walk into the bathroom door.   I swim through the haze from hackney to Southbank centre.   It’s a beautiful day and the Centre’s resplendent.   At 10.30am coffee with Lorna Rose Simpson at the Royal Festival Hall cafe.  We catch up on Beyond
the tour she recently manage.  One of the poets on that tour Lebo
is coming soon.  

At 12 noon I meet Lucy Macnab  at  the same cafe and we discuss various aspects of the residency and programming. I am catching up on stuff and have some ideas.   By 2 pm I am across the river on the district line to Hammersmith and at The Riverside Studios to meet Maria Kempinska,  the woman at the head of the comedy empire Jongleurs.  We sit and talk for a good two hours – it’s a
great meeting –  then   I return to the south bank  and get me some food.  I am wilting. 

At 5.30pm I drop into the riverside rooms and sat on the sofa is poet Simon Armitage , the newest artist in residence.  He’d returned from viewing  the Royal Academy Exhibition.  Later he will be on Newsnight Review on the exhibitionGood man.  Our desks  are close enough to flick rubber bands at each other so all’s well.    At  6.30pm  at the BFI  I have serious  and fruitful conversation with  Nikki Molloy and Eva Martinez of the new dance department.  Their first season is coming soon. 

By  9.30pm I am sat in a packed Queen Elizabeth Hall amongst six hundred people to watch Pictures Reframed as by master pianist   Leif Ove Andesnes and conceptual artist  Robin Rhodes,  “a special evening of music and video art centred around Mussorgsky’s epic piano cycle  Pictures  an exhibition originally written in 1874.  Leife Ove Andsenes and Robin Rhodes share a mutual fascination with the piece. It’s the first time I have sat still and without speaking all day. Sniff

From the first note played.  Sniff.  Even before that.   Achoo! The pre concert  announcement  ends with    “and please try not to cough while the concert takes place  I  feel my nose itching. Lean  head back stop nose running.  It’s the first time I have been still all day. Sniff. Then upon the stage the pianist enters to applause  tilts his head gently forward and sits. Little sniff. Move head back to stop snot. Nose itches. As if gently pushing a rowing boat out upon a lake
he begins,  his fingers like the feet of a ballet dancer skip across the keys. Sniff.
Hold back the sneeze.

 I can’t last. His face a  picture of concentration and rapture as  shoulders swirl.   His head flicks in spasms to the internal peaks and then the  chin rises as if  above water as the music floats through him and us all.  Must not sneeze.  Must
not sneeze.
   A metronome is echoing in my head slower than time as I wait for  the pianist to slam the keys so I can  disguise a sneeze. The woman next to me steals a look at the dribbeling snot filled gurgling blob  beside her.  Let me out.  I can’t go. Must stay.  Sweating. Head hurts.   The more I try to hide it the more I fidget. Cross legs uncross legs run hand over head. Sniff.

The gigantic screen on stage flashes with graphics searing my splitting my head.  Shit this is all so painful .  As the audience applauds the end  I am the first to leave and stood  by the door is Jude Kelly . I move to hug her and then stop “no i can’t!  I have a cold”  I say  and rush out.   I take a taxi home and sniff I can’t
sniff gurgle sniff
 sleep. The question is this:  Should I have left the concert in the middle. I couldn’t go home cause I didn’t know what would happen while I was in there. If you were a player would you rather I turned up and snivveled or was not their at all. Personally I hate the cough in the middle of a performance cause people do it at the worst times.

3 thoughts on “A Life in a Day of Phlegm Sissay

  1. Nice to find your blog Lemn and to have met you on tuesday at the C4EO event in Bristol.
    I mentioned we are the people we've been waiting for.. there's a website: http://www.wearethepeoplemovie.com .. really interesting on creating an education system for the 21stC and how that depends on tapping into and empowering young people's creativity.
    i'm sure you've heard of him but Sir Ken Robinson does a great talk at TED on creativity in education.. (www.ted.com).. i think all of these messages apply to young people in care precisely for the reasons you outlined on tuesday.

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