Blog Post: Why I am in a caravan on the Portobello Road

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The Knowledge Emporium is an airstream caravan that has had a bespoke sweet shop fitted inside.

The sweet shop was designed by Barney George and physically created by Matt Angove, Daniel Rollings, Bronia Daniels, Lucy Hind and what felt like a small army of carpenters. 

It now sits in Tavistock Piazza on Portobello Road, near Ladbroke Grove Tube Station.

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And outside the Emporium stand myself, Oliver Senton and Suzanne Ahmet in candy stripe, bowling shoes and side partings. 

The whole thing tends to draw the eye.

People come up- quite naturally and ask, “what is this?” 

It’s a sweet shop. But we don’t accept money. We trade in sweets for entries into our Big Book of Everything that We Know. 

“Why?” 

I believe that everybody has some piece of knowledge, some memory, some experience that would be of interest to everybody. I would like to collect as many as I can. 

“But why sweets?” 

Most people like sweets. They make people feel nice, think of comforting things, remember. I want people to feel nice. And I am asking something of you. Surely I should give something in return? By way of thank you. 

At that point 99% of people have a look of understanding and acceptance and with an “Okay” climb in to the caravan and sit down by the book.

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It is by some distance the simplest, the easiest to understand and the most honest transaction that has ever sat at the heart of a Slung Low project.

There have been a few people of course who are unhappy, disbelieving, suspicious or just downright rude. A woman yesterday repeatedly compared me to Nazi Germany*.  She wasn’t drunk, or mad in any clinical sense. She was angry. Not at me (turns out she was angry at the Council) but being as I was there and wearing a bow tie I would do for a little while. It’s amazing- and this is the real triumph of the experience for me- how many times and in how many ways myself, Oliver and Suzanne “will do for a little while”. 

I don’t argue with people. Not here. 

That’s not the point of it all. It isn’t a chance for me to say anything. It isn’t an opportunity to challenge or investigate- it is the act of accepting and listening.

I spent 5 hours yesterday saying the word Yes. 

I could write something about my father. Yes.

Can I just write a little about where I was born? Yes.

Is it all right if I just put a sentence? Yes. Can I tell you about my life? Yes please. 

Quiet, unironic, un smart arse affirmation. Yes.

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And they write. They write when a few moments ago they said they didn’t want to. They write when a few moments ago they said they had nothing to say. They write when a few moments ago they said no one would be interested. Yes. 

We perform outside the caravan on the 30 &31 July and 1 August, in the evening. We will present some of the material. But that is not my worry today. And wont be tomorrow or the day after. In 5 days I will worry about that. How that will work. Whether it will be dramatic. Yes.  But for now I say yes. I don’t argue. I don’t contest. They do that. To themselves. If they want to. If they need to. Changing the story they told me outside to a slightly less bullish one in the book. Arranging the details to make the recollection less aggressive, or more so. Depending on what they want to do.

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It is the most brilliant experience- knowing that you will simply affirm for five hours as strangers approach you with generous gifts of knowledge. It is sometimes challenging- not everything is so easy to affirm. But that is the transaction. That is the idea. That everybody has some piece of knowledge, some memory, some experience that would be of interest to everybody. And it turns out they do. 

I want to buy the caravan. We’ve put too much in to it to just rip the set out and move on. It’s going to cost a lot of money: these things always do. An extraordinarily large amount of money. I sat with Slung Low’s producer Laura Clark last night and went through the myriad of financial, developmental, artistic, social and corporate reasons for why it is a good idea to take the risk and buy the thing. 

But if I’m honest I want to buy it, I insist (within the confines of polite discourse) on buying it because I do genuinely believe that everybody has some piece of knowledge, some memory, some experience that would be of interest to everybody.

I would like to collect as many as I can.

And I have much more of the book to fill.

And after that many more books.

Yes. 

Come see us if you are in the Portobello Road area until 1st August. We’re open 11-4. Say hello to me. I’ll be the one saying Yes.     

“This is how it starts. They come to take the livelihoods of good people. They bring in strange men. This is how it started back then in the 30’s. That’s how it started in Nazi Germany.”

“Please don’t say Nazi Germany. I can’t keep talking to you if you say Nazi Germany.”

“There were plenty of Alan’s in Nazi Germany?” 

“No I am sorry Im going to have to ask you to retract that.” 

“There WERE plenty of Alan’s in Nazi Germany!” 

“No I don’t believe there were. Alan is a Celtic name. There were not plenty of Alan’s in Nazi Germany.” 

“Okay. Helmuts then.” 

“Yes. I’ll accept there were plenty of Helmuts in Nazi Germany. Please carry on Madame.”  She did for 20 minutes. 

She says she’ll come back tomorrow and put something in the book. I hope she does.

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One thought on “Blog Post: Why I am in a caravan on the Portobello Road

  1. Alan Lane

    Thanks both.Alex not boring in anyway.yes absolutely others can use it.Focusing at moment on different sources of support (sweet companies) but brilliant ideasAm tempted to convince arts council this is a work of art! The amount of sweat Barney, Mattnand the gang put into it it is!Love to all x

    Reply

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