So I caught the train down to Penzance, my nose all runny from hayfever and my shirt sticking to my back in the heat. As you get close, the track is bordered by lots of verdant spiky bushes and trees that look like they belong in Malta or, y’know, somewhere rather hot and exotic.
When I arrived I realised I needed somewhere to stay, so I rang around some guesthouses. All of them said they were booked up for the week, until eventually one chap said that yes, he had one room left. I asked him where the B&B; was. It turned out it was behind me, about 30 seconds away. When I met him, I found myself being extra smiley and polite, and I realised that it was because I felt a bit weird about being a young man booking himself into a B&B; all on his own, down here on the edge of the country, apparently without having planned it in advance. I think I was worried he might think I’d come down to Cornwall to commit suicide, and they’d find my shoes neatly side-by-side at the end of the quay. (did you know that people who commit suicide by jumping off things tend to take their shoes off? It’s one of the early warning signs bridge attendants are supposed to look out for)
The man running the B&B; was very helpful, and recommended a couple of good seafood restaurants, before giving me directions to the road I thought the Arts Club was on. On my way to the night, I heard shouting echoes from amongst the thick stone pillars of the church. A guy with splayed, bird’s nest hair around a sunburnt bald pate was propped on one elbow, talking loudly to a teenage boy slugging on a can of Stella. The man had a bedroll and rucksack next to him. He made an expansive gesture to illustrate some garbled, recondite assertion and an almost empty litre bottle of Teacher’s whiskey went clattering down the steps, each bounce ringing and echoing across the street.
I’d sent an email to check that the night was definitely on before I left Cambridge, and had received a simple ‘Yes! Still on!’ from someone who, as it transpired, never showed up to the venue. I asked a short man wearing little wire frame spectacles if he knew where the Arts Centre was.
‘I think you mean the Arts Club,’ he said. ‘Follow the street down and it’s the yellow door on the left.’
I waited for an hour inside the Arts Club. There was no mic, and no performance space. The two rooms were decorated with the motley abandon of some fruity widow revelling in her newfound freedom after her stuffy husband’s long overdue death – albeit with a fully-functioning bar installed at one end. Actually, no – that’s exactly the sort of very cool extravagance a fruity widow would splash out on.
When it reached the time for the evening to start, there were three people aside from me; two of whom were down in Penzance by chance and had decided to pop down to the Arts Club to see what it was like. The person supposed to be running the night had not turned up. There was a sort of nervous murmur as to whether anything would happen at all.
In the end, it turned out to be one of my favourite open mics I’ve been to so far. I’m not going to explain everything that happened here, but I met some fascinating people and really felt quite privileged to have stumbled across such an odd little coming together of people of all sorts of ages, to talk and listen and share.
I’m starting to collect all my photos and recordings and notes and memories together now, and I’m battling Dr Procrasto for the opportunity to sit down and start synthesising them into the beginnings of a story. My journey is far from over, but I really do feel like the nights I’ve visited and the people I’ve met are beginning to change me. The only question is whether I can convey that on a page, and make someone else feel ‘wow!’, or whether they feel so precious precisely because, as the saying goes: ‘I guess you had to be there.’