Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Luton

I went to Luton on Sunday night. It was a last-minute decision based on not wanting to get up at shite o’clock just to get stuck in rush hour traffic. I stayed in a Travelodge. A Luton Travelodge. I’m not sure it gets any more glamorous than that. I sat and watched the BAFTAs in my hotel room whilst children in the room across the corridor literally screamed their little lungs out. I think they were screaming out of excitement rather than because they were being slaughtered, but I’m no real expert, and it was Luton.

The BAFTAs felt self-conscious and a little arch. Everyone wore black and all the speakers felt obliged to distance themselves from anything that anyone might have found offensive in the last twelve months. Joanna Lumley, however, was, as you might expect, her usual charming, classy, glorious self, and made for a wonderful host. The list of dead people was nothing compared last year’s roll call, prompting me to think that 2016 was a particularly grim year.

It rained through the night and was raining heavily when I woke up. The rain added a certain something to my joyous experience. I bought my own breakfast. I didn’t fancy paying extra for a bowl of Shreddies. My only complaint was that the milk had warmed up through the night, in my excessively stuffy room. 

I was in Luton to speak to drama and music students at the Chalk Hill Academy, a secondary state school in the town. I listened to GCSE compositions and gave the students as much feedback as I thought constructive and inspiring, before being whisked into the school’s lecture hall to work with drama students on their upcoming assessed performances. I was asked to talk about my career for a few minutes, and the kids seemed particularly keen to discuss Our Gay Wedding: The Musical. I think they were genuinely interested in the project, although, for some reason, I felt a little gauche and self-conscious talking about it. I think all gay men have an in-built valve which makes them a little embarrassed about or wary of outing themselves to young people. Until Clause 28 was repealed in the early naughties, it would have been illegal for me to even mention it in a school, so I guess the roots of my reticence were fed by that particular dung heap. Of course, it’s vital that we usualise LGBT issues in schools. It is highly likely that at least one student in the group considers themselves to be sitting somewhere underneath the rainbow umbrella and I may have offered them a bit of hope or inspiration.

The students did incredibly well and there are one or two kids within them whom I think are super-talented. I was, however, really upset to learn that none of the composing students had computers at home, a fact which is plainly born out of poverty. How can a kid learn his craft if he doesn’t have the equipment to practice it at home? Yet again I find myself profoundly irritated that we’re not looking at location and social background as key reasons for why students are held back in their early lives.

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