London Calling

I’ve recently returned from supporting an intensive 3 days writing residential based at the Tate Modern with some amazing young writers via Hive and The Writing Squad. The Project, the Word Exchange was part of the Tate Exchange programme and led by the wonderful Arvon. The tutors/writers for the 3 days were Jacob Sam La Rose and Sarah Butler. It was nice to be there in a supportive/mentoring capacity and not as a lead facilitator, and it was great to take in the Tate and it’s sheer size and range of exhibitions for longer that I’d normally get to wander around a gallery.  I particularly enjoyed the Louise Bourgeois exhibition and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen photos of Byker Grove in the late 1960s.

The 14 young writers on the programme had a great time and where a pleasure to be around. And their end performance, open to the public on Friday evening (along with dance from the Royal Holloway), wow, it was varied, playful, sharp and honest. Just brilliant!

While I was there, I had a few of those great little conversations (that are to be had with strangers) in the Tate and along the bank of the Thames. One guy, sat with a typewriter and a suitcase on a skateboard which read in chalk ‘Poet for hire. Pay what you can.’, he was a funny chap. I sat with him for a while and we talked to passers by. Such a good way to meet people. Plus he seemed to be doing quite well out of it with quite a few commissions while I was there!

I always enjoy a good natter with an unknown soul, but the one I won’t forget who made me smile a lot was an elderly Indian gentleman who I spotted deep in conversation with Dom, one of the young writers. He’d come over to see who we were and was curious about the big dinner table full of young people. I in turn was curious about this little animated guy engrossed in conversation with Dom. He turned out to be an oncologist, Dr Ujjal Mallick (yes the right spelling because I asked him to write it down as I wanted to remember him by name), a specialist in rare cancers. And he was such a lovely, lovely soul, so curious about art and poetry and learning and such a humble, gentle guy I found myself holding the hand of. He seemed genuinely upset to learn I’d had cancer. How on earth he does his job with the amount of clear empathy he has, heaven knows. He said he was about to retire but that the NHS was the best health care system in the world and he’d relished working in it. He appreciated so much. His wife and daughter are also doctors. What is family. He told us about his father and his father’s father and the village they came from. As he was leaving, he said – I’ll say what I always like to say – Enjoy life and make a contribution. Yes, Dr Mallick, yes 🙂