Saturday, 24 January 2009

How to talk in front of Members of the British Parliament - Sipson Reloaded

To begin with, i went to Sipson again and again, in the hope of understanding the situation trying to best picture it in my series for my Paris exhibition. After mailing Mrs Shilling, the NOTRAG press officer the previous day, rather late at night, i got a phone call from her early in the morning. And i mean Early. With capital "e". She presented the situation, just like in a mail, but was also disappointed about me not taking into a account the villages of Harlington and Harmondsworth, which were part of the Heathrow expansion plan - due to be either demolished or very affected by the noise, light and air pollution. I did manage to gather my strength to explain to her that i only heard of Sipson because everywhere it's the only one mentioned and finally we agreed on my need to research more and involve the other two villages in my project.

On this particular visit, i was supposed to meet with Mr. Jack Clark, oldest man in Sipson and probably in the region. Mr. Clark is 97 years old and has been living in Sipson longer than any of my parents have been on this planet, as have most of the inhabitants of the Sipson - Harmondsworth - Harlington area. Due to ridiculous tube delays (by ridiculous i mean one hour - give or take) and an accident between two women (kinda saw that coming there) in an intersection, my being in Sipson at 12 turned to arriving there pissed off and dreadfully late around 13:47 - in front of Mr. Clark's door. Missed the appointment. I did go to visit Joe, which is a friend of Steve's, who owns the car repair shop. We met last times and were talking about his Land Cruiser and he agreed to the picture.

Steve and his wife live just in front of Mrs. Davies' house and the Post Office.

I got to the butcher's as well, who was quite delighted about me taking his picture for the series and was quite cooperative. Like everyone in the villages, he's a friendly person, always happy and optimistic. "D'you want me to get one of my big cutting knives to take the picture with?". Not sure if he meant it or not, but by the time i was getting my head around it, he showed up with a huge cutting knife, point at which i got the hint that i shouldn't be hanging around there too long. I liked the place, and the bloke, but i'd rather not get on the wrong side of anyone holding one of these objects in either hands.

On with the show, i ended up photographing Linda McCutcheon, who is the secretary of the NOTRAG association. She was very helpful, showing me the house and everything and letting me choose my images carefully. it seemed quite nice of her to be so patient, and her image is perhaps a bit different than the rest of the series, simply because she was as well. She will be coming up later on in the story.

I obviously took Mrs. Shiling's advice and walked all the way to Harmondsworth. It was a fair 20 minute walk to the place and i didn't know anyone there. Felt like a deja-vu for when i first went to Sipson. These experiences keep me alive, and confused. I couldn't manage to find windows with protest banners and what not, because most of the village will still be standing but will be affected by the pollution issues. I managed to get to the pub, looking for a beer, where there was a lad in his twenties playing Fifa 2008 on the PS3. His name was Sam Dyllon and, together with his family, he owned The Five Bells pub, which was some hundred years old - but very very nice. One of the best ones i've seen yet. We started to chat and i son found out that i had gone into the safe side of Harmondsworth, which presented little interest for me, as far as the series goes.

In the evening i was invited to participate to a meeting of the associations against the runway (which i can tell you first hand have quite a lot of members) and John McDonnel, Member of the British Parliament. Somehow i understood there were to be more than one member, or there actually were and didn't speak, i can't figure it out. Perhaps it was just in my head.

Moving on now, the MP took the microphone and started to present the situation, in light of the recent announcement that the runway has been given kind of a green light but not quite. People took the stand and said what's on their minds, some of them presenting the situation while others just condemned the Government. I was surprised to see so many people at the Botwell Social Hall, in Hayes fighting for this cause, and i actually felt like there was something i can show through my series.

At some point into the discussion, a lady takes the microphone and starts talking: "I was contacted by someone who was a photographer today and is working in Paris, who only knew about Sipson...". The person that took the stand was Mrs Shilling, and the person being put in front of the firing squad, would be yours truly. I experienced a funny concoction of feelings, from being annoyed because my whole idea of trying to help has been neglected in the favor of this useless detail, which one trip to the village could obviously not have solved, to the most creative one - take the microphone yourself and explain. Somehow i couldn't process the fact that it might backfire.

So as Mr McDonnel was handing out the mic from one person to another, i suddely notice my left hand raising up, despite my better judgement which urged me to stay put and keep my trap shut. So when the MP sees me, he asks me to come in front of the room, present myself (which i obviously forgot to do) and state my claim.

"Very few of you know me. I am the person Mrs. Shilling was talking about so i consider it best to start with an apology for not knowing exactly how and what was going on..." I presented the idea and the series, and well i can tell you that being stared at by a few hundred people who don't really understand why you're talking at all, and the MP who seemed quite interested of what i have to say, was not a pleasing feeling. I felt like my 15 seconds of fame were going away, and people starting to check for their tomatoes, pitch forks and other useful items - the idea dawned on me. What idea? The idea, the grand finale, how i was going to get out of this mess: "V for Vendetta"

I remembered a quote that V said to Evey, which concluded my speech:

"I want in my series to make a social comment, portaying people and what they stand to loose of the runway is built, as well as try to send the message that PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID OF THEIR GOVERNMENTS BUT THAT GOVERNMENTS SHOULD ALWAYS BE AFRAID OF THEIR PEOPLE". This was the point where McDonnel smiled, the crowd applauded until i took my seat (which only happened once or twice more during the 30-40 people that spoke) and i was glad to have gotten out of the bloody mess that i got myself into by not staying put. Still, a lovely evening, epecially in light of the discussions we had after the meeting was over, as well as the promises for future help of NOTRAG on my side. It's a good will thing.

Leave you lot to your lives - cheers.