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All the beds I have slept in

From time to time I take part in online actions that seek to bring balance to some of the toxic comment sections on the internet.

Have you heard of #IAmHere? It’s a network of citizens who counter hate speech and misinformation online. It started with one woman in Sweden and has now spread across to 14 countries around the world.

The reason why I mention this is because I wouldn’t have heard of Phosphorous Theatre Company or about their play, All the Beds I Have Slept In, if it wasn’t for an #IAmHereUK action I supported.

The theatre company is made up of people who fled conflict or persecution in search of safety in the UK. One of the participants was interviewed on Sky News and the ensuing comments on the Facebook post of their interview was just awful.

It made me want to support these actors and hear their stories of forced migration. So I went to their website, saw their tour dates and bought a ticket for a show in London.

This is me. With my red lips handbag. Just before I started my trek to Shoreditch. The play was at an arts centre called Rich Mix on Bethnal Green Road.

I don’t like wandering around unfamiliar places alone in the dark. So I left quite early. The plan was to look around and soak in the atmosphere while it was still light and find a place to eat near by.

I got distracted by a sushi place near where I live and had a quick bite to eat there. It turned out to be a silly thing to do, because I missed out on trying some delicious fare closer to Rich Mix theatre.

When I arrived in Shoreditch, there were loads of interesting restaurants. And one particular Indian place with a delicious smell just next door to the theatre.

I saw a Costa, a coffee shop chain found in the UK, was opened opposite Rich Mix. I went inside. It was bright and clean. The staff seemed friendly.

“You’re working late tonight,” I say.

The man behind the counter tells me they close at 7:30pm.

“I’ll take this drink please and that chocolate muffin looks delicious,” I order.

He smiles and hands me my drink and snack. I pay and sit down near the large window in the front of the cafe.

There is a black woman, dressed modestly in a hijab on the next table. She’s tapping away on her laptop. At one point she gets up, goes to the counter and orders what looks like a mango slushy and sits back down to work away.

I look up to smile. But she’s too focussed. I can’t catch her eye.

After about 40 minutes at the cafe, I head to the theatre to get the tickets I ordered online. I’m still early and the doors haven’t opened. So I go for a quick walk down the street.

The walls of this street were colourful. Almost every inch of brick on the buildings was graffitied. I stopped to admire the texture and colour, when this poster caught my eye.

Plastered over other posters, it demanded to be seen and read and remembered. Like a tourist I stepped back and took a photo of the words so I could keep a memory of that poster and what it said.

I walked past a pub. A blonde woman in a huge furry coat was sitting at a table near the door. The coat was black and white, like a giant chess board. Her dress was short. She was with her friend, chatting away about her day as I went to cross over to the other side of the street.

A little further on, there were a few small shops that were still open. I wasted some time exploring them. Looking at trinkets, dresses and sunglasses before I headed back to the theatre.

The gaggle of people at a nearby night club and its pounding music could be heard in the cool night air as I walked away.

All the Beds I Have Slept In was on the fourth floor of Rich Mix. The top floor. I took the lift.

It was a small space that accommodated about 50 people I think. Possibly more. But not much more.

I sat on the second last cushioned step and waited for the play to begin.

The play is based on the lived experience of the actors. All of them came to the UK between 2013 and 2020 as teenage asylum seekers.

Their stories have been told again and again. Retold through the mouths of interpreters, social workers, solicitors and caseworkers while trying to navigate the system in the UK as they searched for safety.

This play is one way of reclaiming their story — of sharing their experience in their way. All the Beds I Have Slept In is a play that expresses a search for family and home. Whether it’s on a station bench in Paris, or in a detention centre in Greece, these beds are far from the place of security and comfort most of us are familiar with.

What surprised and touched me most was the small kindness of strangers. In this bleak world, what the actors chose to remember wasn’t the trauma of the forced migration, but the care shown to them by others.

A man who offers a bed in his home for the night before paying for a train ticket. A Greek guard at a detention centre who understood it was Eid and provides a space in the yard for people to pray together.

They were small moments of care, casually folded into their story, that were profoundly moving.

After the end of the play, I walked back to the Shoreditch High Street overground station. Took the train to Whitehall. Got on the District line and headed back home.

I had to stop at Earls Court to change trains.

There were a group of women who were a little plastered. They raised their cans of mixed alcoholic drinks and started singing the Circle of Life from the Lion King with gusto.

I slowly inched away to the other end of the platform.

Finally on the right train, I was looking forward to a quiet ride home. Only to have one side of carriage erupt with drumming. People whooped. They cheered. They got up and started dancing. All the way to the end of the line.

It made me smile. I know. I should have filmed the event. The photo above doesn’t do it justice.

For Jo’s Monday Walk

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September 2021
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