19:00 Thursday 21 April 2005, Gala Theatre, Durham City, UK
Waiting here is like waiting in an airport departure lounge for the announcement that signals the start of boarding . The 150 or so passengers are crowded into the upper bar area of the theatre. We range in age from mid-teens to mid-sixties; dress, grooming and accent signal social status (working class and middle class); there are lots of students, as well as housewives and businessmen; but we are almost exclusively white. David Dimbleby said that there are more men than women, but I can't say that the disparity is particularly noticeable. Prior to his pep talk we were busy. People were busy greeting friends; busy writing proposed questions onto cards; busy munching (non-vegan) sandwiches; busy swigging glasses of orange juice as though the drink contained vodka. A distressingly high proportion standing out on the balcony polluting the wonderfully golden evening air with foul tobacco smoke. Alone and hungry, I felt isolated as I sipped my instant coffee and devised cunning questions.
While he was talking, holding us in rapt attention, I wondered how such an alert man coped with delivering, week after week, polished, efficient, competent warm-up lines to crowds of weakly or selectively informed people who know only how to grind axes and bang drums. I enjoy being in the presence of a person who is informed, or a person with insight. I recall workshops with the poet Jon Silkin that left me feeling as though fire were running through my arteries.
Now there is expectation and apprehension. It is time to enter the studio-cum-auditorium. Cables lie draped and strewn like vines in a jungle. Television cameras the size of velociraptors come to life.
Whose questions will be chosen? A name is read out, and the person asked to identify themselves. A quip. Another person. Another quip. Down the list. Surely there is still space for my question. And then my name. No-one’s bothered, except that it feels like a chasm has opened around me. I leave my jacket on the bench seat and climb self-consciously down the stairs, joining the others whose questions have been selected.
In fact, my question was never requested. I felt bitterly disappointed, because I really wanted the question to be asked, as well as being given the opportunity to ask it. The issue remains live for me even today. However, I did get to make an 'audience comment' that was gently derogatory towards the Tories regarding their cynical whipping up of suspicion about so-called 'bogus asylum seekers'.
... to be continued...