Sunday, October 26, 2014

Salon, 8th October

Apparently, in this era of knowledge at your fingertips, people are craving curated content more and more. We want to put our trust in someone to deliver reliable and interesting knowledge and there are a spate of events that cater to this. One such would be the Lost Lectures which aim to make learning a night-time affair. Another, is Salon London. Each bring together experts or people of note in their field.

Salon does this by having mini-seasons in which they will have several salons on a theme. This season’s was Crime and Punishment, and the event I went to was on Punishment. Apart from the overselling of tickets and the fact that my name wasn’t down, even though I’d already checked with them by email to make sure it was, I thought this was a really enjoyable and well put together evening.

It differs from the Lost Lectures in a few ways, and it was for these very differences that I preferred it. Instead of bite-size introductions to a topic, cramming in six or seven acts into the night, Salon gives each speaker a good thirty minutes to talk. This allows them to really get into a subject, yet it’s not so long that they lose momentum. Each of our speakers did a really good job of sticking to their time limit and keeping our interest. And the nature of the event is such that, even though there is a short Q & A section, you are encouraged to mingle and chat to the speakers during the intervals.

So. Crime. Punishment. Big themes. Controversial themes. So controversial that I cannot in fact tell you much about our second speaker, save to say she was well placed to reveal some very interesting things about our prison system. Before she got up we were told that ‘Chatsworth house rules’ would apply. I didn’t really know what that meant, but it meant I can’t tell you too much on the content of her talk. It was basically focusing on the reasons behind imprisonment, and how well we actually achieve those things by imprisonment. Not exactly 'thought provoking' as a lot of it lined up with what I have begun to believe anyway, but it did give you more food for thought on the subject.

But before that we had an interesting presentation on the Fine Cell Work company, an organization that gets long term prisoners involved in fine needlework, hand stitching various products. It gives these long term prisoners something of value to do, something to take up their time on which to concentrate their mind, which might otherwise be unhealthily distracted. And then these items are sold, and the prisoners are paid for their work. Working with prisoners, as it turns out, is not the easiest of tasks. Everything must be hand delivered to them, and the same is true of the completed projects. Apart from the good that they’re doing in terms of rehabilitation, they are producing all sorts of pieces, from their very popular pillow cases (the componenets of which were passed around the audience) to grand works of art such as quilts through which prisoners expressed how they feel about their lives. They take commissions as well – logos, tapestries, whatever you might want.

We ended on an extraordinary performance from a comedian, Wil Hodgson who basically told us a story. A story of a man who was hanged and of all the various characters that were involved in his hanging. We were literally walked through how he came to be there and what happened in front and behind the scenes of a typical hanging in the 1960s - a true hanging. Wil was quite the accomplished raconteur, weaving a story (taken from his show You Will be Taken from This Place) that was historically fascinating, told with a pinch of humour, and ultimately left you feeling rather unsettled and disturbed. Which is just how I like all my intellectual evenings. Plenty to mull over.

I have already bought tickets to one of their birthday celebrations next month when they will be taking on Acid House and Rave culture. If it’s anything like this was, I am in for a treat. 

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