The journey from my office in Kennington to Clapton takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. I could get to Brighton in that time, should I have reason to. I don’t. It’s windy and far too proud of itself. Whilst Clapton is beginning to resemble Brighton in many ways, it still has great venues like the Hackney United Services Club where we have put events on four or five times. That’s probably unfair on Brighton, which presumably has buildings rich with history, if not rich with the splatterings of seabirds.
On Thursday I had decided to work from home as I had an appointment with my doctor. The real boon to being home is that I live in Limehouse, and so getting to Clapton for our live show from there is pretty rapid, at least by comparison. I went by Overground, and the orange, spacious carriage afforded me a moment of a recherché calm. Tweeting playfully as I went, double-checking emails to ensure that everyone had been organised and bossed about sufficiently, I was feeling terribly pleased with myself for having affairs well and truly in order. Yes, if my doctor had given me a phone call right then and told me that, despite his earlier vote of confidence in my diet of leftovers and ale, I had actually rotted my gut through to the seams and could only expect to live for a few hours more, I’d feel pretty serene about it all, if not a little satisfied that I would be able to tell my partner (romantic; gave up any desire to be a cop after the novelisation of Police Academy: Mission To Moscow was dropped by HarperCollins) that I was right about bloody doctors all along.
I was at the the venue in Clapton at about 6:20, a bloated hour before doors opened, where I found my second-in-command Anna Harvey waiting for me in her car. She wore a look of concern but it troubled me not for I was in the mood to sort stuff out, no matter how in it had fallen. At that moment, the venue owner popped her head out of the front door and explained that due a last minute issue they wouldn’t be able to host Open Pen Live that night.
“What? Why?” The second monosyllabic query topping my list of priorities in terms of receiving an answer.
“The ceiling’s fallen in,” she replied, “we can’t have anyone here. The darts is off as well.”
Why do these things always happen to me, I thought, as the venue owner fought back tears. The sky had come down around me. I was doomed. This was a nightmare situation. I had a couple of writers coming down, a two-man Jazz ensemble, publishers on the guest-list, and everyone was going to think that I can’t do things properly, including the poor old writer who had her Mum coming over from Norwich especially. Writers are tender creations as it is. Asking them to stand up in front of people that love books and therefore love being critical (preferably with sagacious wit) is a big ask. Telling them with an hour before kick off that the show was off would truly puncture their fragile conviction.
“What are we going to do?” I demanded of my 2IC, desperate to address the increasing likelihood that my ego would be bruised.
Luckily, starkly, my Open Penner partner in crime (metaphorically – I had given up on crime for reasons outlined above) knew the area like a handy expression used to the point of nauseation. We bolted about the area that was once described as the most dangerous area in London and bounded over to coffee-house-cum-potteries and delicatessen-cum-creches until finally, lastly, the creperie-cum-gastrobar on the old Murder Mile accepted us with a warm embrace (potentially just a solemn, accepting nod, with the hint of goodwill – I wouldn’t know, I was in the car sulking) and said we could use the downstairs basement. The snag was that we could only have it till 9:30pm. This would cut into a lot of what we had planned that night, but beggars of live literary reading venues cannot be choosers of live literary reading venues. And as it went, the creperie’s basement, whilst on the cosy side, was beautifully lit, and its staff more than accommodating. Our readers were able read their stories, albeit in front of a crowd that we couldn’t possibly charge ticket admission for, given the mess around they’d been given. This basically meant that the evening that is meant to fill the belly of our budget, ended up leaving us down. Cry for us.
Economical matters aside, it might have been worse. It was pointed out to me that the ceiling of the original venue might have fallen in on me whilst I was on stage. The thought gave me a moment to take a step back from the supposed nightmare situation and really count myself lucky; tragedy had been averted. Just imagine if the plasterboard had fallen in and spoiled my peacoat. Sobering.
In short, much shorter than I’ve just rambled on for, apologies to everyone that made it along and was shifted about like cattle, or gave up on arrival of the new venue, lost, confused, potentially hurt. An apology and much gratitude also, of course, to everyone at the event that performed a story for us or tickled the ivories for Jazzing pleasure. We aim to make it up to you in the early Summer with an outdoor event (take that ceilings). We’ll have more tricks up our sleeve than ever before.
To Creperie du Monde, thank you sincerely for saving our bacon on the night. I hope to enjoy said bacon with dollops of maple syrup at your fine establishment real soon.
Note from the web editor: Finally, if any Brighton-based bookshops would like to stock us, please send requests to our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Open Pen Issue Eleven is out weekend of April 26th. Keep an eye on us for more details of its release.