I’ve just restacked the chairs and put them away. It seems as if I’ve been doing this all my life. Arrange the event, put the chairs out, fifty of them for a turn out of twenty. And then when it’s done put them all away again. The audiences don’t help. They arrive late. They scrape the things as they sit. Move them about. Make a big noise hunting in their bags just as the speaker begins. Their phones go off after ten minutes and they can’t find them. The theme from Eastenders done by Nokia slowly crescendos as the unfortunate hauls out cardigans, pencil cases, library books and newspapers in a desperate attempt to grasp the slippery beast and turn it off.
No one ever sits at the front. Always the back. And from there they inevitably can’t hear. Speak up please. A late arrival bangs in with a dog on a lead. It barks. Everyone turns to look but no one says a thing.
We had a literary bus trip once, to London, to hear Ted Hughes at the Poetry Society. Eternity ago. On the coach everyone tried to sit by themselves filling the seats next to them with bags and coats and papers. Didn’t work, of course.
While we were there we lost two on the Underground who had missed Earl’s Court on the District and then took great pleasure, maps in hand, in travelling right round London until the station came up again. The Underground map, as Mike Parker points out in his new book, Map Addict, resembles an electric circuit diagram. All straight lines with no real relationship with geography at all.
The map was created by Harry Beck a man who, according to Parker, filled his life with obsessive and reactionary views as he aged. This doesn’t stop his tube plan becoming a design gem. Many have tried to improve on it and, for that matter, to make art from it. Best known is Simon Patterson who replaced the station names with those of artists, writers and composers and reissued the whole things as The Great Bear. Buy prints of it at the Tate.
Somewhat less known is the now completely banned geek who created a version of the map with the station names rendered into anagrams. Crux for Disco (Oxford Circus), Written Mess (Westminster), Swearword & Ethanol (Harrow & Wealdstone), Shown Kitten (Kentish Town), Burst Racoon (Barons Court) This Hungry & Boiling (Highbury & Islington) and Queer Spank (Queens Park). Transport for London immediately had the thing banned and wiped from cyberspace. But Mike says it’s still there if you search hard. Mike Parker’s Map Addict, informative and hilarious in equal measure and written on an Academi bursary, is published by Collins.
A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 27th June, 2009.