04. A03.

Art Festivals

Fifteen Minutes in Rowntree Park

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I recently found myself ostracized by my colleagues, excluded from the ritualistic Monday morning chit-chat, while standing in the office kitchen brewing coffee.

I wondered whether it was my fault. Did I smell? Had I offended them again with my manhandling of the coffee mugs? Was it my face, had my features grown more unpleasant over the weekend?

All I received by way of explanation was an unsympathetic nod and a particularly awkward half-smile. I felt like speaking out and demanding an explanation.

“What have I done to offend you, Janet? Why won’t you speak to me, Paul? I’m sure I could contribute to your discussion as competently as the next person…”

I soon realised I was being left out – not because of my unfortunate looks or my insufficient application of deodorant – but rather because of the fact that I had absolutely nothing to contribute to their discussion about the latest episode of X Factor, and they knew it just as well as I did.

The sad truth was that I had somehow failed to note the significance of this show’s opening episode in its latest series, aired for the first time that Saturday. Panic gripped me all of a sudden. Was this what our Monday mornings would be like from now on? Would they always ignore me, excluding me from their discussions like some fat adolescent during PE? Or would I be driven to breaking-point and forced to finally digest one of their rotten pills of hour-long mind-numbing weekend entertainment shows, all so they would include me…

No. I couldn’t do that. I refuse to do it. “What are you talking about guys?” I ask them, readying myself for the inevitable backlash, the disapproving smirks, the offensive ‘I’m playing-dumb’ bouts of silence, followed by the ignominious questions.

Didn’t you watch X Factor this Saturday?

I would say no and confess to not watching Dancing on Ice either. From then on I would be barred from all forms of social interaction. My work related stress-levels would go through the roof and my productivity would suffer as a consequence. Would I be sacked? I kept my mouth shut.

“If you’re aware of these shows and the times they’re on, then why don’t you watch them?” They would ask before zoning me out of their group forever with the crowning question,

If you didn’t watch X Factor, then what did you do with your Saturday night?

Ok, it’s true, I have to admit that I did not go to the theatre last Saturday night. I didn’t have that piano lesson I’ve been meaning to take. No, I did not sip expensive Merlot in the new restaurant that’s just opened up and, as you’ve probably guessed, I still haven’t watched that foreign movie Emilee recommended. Yet surely…surely there are better things I – and they – could be doing on a Saturday night? Is culture truly, once and for all, dead; or has it simply melted under the heat of a sunbed, transforming it into an uneducated, orange blob? Or am I over reacting?

Is culture truly, once and for all, dead; or has it simply melted under the heat of a sunbed, transforming it into an uneducated, orange blob? Or am I over reacting?

After considering this issue in intimate detail, sipping my coffee alone for far too long, I have finally found the root cause and the cure of all our problems. You see, the main philosophy prevalent in our society today, inherited from the previous generation, is the belief that we are each entitled to our fifteen minutes of fame.

This privileged moment in the spotlight, a brief blip of fame preordained since birth, is owed to each of us regardless of whether or not we actually have a single remarkable skill to exhibit to the world. In fact, it is Mr and Mrs Average Joe’s complete lack of tangible talent that has led us to the worship of these talentless talent shows, which provide the long-awaited fifteen minutes slots for those willing contestants. They allow us to amuse ourselves at the humiliating ineptitude of these people, each of them fighting for their precious screen-time, proclaiming through gritted teeth: “It’s my turn now! These are my fifteen minutes,” elbows shoving through the crowd, “I’ve been queuing for days, don’t you know.”

This mentality has pervaded every aspect of our society, even transforming the content of our bookshelves from the once familiar black and white covers of Penguin classics, to such timeless masterpieces as Katie Price’s autobiography. Or should I say biography?

Why is it that the supposed ‘achievements’ of these plastic imbeciles, are our sole concern? Why do so many of us aspire to be like these non-entities? Their banal concerns and petty machinations have clawed their way to the forefront of our cultural membrane; making it impossible to appreciate the concept of success without having to disentangle the term from a sentence that also includes the words ‘fake-tan’, ‘Twitter’ and ‘Simon Cowell’?

“Enough is enough!” I find myself screaming above the wail of the kettle, hoping it’s not too late, hoping the time for a stand has finally arrived. Here it is, it’s my fifteen minutes of fame, my chance to protest against all these mindless discussions of theirs. I’m longing for something between existential introspection and a conversation about the weather. Ultimately, all I desire is inclusion; there’s always room for others in a discussion about the weather.

I give up and abandon all hope. Instead, I wander out on my lunch break, venturing into the Rowntree Park, seeking inspiration. Is it all doom and gloom? Must I too absorb this perpetual nonsense? Am I overestimating the problem? Is it only a problem for me? Am I the real problem? Is the apparent stagnation of a generation old news now? Non-news?

I find myself in Rowntree Park. All at once, I stumble across a rather odd looking barcode stuck to a bench.

“A QR barcode…” Something inside my head reminds me. Where have I heard that before?

I scan the barcode using my phone and read the title on the sticker while waiting for it to load: ‘Writers in the Park: words from a bench’.

At length, having endured the constraints of my 3G internet connection, a story appears on my phone. I read it and then notice another barcode on another bench. I load that one and discover a poem and then another poem. I find myself reading all of them, greedily roaming the park searching for other benches, other barcodes; demanding that I be given more culture, more escapism, more substance. Anything to wash myself clean of their inane questions and to somehow feel part of something worthwhile. I look around me and begin to see other people reading from their phones, scanning barcodes, engaging in thoughtful discussion.

“It’s here, isn’t it…” I say aloud, “I’ve found it, the solution!” Sadly, nothing more than a quick-fix, I find myself scuttling off in search of more barcodes, more stories, as manic as any drug-addled addict.

Since then I come here every day to read the work of these local authors, writers who have contributed their short fiction under a seasonal brief: Dead of Winter, Spring Fever, all for my benefit.

I begin to realise that perhaps culture isn’t dead.

Perhaps I should take that piano lesson. Maybe there is still a safe haven for intellectual consideration, a network of creative people whose fifteen minutes has arrived, and yet they’re ever so quiet about it, their work waiting for us – for me – to discover, somewhere in the serene Rowntree Park.
Why not join me for fifteen minutes?