9 July 2016
Once I’m set up, before the Exchange opens, I half jokingly ask Sue, who works in here, if it’s okay to talk in this bit of the library? I don’t have to be quiet, do I? It’s pretty lame and predictable even as a half joke but she humours me and explains that down this end of the library – away from the computers – it’s fine to talk. They have book groups who meet here, and people often have a coffee and a chat.
Sue makes me a cup of tea.
Ten minutes later this seems a moot point –
(does ‘moot point’ mean what I think it means? It’s one of those phrases that I use because I like the sound of it and I think I know what it means, but if I had to explain its meaning to someone, what would I say? It means “pointless point”?)
- anyway, it seems a moot point because the soundcheck on the main stage starts and all anyone in the library can hear is Michael Jackson.
Then, exactly five minutes later, as the Inspiration Exchange opens, the PA is turned off, and the library is very quiet. It’s the first day of HillsFest, in Hillsborough Park, and it has been raining all morning. I had been thinking the rain would drive people indoors, but if they haven’t even ventured out to the park, then there’s no-one to come inside, out of the rain. The forecast is better for tomorrow. I’m not here tomorrow.
A man wants to know if the children’s library is open. It is, it’s just that the door needs a bit more of a push.
Someone is outside somewhere, bouncing a ball against the library wall, or knocking tent pegs in.
The music is back on, but not loud enough to be identifiable.
I wonder if I’m allowed to get something to read? We are in a library after all. And I did make up the rules of the Inspiration Exchange.
I’ve thought this before during the quiet bit at the start of an Exchange – I’m writing these notes waiting to be interrupted.
Reading a book would be more appropriate than looking at my phone, wouldn’t it?
A guy has come in looking for more information about the festival. I’m going to get him.
I swap AIR CRASH INVESTIGATION
For MIND MAPPING
F. tells me that he has severe dyslexia. He’s good at starting things, but completing them is difficult. He left school “with nothing” – as there was no support for, or even recognition of, his condition. They tried to make him order his thoughts in a way that just wasn’t natural to him.
A chance encounter with a psychologist in a pub lead to a conversation in which the psychologist explained the idea of Mind Mapping to him – a way of cataloguing your thoughts in a much less linear way than a list. (I realise I recognise this as spider-diagrams). Such a simple thing once you know it. But it transformed F.’s thinking. He went to college and came away with five A levels.
F. asks me to write the title card, and we carry on talking, about the writing he does now, and the ideas he’s developing with an old friend – a unique collaboration based on how long they’ve known each other. Friends since school.
Outside the rain has stopped. We thank each other and say goodbye, as a family arrive.
I swap “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” “I KNOW!”
For TEN POUND POM
I think each time I present the Exchange, I learn something new. Fifty years ago, Australia needed more young men to work. If you were a young man in England, the Australian Government would pay for your travel if you would come over and work for at least two years. You just had to pay ten pounds (and the four weeks of your life that the boat journey took). But if you didn’t stay two years you had to pay your boat fare back to get home.
The grandfather who tells me this (who looks nowhere near his 76 years) is with his family; I guess wife, daughter and grandson. He was one of these Ten Pound Poms. He had moved around, living in a variety of shared houses. One evening he was cooking in the kitchen, when two Aussies came in and started having a go at a German guy for borrowing/stealing their food from the fridge. He’s not a fighter but a sense of fairness meant he felt that he had to step in and say, there’s two of you, one of him, so if this is a fight, you’re fighting me as well. The two Aussies backed off.
A few nights later and he’s in a bar, and steps in to stop another guy from shouting at a girl he knows from one of the houses he’s shared. He’s not a fighter, but the guy asks him to step outside (it’s fifty years ago, remember), so he does, thinking, basically, why do I keep doing this?
Sleeves are rolled up in the street, and then there’s a hand on his shoulder.
(German accent) “I’ll take this for you.”
The German guy from the kitchen is there, and steps in to have the fight for him, by way of thank you.
And it’s a proper fight. The police turn up, and arrest the two guys fighting and take them away to the station.
The next day the German is back at the house.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. They just put us in a cell for the night.”
“Thanks so much for stepping in. I really appreciate it.”
“No problem. You did it for me. Ow.”
“Are you okay?”
“Well, he did break three of my ribs in the fight.”
Sitting in Hillsborough Library fifty years later, we all laugh. Amazing. That guy! And I’m waiting for “and we’re still friends today!”, but instead the grandad’s daughter says:
“And he never saw him again!”
We talk about stories. The grandson says he would like to write a book of his grandfather’s stories. Do it, I say. Do it. Start recording them as soon as you can.
I swap THE BROKEN TAXI METER
For CREAM TEA TEAM
A story about attention to detail and about a particular act of friendship.
In telling this story, we realise that B. has also told us another story, which we call GIVE AN OWL A DOVE which rewrites the old adage about giving a man fish or a fishing boat, to become something like:
Give an owl a rat and it can eat for a meal, give an owl a dove and it can kill it and use if for bait and eat rats for a week.
I swap LETTING GIRLS BE
For THE EMERGENCY EXIT SEAT
A story about coincidence and seizing the moment. R. tells us about travelling across India, flying from Delhi, and, through a safety briefing because they are all next to the Emergency Exit, getting to talk to the people sitting next to her. Once landed at Varanasi she needs to get to Allahabad – but doesn’t know how she will get there. She knows though that one of her neighbours was heading to Varanasi, too. So she summons her courage and asks a stranger for help – could she get a lift?
Of course she can, no problem. And once in the car they discover that not only can they (the guy and his driver) take her to the street of her accommodation, as it is so close to where he’s staying, he knows the friends-of-friends she’s planning on hooking up with later in the week – in fact he’s staying with them!
R. says these events re-inspired her faith in talking to other people.
I get a bonus title card OUR OPPORTUNITIES LIMIT US
I swap DO I DRAW THE ACTORS OR DO I DRAW WHAT I SAW?
For STORY CUBES
Which is a story about how the limitless possibilities presented by a game of story cubes can actually be very intimidating to a particular sort of thinker or researcher.
I swap 01369 870212
For HEADLESS SANTA
Which is a story about, well, a headless Santa, sprawled in the back yard of a pub, arms open wide as if to be embraced, or crucified. A. says she would see it regularly after getting off the tram on her way home from work. It was there for two weeks, moving around the back yard in a sort of daily time-lapse, and also niggling away at her thoughts. What was it doing there? Who had cut its/his head off?
Eventually a neighbouring business (a car valeting company?) stood him up next to the fence and gave him an advertising sign to hold. But not a head.
I swap TAKING AWAY THE SCAFFOLDING
For A TIN BOX OF CURLERS
A story about being fascinated with your (sterner) Grandmother’s tin box of hair curlers, and whilst being intimidated by her as a girl, also being fascinated by the meticulous way she would put those curlers into her hair. A story about growing up, and looking back, and realising that the curlers were part of this woman’s warpaint when she was younger; she had inherited a butcher’s shop that she had then effectively run on her own, from lugging the carcasses in, to dealing with customers. Looking right was part of the armour that allowed this young woman to work well in that world. And as she had grown older, that ritual had retained its importance. A story about looking back and realising, retrospectively, what an inspiration your (sterner) grandmother was.
I swap THE TURNINGS THE BUS DOESN’T TAKE
For THE WILD CEILIDH
A family of five squeezed into a car driving up to Scotland on holiday.
A long journey.
Two sisters and a brother squeezed onto the back seat.
Mum complaining about the distance.
And then the car crests a hill, and the road leads down to a loch.
It is beautiful.
It feels like an enchanted place.
They find where they are staying.
One night there is a ceilidh. It is wild.
The older daughter has never seen dancing like it.
There is a man there – unruly dark curly hair, piercing blue eyes. He clearly fancies the mum. He asks her to dance.
That night the daughter dreams about the stranger, dreams about him dancing with her mum. Exciting but frightening.
Somewhere in Scotland that loch is still there, mist lying on the water. And the hall where the ceilidh took place is still there, too.
I swap STOPPING PEOPLE DREAMING
A story about realising that, sitting blindfolded in a room in a festival, you are not just listening to a story, you are active in it, participating. Who knew that human voices and a guitar could provide something so… limitless?
We say goodbye. And then I realise that he hasn’t named his story. So I call it ROOM.
Outside it sunny. The rain is evaporating from the paths. The library is closing. As the staff close the blinds and switch the self-scan machines off, I pack the Exchange away, and head outside. There’s a band playing.