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Phoenix – World Book Night 23/04/2013

April 24, 2013

As far as I know World Book Night is a Uk event, but the title World Book Night is very apt, given my experience.  I was giving away copies of Jeanette Winterson’s “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” her superb memoir.  I was also offering copies of my own book “At the Eleventh Hour”.  There is a strange parallel in these works, though I wouldn’t presume on Jeanette Winterson’s sublime gift with words.  Nonetheless her memories of her strict, bizarre, evangelical background and my Roman Catholic childhood are less estranged than might be imagined. What I most liked about her work was her hard come by understanding that religious practice enabled her to appreciate something she calls ‘real time’ compared with’ linear time’.  The big religious festivals – Christmas, Easter, Passover and so on, acting as punctuation marks to the quotidian.  Also her heightened awareness of the meaning of love, hard won, through the contradictory messages conveyed on a young, open mind by a vengeful Old Testament deity.  A wonderful read, I still have copies to give away, since, despite the recession, it seems that people are not eager to accept gifts – not gifts of books anyway.  

I was struck by the fact that, with a couple of exceptions, those that did venture in were all from elsewhere – mostly Eastern Europe, though my first visitor was from Eritrea – a poet and pianist.  He then met the next visitor who was from Lithuania.  She spoke eloquently about home and the meaning of home and it struck me that London is a city of refugees of one sort and another, all hoping to find a sense of belonging.  A task which seemed quite daunting as a stream of traffic passed by the door – wide open for the first time on a balmy Spring evening.

An interesting episode occurred around the matter of donations.  Some friends had dropped by, and were helping with greeting people, and offering the wine and nibbles, we had made available.  They asked whether they might donate and were told “No,no, it’s all free”.  A little while later, I was in conversation with a man who was expressing an interest in my book, he asked if I would like some money, I said cheerfully, “Oh yes, I always like money!” He popped £20 in the pot, bless him, and after he left a conversation with my friends ensued along the lines of the Phoenix not being ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ .  I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to understand these contradictions about money.  Clearly the Phoenix can’t survive without the generous gifts of money for which I am so grateful, so a conversation has to take place which enables this reality to be stated.  Most people are very uncertain about how to convey the donations ethos, we are in such a state about money all the time it’s no wonder advanced capitalism is so successful.  

Still, there are always random piano players who seem happy to provide music as a gift.Image

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