I was locking the Riverside Rooms on my way to cycle home. Southbank Centre has a way of tilting into evening time. About now as the sun starts to slip from the party it becomes a place for people to hang out. The hang out people mingle with the inflow audience members attending the venues . At around 7pm it becomes one large social occasion by the river, a ship moored on the Thames.
Having had an enjoyable and enlightening meet with Jude Kelly the artistic director it’s time enough for me to go, as I turned the key in the lock a woman stopped. She was panting and in some distress. “can you tell me the way to the artist entrance?” she says in a high pitched accent that I couldn’t fail to recognise. Only this morning I was listening to her on BBC radio Four programme Start The Week.
“I’ll take you” I say. I can see her relief and slight apprehension. But it is easier to take her than to explain the directions. I have a principle about people who ask for directions at The Southbank centre. Southbank centre is a public space paid by the public. If a member of the public asks for directions I think it my obligation to attend to the question with clarity.
On the way we chat. She tells of a crazed taxi driver and a nightmare journey . She’ll be “on stage in a minute” she says and she’s “late” she says. “You were magnificent on the radio this morning” I tell my flustered short term companion. She tells me about David
Akinsanya who was also on the programme. She says he is a hero “the kind of hero we wished for as a young student at girls quaker school” she says. David is a close friend of mine and the reason I was listening to the radio in the first place. I am proud to relay this to her. We talk more. I know her daughter who is head
of literature at The Arts Council. Finally we arrive safe and sound at the artists entrance of The Purcell Rooms. I sign her in and request security call her PR to meet her, at which point I say my goodbyes. Her mood has changed. She is more relaxed. “I’d never have found this place” she says “if it hadn’t been for you”. She looks at me square on “you must come to my party on Wednesday night” she says. It was AS Byatt one of Englands
most famous living writers here to launch her novel The Childrens Book.