Amorphous Grey Blob
by ‘The Audience’
I’m reaching a point in my life now where I constantly find that I am massively out of my depth. People trust me with actual responsibilities, and then immediately regret doing so. Somebody recently asked me, with complete sincerity, if I had any strong opinions on James Joyce.
When I was younger, I used to be of the belief that I wasn’t smart enough to have opinions on things. Certainly not on real things like Literature, which needed to be pronounced with the capital letter to indicate Great Importance. It wasn’t meant for people like me. People like me get to laugh, nod, and turn to the immortal phrase ‘Ha ha, yeah.’
It’s a gift of a phrase. When an anecdote has no conclusion, when a joke falls completely flat, or when a question merrily soars over your head, you always have ‘ha ha, yeah.’ It says ‘I don’t know how to respond to this situation and, to be quite honest with you, I would rather go home and watch reruns of Top Gear.’ I used it a lot.
You may have noticed, over the past year or so, a lot of Nottingham-based ‘literary types’ getting rather excited. That’s because we’re now officially recognised as one of twenty UNESCO ‘Cities of Literature.’ It’s a pretty illustrious list. Edinburgh, Iowa, Dublin…and now Nottingham too.
I’m not going to lie, I was proud. I’m not especially patriotic, but I like being from Nottingham. Everyone from out of town assumes you’ve been shot at which makes us feel dark and edgy. But really we like books and words and meeting at the left lion and mushy peas from the Goose Fair. We also apparently have a real craving for artisanal burgers. Seriously guys, get it together, we don’t need more frightening burgers you need to use a crane to pick up.
More importantly, Nottingham has always had a sense of the countercultural about it. I think it comes from being as wonderfully diverse as we are. We’re a collection of so many different people, all bound together by our use of the word ‘cob.’ It is cob, by the way. That is a hill I choose to die on.
That’s what this festival is about, I think. There’s no arbitrary definition of what is and is not literature, nor of who can or can’t produce it. There wasn’t a production line with a bored looking academic pointing and going ‘yes, no, yes, yes, no, no, no, hell no.’ There are events about poetry, journalism, drama, fiction, even video games. That’s the key, isn’t it? Literature isn’t restrictive, or at least it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t make you go ‘ha ha, yeah.’ It lends itself to conversations about identity and belonging and culture.
Perhaps that’s why it fits with Nottingham so well.
Regardless, I’ll be your ‘Audience’ for the week, an anonymous guide through a few of these events. Think of me as your friendly, amorphous grey blob. Part of me is hoping that people will be picturing me as a sneaky gumshoe from the fifties, but the amorphous grey blob is perhaps a more likely image.
I hope you’ll join me. I hope I don’t make you go ‘ha ha, yeah.’ Let’s see.