Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with Pull The Other One comedy club runners Martin and Vivienne Soan in Nunhead aka a little bit of Peckham in South East London.
And I found out to my shock that, in August, there will be creative things happening in parts of Britain other than Edinburgh. Specifically Nunhead and Peckham.
Martin and Vivienne have lived there for over 30 years.
They have run Pull The Other One there for 8 years.
In my ignorance, I still think of Peckham as down-market Only Fools and Horses territory, but Martin knows someone in a local estate agent and house prices in the area recently rose by around £7,000 literally overnight. A two-bedroom house across the street from his home sold last month for over £500,000.
“When property’s cheap,” Martin suggested yesterday, “the artists move in and make it a ‘groovy’ area to go to. That’s exactly what’s happened to Peckham. And we had all these diverse cultures from all over the world gather here along with the artists because it was cheap. But now it is coming up and I want to introduce this influx of Yuppiedom and money to the side of Peckham that actually made it happen.”
So Martin is organising The Village Hall Experience on Saturday 17th August.
“It’s going to happen on the site of the old Peckham Lido,” Martin told me. “It’s very rarely visited and completely under-used, apart from a few dog-owners who let their dogs shit on it. Three-quarters of it is surrounded by trees so, once you’re there, it’s actually rather nice and it’s near where William Blake had his boyhood vision of angels in a tree.
“It’s 25 years since the Lido closed and the reason I can remember that date is that Vivienne was one of the last bathers in there, while she was pregnant with our eldest daughter Sydney,”
“So what’s the concept?” I asked.
“Basically,” said Martin, “anything you can imagine happening in a village hall we are going to endeavour to put on in one large marquee and three smaller satellite marquees. That ranges from Taekwondo demonstrations to Cubs & Scouts, to the local fire brigade, police and ambulance, to jumble sales, white elephant stalls, a youth club involving black light ping pong – you play in total darkness with ping pong balls that glow in the dark – to a Women’s Institute formation team, a little bit of professional cabaret, maybe a beetle drive or a bingo game, a pet competition, a funny vegetable competition, a cake competition… There’s going to be a bit of a tea dance, a bit of rock ‘n’ roll and a village hall disco.”
“Heavens!” I said. “So this is an all-day event?”
“At a usual village hall event,” said Martin, “each of those things would take up several hours. But we’re going to compress each and every one into tiny, tiny vignettes.”
“So how long?” I asked.
“I would say the jumble sale would last five minutes,” explained Martin. “The Taekwondo people wanted to do a half-hour demonstration. I said That’s out of the question. It will be seven minutes maximum. The youth club will probably be about 15 minutes. The cabaret will be about 25 minutes.”
“How do you demonstrate a youth club?” I asked.
“Well,” said Martin, “there are three basic elements to the show and we’re going to do it twice. There will be a matinée show and an evening show.”
“How long is each show?”
“About three hours long. People can come in and go out any time they want – just join in for the bits they’ve come to see. Someone may just come in to see his mates sing in the local choir.
“The first section will come under the heading of The Tea Dance. The middle section is The Youth Club. The end section is The Cabaret. Within that, we will have all the other elements.
“There’s going to be a team of Women’s Institute volunteers all dressed-up like my giddy aunt, along with Vivienne and comic Lindsey Sharman. They will all have clipboards and they’ll basically be my stagehands. They will be busybodying around and getting everyone moving along.
“As soon as you’ve sat down and got into the jumble sale, it’s going to be over and the volunteers will transform The Tea Dance into The Youth Club and into The Cabaret.”
“Any nudity and The Greatest Show on Legs?” I asked.
“Absolutely not,” said Martin. “It’s a family show and, because the Council have funded it, we have to be inclusive of all the different minorities and majorities in the area.
“Three events have been funded in this project, all happening on the same day – Saturday 17th August. There’s our Village Hall Experience, but there’s also separately The Peace Picnic with a stage and a picnic and The South American Flower Festival in Camberwell, which involves dancing and food and doing mosaics with the petals of flowers. We have to all co-ordinate with each other and we each have all these designated disparate groups to include within the community. So these three funded festivals are all after the same minority groups.”
“Are there,” I asked, “enough minorities to share around between the three festivals?”
“Well,” said Martin, everybody’s clamouring for the Mia Dancers, who are all aged over 70 years old. And I’m going to the parts of the community that others don’t reach – the Afghan Khans I deal with all the time and some other Afghan guys who run a street food thing. There’s the South Americans and the Turkish delicatessens. Through the traders, I will hopefully get to those ethnic minorities: they are the representatives of the communities.”
“You seem to be taking it very seriously,” I said.
“I’m treating it very seriously indeed,” said Martin. “The Polish I have got in through a nail parlour. What excited me about it is squashing it all down and doing it twice in one day. The impetus you have to put into it; the restrictions you have to put onto the people… That makes it a rollercoaster ride.”
“And it all takes place in one big marquee?” I asked.
“One big marquee with three smaller satellite marquees,” Martin corrected me. “The main marquee has to be capable of a total blackout because we’ll be having the black light ping pong when it’s still daylight outside.”
“And, in the satellite marquees…?” I prompted.
“The first one – and it’ll be quite a big one – will have The Nunhead Municipal Museum and Sideshow Gallery. There’s an artist called David living in Nunhead. And then there’s the Peckham Pathé News Theatre – a 15-20-seater cinema screening a loop of specially-filmed spoof news items and clips. And then there’s going to be street traders, food and we’re licensed and there’s going to be an art gallery. It’s everything you could possibly ever think of. It may sound perfectly normal…”
“What??” I said. “Only on Planet Soan.”
“There will be two entrances to get into the area,” Martin enthused. “One will be for Good-Looking, Intelligent People. The other one will be for Useless Wasters With No Imagination and No Hope, Going Nowhere. The second entrance will take you round this maze and, along the way, there will be art, notices and all sorts of stuff.”
“And the entrance for Good-Looking, Intelligent People?” I asked.
“That one will be locked, so no-one can get in,” said Martin