Friday, January 30, 2015

5 x 15, 19th January

5 x 15 is basically Salon for older, posher people. Five speakers talk on a subject in which they are knowledgeable for 15 minutes each. When we went, all those topics seemed to tie in with their latest book they wanted to plug but I suppose that may not always be the case.

Tickets are a very expensive £27 with booking fee for only an hour and a quarter’s worth of entertainment, and they mostly take place in the leafy ‘burbs of Westbourne Park at The Tabernacle.

The event said it started at 7pm but, with things like Book Slam and Salon in mind, we figured that would be a rough approximation, so when we got a bit lost and were ten minutes late, we weren’t too worried. We were completely wrong though – the entire place was full and Johann Hari was nearing the end of his talk. We hastily grabbed the last couple of seats available.

Must admit, even though Johann Hari had been one of the reasons I wanted to go to this particular event, of several coming up, having caught only the last of his talk, I wasn’t too bothered we didn’t hear the rest of it. He came across as rather too earnest in his speech about drug addicts and how we all need to remember that they’re people too. Perhaps simply because I already know this, it was a little cheesy and I can imagine sitting through 15 minutes of that might have been rather wearing. Plus he’s been all over the internet lately saying the same thing so I didn’t feel I missed much.

The others on the bill were Theodore Zeldin, Anita Anand, Alex Bellos and Germaine Greer. Most of the talks were pretty lighthearted and entertaining as well as educating. Theodore Zeldin spoke amusingly of how our civilization isn’t working, yet we stubbornly stick to what we’ve always done. That we need to start thinking about things from an individualistic point of view rather than ‘the masses’ and how he spends his time listening to people and learning about people.

Anitathen told us all about a fascinating character in history – Sophia Duleep Singh. A Punjabi princess who was born and raised in England, she seemed to live several lives in her one lifetime, including being a major player in the suffragette movement. Anand told us just enough to pique our interest and leave me wanting to know more about this headstrong woman.

We then had a ten minute break for people to get a drink, or go to the loo. We noticed then quite how posh everyone seemed to be compared to us, and that there must be quite a few regulars as they’d all come prepared with a bit of a picnic!

After the break we had my favourite talk of the night – on numbers! How can numbers be so entertaining? Well, when presented by Alex Bellos they are. He had a very comedic way about him, especially as his manner reminded me of Eddie Izzard, but what he was talking about was funny anyway. As a mathematician he is often asked what his favourite number is, and he always thought it a very silly question, until he realized lots of people DO have a favourite number. So he did a little research on it via the interwebs. Over 40,000 people took part, giving their A/S/L, their favourite number, and why. He presented us with the Top Ten fave numbers (7 was at number 1) along with some theorizing as to why, and then also shared with us some of the reasons people had given.

And finally we had Germaine Greer, by far the biggest name on the list. You might think she were there to speak on a feminist tract or give her views on social media and feminisim or similar but actually, she wanted to share with us this project she has been working on. She has bought a patch of land in Australia and is helping to regenerate its native ecosystem and replenish the natural wildlife. Her message – we can all do this. Lay claim to somewhere and take care of it.

I found all the talks interesting and there was no question that each speaker did a good job (incidentally, all the talks are online here). But the night was wrapped up by 8:30, sharp! I had expected them to eke it out a bit longer, maybe have some more interaction with the speakers and make an evening of it, but no – it was literally, introduction, talk, introduction, talk, break and repeat until we were done and we were all leaving!


The speakers were all indeed quite eminent if not superstars but considering you do get some pretty big names at, say, Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, I’m not really sure this event deserves its price tag. For my money, if I want educating and entertaining talks, I’m sticking with Salon London.

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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.