A Life in a Day of Phlegm Sissay
“What’s it like” said The Journalist. To put no finer point on it she was talking about the contents of my nose. Between sneezes and coughs I answer her question. “it’s a head cold but not a flu virus” she says as I walk into the bathroom door. I swim through the haze from hackney to Southbank centre. It’s a beautiful day and the Centre’s resplendent. At 10.30am coffee with Lorna Rose Simpson at the Royal Festival Hall cafe. We catch up on BeyondWords the tour she recently manage. One of the poets on that tour LeboMashile is coming soon.
At 12 noon I meet Lucy Macnab at the same cafe and we discuss various aspects of the residency and programming. I am catching up on stuff and have some ideas. By 2 pm I am across the river on the district line to Hammersmith and at The Riverside Studios to meet Maria Kempinska, the woman at the head of the comedy empire Jongleurs. We sit and talk for a good two hours – it’s agreat meeting - then I return to the south bank and get me some food. I am wilting.
At 5.30pm I drop into the riverside rooms and sat on the sofa is poet Simon Armitage , the newest artist in residence. He’d returned from viewing the Royal Academy Exhibition. Later he will be on Newsnight Review on the exhibition. Good man. Our desks are close enough to flick rubber bands at each other so all’s well. At 6.30pm at the BFI I have serious and fruitful conversation with Nikki Molloy and Eva Martinez of the new dance department. Their first season is coming soon.
By 9.30pm I am sat in a packed Queen Elizabeth Hall amongst six hundred people to watch Pictures Reframed as by master pianist Leif Ove Andesnes and conceptual artist Robin Rhodes, “a special evening of music and video art centred around Mussorgsky’s epic piano cycle Pictures an exhibition originally written in 1874. Leife Ove Andsenes and Robin Rhodes share a mutual fascination with the piece. It’s the first time I have sat still and without speaking all day. Sniff
From the first note played. Sniff. Even before that. Achoo! The pre concert announcement ends with “and please try not to cough while the concert takes place” I feel my nose itching. Lean head back stop nose running. It’s the first time I have been still all day. Sniff. Then upon the stage the pianist enters to applause tilts his head gently forward and sits. Little sniff. Move head back to stop snot. Nose itches. As if gently pushing a rowing boat out upon a lakehe begins, his fingers like the feet of a ballet dancer skip across the keys. Sniff.Hold back the sneeze.
I can’t last. His face a picture of concentration and rapture as shoulders swirl. His head flicks in spasms to the internal peaks and then the chin rises as if above water as the music floats through him and us all. Must not sneeze. Mustnot sneeze. A metronome is echoing in my head slower than time as I wait for the pianist to slam the keys so I can disguise a sneeze. The woman next to me steals a look at the dribbeling snot filled gurgling blob beside her. Let me out. I can’t go. Must stay. Sweating. Head hurts. The more I try to hide it the more I fidget. Cross legs uncross legs run hand over head. Sniff.
The gigantic screen on stage flashes with graphics searing my splitting my head. Shit this is all so painful . As the audience applauds the end I am the first to leave and stood by the door is Jude Kelly . I move to hug her and then stop “no i can’t! I have a cold” I say and rush out. I take a taxi home and sniff I can’tsniff gurgle sniff sleep. The question is this: Should I have left the concert in the middle. I couldn't go home cause I didn't know what would happen while I was in there. If you were a player would you rather I turned up and snivveled or was not their at all. Personally I hate the cough in the middle of a performance cause people do it at the worst times.