To The Monkey Forest, and beyond
I wake in Hackney at 6am. I’m packed and ready to go. Spend half my life packed and ready to go. There is an art to it. Four hours , two trains and one taxi later and I am in Stoke on Trent, known locally as The Potteries, for The Axis Festival.
The pottery kilns, giant things pepper the landscape from an industry long dead. Por things, a town named after a dead industry. It’s like calling Manchester “The Cotton Makers”. Pottery, like slate in Wales and Coal in Lancashire is now port of the heritage trade. Britian, once a producer is now a consumer and as Gil Scott heron said “when the producer nams the tune, the consumer has got to dance. How else could this post colonial country get into so many wars?
The taxi draws up to my hotel which is a cross between Colditz and a giant Barrat home. It’s a four star, rabbit warren almost in the car park of Waterworld which I am told is a major attraction. Stoke is also the home of Alton Towers which I remember from my childhood. I passed a sign for it while in the taxi and I can see leaflets for it in the reception of the hotel for yet another theme park nearby The Monkey Forest.
At Monkey Forest the Barbary Macaques roam freely in a 60-acre forest boasts the leaflet. A man said to me once that their may come a time not too far away when Britian fully realises itself as one giant theme park. He’s not wrong in stoke and staffordshire <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
So it’s come to this. The day before, three BNP councillors were voted in and the area has become one of the most politically racist in England. This beautiful rural county is flanked by, on one side machester and the other Birmingham. It’s industry has been stolen and it’s young people either travelled away into Outer World, another theme park , or Unemployment a scathing theme park that treats its customers deploringly. Still, it seems popular. Where better for racist ideologies to inculcate.
I’m here to do three readings. As drop my bags at the hotel and swish straight back into the town where an audience awaits. The bookshop is called Webberleys an independent of ninety years. Sometimes when the audience is small the reading is magical. I feel like a magician working close at hand to one table. Magic happened. I maintain that I do not “perform” an act nor a show. I maintain that I read my work from the same place it was written. I can’t explain how much I enjoyed this reading. There are none of my books at the bookshop.
The Axis festival , the reason I am here, have booked Humphrey Littleton. “He’s dead” I said to the sound man. “Dead” he said “What ? Dead, dead?” I said again “he’s dead?” I pursued “how many deads are there?”. He scratched his head “who is he anyway?”. I’m at Victoria Hall for a Love Music hate racism event. I begin on stage thus “Thanks alot everyone I am proud to be here to support love music love racism”. There was a stoney silence and then the audience burst into laughter.
It’s one of the great things about gigs. You can find a true temperature of the country, This love music hate racism event is important to the people organising and the community it is performed in. The girl backstage who is escorting me remembers my visiting her school when she was in primary school. I must have made an impression and of that I am proud. I worked alot in this area some years ago through a song writer and educationalist called Phil Coclough. I think he saw the turning tide of racism before many.
Back at the hotel Status Quo music is pouring out of the bar. There is a wedding reception. The lyrics filter out “rocking all over the world, and I like it I like it I like it I liiiiiiike it”. Marraige is the theme of the hotels cash register. Book ‘em in, pick pocket them at the bar and restaurant, then book them out. I press the button for the third floor and as the lift closes I catch a middle aged couple drunk and arguing in violently hushed voices in the lobby. As the lift ascends the music swirls into a dreamy echo as the lift door closes “ and I knoooOoOw Rockin All over the world”.