Last week we held our mobile mobilities workshop – Performing the city: mobility, space and subjectivity. (This is the call for contributions). The event was quickly over subscribed and we selected ten fascinating talks/tours that covered topics from the History of Crossing the Road, Horse Cabs in Victorian London to Mobility Scooters and Electromobilities. Each talk took place in, around or on the way to specific locations which meant that speakers told stories about moving things on the move. In total 25 of us took to the streets in early December.
It was a challenge to piece together a schedule that accommodated a range of talks and attended to the logistics of a mobile workshop. The event took place in two main journeys; the morning (north/central London) and afternoon (south-ish London). We made our way between places on various forms of mobility, with some of these journeys provided the space/subject matter for talks. We stopped for sustenance and a well earned beverage at the end. Everyone enjoyed themselves and no one got lost or run over. There were many variables, notwithstanding the weather in early December and the reality of trying to present research to 25 people while walking or travelling on a moving vehicle….. Overall though, people were excited and open to the idea of the experimental nature of the event.
It was a bright-ish 10c wintery day which provided a good foundation for 8 hours of wandering around the city. We were concerned that planning an outdoor event in early December in London could have been icy, or snowy or otherwise pretty uncomfortable. As it was, it required significant stamina and we want to convey again our thanks to everyone involved for their participation, engagement and enthusiasm for the idea.
Following is an review of the day.
The day started at 10.30 at the bike cafe and workshop ‘Look Mum No Hands’ for coffee, cake and introductions. Their bike-oriented Christmas decorations were highly appreciated.
Justin and I ran through the schedule. We did health and safety talk which ostensibly asked everyone to stick together and avoid getting run over. Eschewing name badges as were going to be out in public all day, speakers and participants instead introduced themselves to the group.
We then set off for the first talk by Damien Ó Tuama – Dublin cycling (in London!). It was located at a Bike Hire docking station a few blocks from the cafe. As Damien talked about the bike hire scheme in Dublin, cars and pedestrians passed by and someone even docked their bike. Questions and discussion about Dublin and London cycling schemes continued in the walk to another docking station where Damien concluded his talk.
We walked on, tracing a bike path to kings Cross where Thomas Birtchnel talked about Mobility Scooters and Electromobilities.
Thomas enfolded the location of the talk into his talk. He talked about how some pedestrian spaces are inaccessible to some forms of pedestrian mobility and discussed the idea of in-between/ liminal qualities of the mobility scooters. We were passed by people on foot and on bike. We could hear birds and the tree branches move in the wind. Thomas illustrated his talk with photos on his kindle which involved walking around the group.
We walked to St Pancras station for Silvia Gullino to talk about Train stations, everyday life and mobility: the fluidity of social sustainability. Although this was a static talk, we were part of a mobile space, an atmosphere of people moving around which brought to life elements of Silvia’s presentation. At one point we were approached by a woman in a uniform. I initially thought she was security wanting to move us along but she was a Eurostar employee enquiring if we were travelling today.
It was time for our first bus journey. We luckily spotted the Number 17 arriving as we walked up Caledonian Road and jumped on. The driver gave us a smile as 26 of us boarded and headed to the top floor. With everyone safely seated, we took the opportunity to distribute some snacks (muesli bars, sweets, biscuits) and I talked about my 73urban journeys; bus research project. Although I had prepared written notes, it turns out that presenting to a group of people while standing in the aisle of a moving bus requires the use of both hands. I talked about material iterations of a particular part of the project that gathered 73, 73 words stories about the 73 bus and handed out copies of my bus boxes.
We departed the bus at Mansion House and walked to the Royal Exchange for Amy Thomas to talk about Making Markets: Walking between fact and fiction in the alleyways of Cornhill. Amy gave us a guided tour of the alleys of Cornhill stopping at various points to discuss contemporary, historic and fictional characteristics of these spaces. The narrow and blind alleys, passing inhabitants and sonic landscape brought the storytelling to life.
We walked to the Barbican and met with Harriet Bell who presented What’s so special about that? She talked about the special characteristics of this Grade II heritage listed building and also the special ways in which she materially and physically encounters it as a result of having multiple sclerosis.
We walked back to LMNH for a hearty lunch of pies and salad. Justin and I did some quick recallibrations of the schedule to accommodate a slippage in timing. The morning had become the afternoon and we still had five talks to go before 6pm. We appreciated how several speakers adapted their talks/tours/locations on the fly.
We all caught the Number 63 bus from Farringdon Road to Ludgate for Morag Rose to talk to us about the Loiterer’s Resistance Movement. She chose a spot under the gaze of security cameras in an alleyway off a main road. Although static in nature, it was enlivened by Morag’s dynamic story telling and the fading light; the city felt like it closed in and became less visible.
We walked passed the Tate towards the Millennium Bridge for Robin Kim to present From St Paul’s Cathedral to Tate Modern: Socio-spatial Integration of Central London Saint Paul’s to the Tate. He chose a spot between these iconic landmarks to talk about how the joining up of parts of London is achieved. Being able to see all the way down the bridge helped to materialise that idea of drawing/ stitching the city together.
Richard Hornsey was next with his talk and tour on A Brief History of Crossing the Road, 1925-1939. It was now fully dark and Richard made use of multiple spaces at St Pauls and Westminster. His talk was split between places and distributed by a journey on the tube. His talk was enlivened by being able to see, hear the traffic and touch the traffic signals. He also handed out images drawing the past into the present and engaged us in role play.
We walked to Trafalgar Square for the final two talks. Alan Rice and Lubaina Himid at the fourth plinth for Historic Absences; Ghostly Presences: An African Atlantic Trafalgar Square. Alan and Lubaina talked about the plinth and what it meant and in doing so moved the past into the present via the contested materiality of the monument. They had to compete with a Christmas choir on one side and cleaners using a jet powered hose on the other.
Vincent Chen was our final speaker on Horse cabs in Victorian London. Vincent conjured up London as a space of horse drawn mobility and immobility. He told stories about the everyday life, conflicts and interactions of 10,000 horse cabs in central London.
It was close to 6pm, we were all quite cold and with tired legs we headed to a nearby pub to warm up and celebrate the end of the adventure filled workshop. Although we had planned the schedule, twice walked/bused/tubed through the plan, Justin and I were not entirely sure what might happen on the day. When you invite the city to be part of your event, you can never what know might transpire. Thankyou again to everyone for adapting and energising the event.