Beestonians, contort your limbs as best as possible and firmly plant a slap on your own backs, for you have excelled yourselves. On Saturday, Oxjam came to Beestonia, took it over, shook it around and left us exhilarated and thoroughly grateful.
I confess that when I was initially told Oxfam had decided to move the Oxjam from its usual city centre home, I wasn’t entirely sure it would work. Despite the delights of this town that I’ve been shouting about for years, I worried that those yet to sample our delights might not bother making over. What I didn’t realise was that the organizing committee were somehow superhuman, and with a steely ambition to raise the target, pulled off a feat of wonder. Special thanks to Carly, who I imagine is probably still in bed, or at some sort of recuperative spa complex in the Chilterns, recovering from the intense juggling act of keeping things running over many venues.
And yes, the target was smashed. £4,000 was the aim, and sometime earlier today that was surpassed with much more cash still to be totted up. This is quite an achievement, wristbands were only £5 and many events free, but you dug deep, Beestonians.
There was something else in the air on Saturday. Palpable, heady and thrilling, the pervasive realisation that Beeston could do this, and do it well. The town knitted together, and created something that should be built on, and not just with hosting Oxjam again. We have the venues, we have the talent. Beeston becoming the cultural hub of the East Midlands? Scoff at your peril.
Have a look at Barton House, for instance. Until a few months ago, I didn’t even realise there was much there, apart from maybe a few offices. It’s a visual shock to actually see what is in there, and how its potential is finally being fully realised. On saturday it hosted not just a poetry and spoken word event (which I hosted, more on which later), but a Vintage Fair with steam engines rolling around; a multi-roomed utterly brilliant art exhibition which honestly beats anything I’ve seen at the Contemporary in an age; a children’s painting workshop; a pop up shop selling artworks and suchlike; and a large music venue that hosted some brilliant local bands, with a licensed bar. This is a great resource to have in the town, and it’s resurrection as a venue is testament to Beeston finding its feet again.
Get yourself down there before Sunday before The Carnival of Monsters is in full swing, and have a look for yourself. More details here.
I too performed there, in the Engine room, hosting the Oxjam Poetry and Spoken Word event.
I’m not one for public speaking, and fear it greatly. The only time I can happily address a crowd is around 10.30pm on a Friday night in The Crown, where I suddenly become possessed by the ghost of Billy Grahame and happily pontificate loudly, fluently, and absolutely not incoherently to all in earshot about whatever twisted fascination/ bitter hatred is occupying me at the time. So getting up and a spoken word night, without even a sip of Merlot past my lips, was a terrifying prospect.
I’m also on oral steroids right now, to clear up the damage a nasty bout of flu delivered. These have the side-effect of increasing body temperature, exhilaration and ‘manic thoughts’, and all three of these particular horsemen rode up to what I was expecting to be my own personal Armageddon.
Latino’s was visited beforehand, not for top-class pasta (go there, not Amores: it’s a bit pricier but 17 times better, and serves snails), but for a comedy afternoon in the back room. I watch how the comedians work a crowd effortlessly, holding us in the palm of their hands with charisma, wit, and jokes about dog poo. I screw up my notes. I’m going to have to wing it.
The problem with compering performance poets is manifold, but lets deal with the key issues. Performance poets/writers are very experienced and have refined their skill at
· Writing stuff to read
· Reading the stuff out
Thus, everyone is better at doing at what I’m meant to be doing than I. And then loads of people arrive, the organiser who was meant to be doing my timings doesn’t turn up and I have to project my voice rather than use a mic. I scribble some notes, bluster through them, and then have the luxury of watching the acts.
There were some excellent performers too, a real eclectic mix that ran from whimsy to ire, meditative to cathartic. I won’t single out one in particular but will note that when I realised that local author Niki Valentine was formally known as Nicola Monaghan and wrote one of my favourite books, the utterly compelling, grittier than a grit box tour de force The Killing Jar, I went a bit weak at the knees to be in proximity to someone with such talent. She has a new book called The Haunting out, which she read an excerpt from. Its available here. I’ll also put links up to some of the performers soon.
It got a bit cold towards the end, but the venue in Barton House engine room, with its backdrop of ancient shiny buses, was fantastic nonetheless, even if I break land speed records for the sprint to the bar once we’d wrapped up.
How to follow a night of such high-brow artiness then? I get up on Sunday, nosh down a sausage sarnie and go and watch some wrestling. In Beeston. Yes, wrestling. In Beeston.
My good friend and near neighbour Rik is to blame. He’s long been a die-hard fan of men in tights grappling each other, yet despite many, many attempts to make me see the light has not yet convinced me. We share a lot of tastes, in film, in Neil Young and Half Man Half Biscuit records; in bargain bin cider, but I still am baffled. As an open minded man though, I agree to attend to see it in its visceral glory. Plus, Rik informs me theres a licensed bar.
I’m still a bit unsure what I saw that afternoon. Taking place incongruously in Beeston Youth Centre, aka The Shed, barrel chested men in comic outfits played out choreographed mini battles that involved much face slapping, gurning and sneering at the crowd. Everyone there, except me and the bar-lady, seemed to know the complex ties the wrestlers had with each other, and how these narratives would be played out. It was outrageously camp. And that’s not a complaint, as it was also entirely involving and entertaining, even if I’m not sure what ‘it’ actually was.
Maybe next time we could combine it with a poetry event? I’ll see if I can get an arts grant.
And while we’re on the subject of grapples in the ring, tonight they’ll be a full Council meeting at The Town Hall that I’ll be attending. The chief issue on the agenda will be the thorny issue of housing in the Borough.
It’s an incredibly tricky argument, the Tories angry at what they see as an assault on the green belt, the Lib Lab partnership angry at what they see as ignoring the increasing accommodation needs of a growing borough, and other voices pointing out the figures might be skewed anyway and everyone might be wrong. Thus, I’ve decided to get my two bits and use the Sword of Beestonia to cleave through this problematic Gordian Knot.
Golf courses. Build on golf courses. There we go, problem solved. They take up huge swathes of land, are of use to all but a few who can afford/be arsed to play, and can easy be snapped up with compulsory purchase. They are NOT greenbelt at all, but staggeringly sterile places due to the constant manicuring of the turf and homogenous planting. A row of back gardens on an average terraced street creates a more diverse and varied habitat, and a more effective corridor. One golf course can be several hundred acres of land: the housing issue can be addressed in an instant without a single piece of greenbelt being touched. That, or buy out Tesco and turn it into social housing, which I’ve been proposing since before the foundations had been laid.
Everyone happy? Then I’d like a nice bungalow with staggering distance to the Clubhouse, please.