Over the past few days Leeds has been hosting a literary festival called the Big Bookend. The Big Bookend describes itself as a Rock Festival for Words. This was the third year for the Festival. This year there has been a wide range of authors hosting a diverse range of activities and events for all ages held in a variety of locations throughout the city. Some of the events were free. Some charged a modest admission price. All events have been very well attended. The wonderful thing about the Big Bookend is that it celebrates the enormous wealth of local and very successful writing talent that we have in Leeds.
I went to four events this year, which is not as many as I would have liked!
The first event I attended was a book launch, which is always exciting! Elizabeth is Missing is the debut novel from 26 year old Emma Healey. It has as its lead character Maud, who is in her 80s and suffers from dementia. Although Maud forgets many things she is convinced that her friend Elizabeth is Missing but who will believe her? It was interesting to hear how Emma wrote this book. She comes across as being very engaging if slightly unsure of her talent. This is despite the fact that publishers were fighting over the rights to publish Elizabeth is Missing and the TV rights have been sold already!
On Saturday I went to two events. They were very different from each other but both very enjoyable. Author John Lake talked about (and read excerpts from) his trilogy set in Leeds 6. I then heard a fascinating talk, “Where is Chapeltown and What Does it Do?” given by Max Farrar, Emeritus Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University.
However, the highlight for me was an Audience with Alan Bennett on Sunday afternoon at West Yorkshire Playhouse. We had been to see his play Enjoy at the Playhouse on the Friday evening but to actually hear the great man talk had me tingling with excitement. As you might have guessed, I am a big Alan Bennett fan. He is one of those authors whose voice you can hear in your head when you read his books. He was immensely amusing and very sharp with his observations on life. He was born and brought up in Leeds and retains his love of the city. Apparently, he comes up to visit on a very regular basis. He clearly enjoys the fact that people feel they can approach him and talk to him about his works. His way with words is wonderful. One quote I remember from yesterday is “I like it when I arrive at the station and everybody talks like me”. Clearly a man who has not forgotten his roots …
Alan Bennett is such a brilliant raconteur and it was truly a privilege to hear him live.
Sunday 1st June was The Big Lunch. For those not familiar with the concept, The Big Lunch started at The Eden Project in Cornwall. It is all about bringing communities together. The aim is to get as many people as possible to have lunch with their neighbours in a spirit of friendship and fun. In my street, it is the 4th year that we have done this. We have had glorious weather for three out of the four of them. However, in 2012 there was torrential rain and we had to take cover under hastily erected gazebos. But Big Lunch still went ahead!
A small steering group meets a few times a year to organise it. Being someone who likes to be involved in things, I am on the group although my contribution is limited these days. Having had a Big Lunch for four years, it almost arranges itself. We always have some musical entertainment and borrow trestle tables from the local school or local church to put down the middle of the street. Everybody brings food and drink and it is all placed on these tables to share. Residents bring their own garden furniture or equivalent to set up in the street to sit at. Games are arranged for the children. This year we had an animal fancy dress theme for the children.
Luckily for us, yesterday was glorious sunshine. The day starts with closing the road at 11.00 am and stringing bunting up from first floor windows so that it criss-crossed the road. The bunting was made for our first Big Lunch street party in 2011 and has been used every year since. It is homemade from old sheets, duvet covers and other sundry pieces of material that were donated by residents. We set up a working party of people who either cut out the triangles or sowed them together. We made six sections of 5 metres each. As you can imagine it took a little while! However, it is unique and was a great deal of fun to make.
The tables were set up at 12.00 am and the first contributions of food arrived shortly afterwards. We had three different sets of musicians lined up. The first ones were a local jazz band who commenced playing at 1.00 pm. A young solo singer/guitarist followed them and the proceedings ended with an African drumming group.
The whole day was a great success. With everyone leading such busy lives these days, it is too easy to lose touch with your neighbours. The Big Lunch is a perfect opportunity to reconnect with people and to be introduced to new arrivals in the street. Obviously not everyone in the street takes part but we had over 100 people this year, which was excellent. There is a strong community spirit and a reassurance that if anyone in the street ever needs help, we have some lovely neighbours to turn to.
I am not sure of the date of next year’s Big Lunch, but I will be there!