On being a provincial participator in TedX

Without a certain provincialism of feeling, no great thoughts are thought, no great deeds done…

Thomas Hardy

On Saturday 10 March I was a 12 minute provincial participator (my own phrase) at Observer TedX.

Can’t tell you how excited and nervous I was, but let’s say rabbit/headlight enough not to be able to prepare because every time I thought about it I found myself blindly feeling ‘I can’t fit what I got to say into 12 minutes!’ All week it kept coming back to me, ‘Prepare for TedX’ and then I would find I didn’t have time to do it. It would take me forever to get what I have to say into a 12 min package. I began to think, ‘I’ll just stand there and wing it.’

But that that caused rabbit/headlight too, because winging it would be bound to result in disaster because I’d say something I hadn’t planned to say and it would be saying the wrong thing, and all those people would see it, and it would be filmed for all posterity and I’d never escape it. And so it would come to me again, ‘Prepare for TedX’, but then the answering desperate chime ‘ I can’t fit what I got to say into 12 minutes.’ Certainly was getting pretty nervous.

Nervous enough to find myself wide-awake and bolt-upright at 5.00am on Saturday morning with the Quasimodo bell in my head bonging ‘Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!’ Oh, the bells. So I got up and started writing.

‘Prepare’, in this case, turned out to mean ‘release slasher self-edit’. When it comes to talking about the need for a Reading Revolution I am a woman with 27 double-decker London busloads of material in her head. That’s perhaps why things are getting a little slow up there, internal traffic jam. Edit, the bell in me tolled, edit! 12 minutes, I thought, that lets you make 3 points. And not points but stories. And there’s got to be reading in there too.

By the time my husband came to my study to see how I was getting on (10.00 am) I’d got it down to Heidi and John Clare’s poem I Am. That’s the reading sorted. And for the stories? There are a lot of moving stories in our shared reading project, Get Into Reading. But I kept thinking – if that person watched TedX, would they mind seeing their story out there? And Phil, listening to me rehearse, said ‘Do 3 things: How you got into reading/How people at your Continuing Ed classes got into reading/how you set up Get Into Reading.’

Headlights passed.Rabbit ran off. That man sees clear lines.

I put 3 photos and 2 readings on a Powerpoint and was ready to go.

I was asked because of The Reader Organisation being named as one of the Observer/NESTA 50 New Radicals – one of the 25 New Radicals not living in London. Fancy that!! Half of Britain’s New Radicals live in the capital city.

Being a New Radical, I was delighted to be asked because I’ve wanted to do a Ted for a while (an idea that arose in the lively mind of Mr Frank Cottrell Boyce – his other good ones – ‘I’ll write a book for you!’ and ‘We got to get to the teachers’…) though a little disappointed to be a provincial participator rather than down there in London’s Sadler’s Wells with Tilda Swinton and Plan B. As a provincial, I’d do my bit from the simulacrum theatre set up in the performance space at Liverpool’s Bluecoat. Nevertheless, great to talk to loads of people about the reading revolution.

And then I got there and found the live-streamed simucast is one way! Who’d have guessed! Us provincials can see what’s happening in London (mostly – little glitches ruffle the live stream some of the time) but they can’t see what’s happening in the provinces!

So the simulacrum mirrors reality. I pointed this out to Tim, the nice guy from the Observer who was doing the intros and he agreed – for next year, a two-way thing might be an idea. Of course, he added, technical difficulties could be against us. This at a time when more than half a million volunteers now undertake scientific research at http://www.zooniverse.org (as I learned from fellow-speaker Robert Simpson, an engaging guy who explained how citizen science is space’s new frontier). People all around the world can see new galaxies forming, or spot new phenomena, for the very first time, such as a black hole ‘switching off’, but people in Sadler’s Wells, London, can’t see people in the English provinces. And it wasn’t just Robert and me they missed – Frank Cottrell Boyce was there too, talking about pleasure as the educative principle.

London missed out on something really lovely there.

Give it some Ted-type thought.

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