The whistle sounds and the race is on to get to the soap box first. The public speaking tent is all set up in the city for one day only. A piece of free speech is on the table. With no holds barred, five minutes is all the audience will stand for. Rain is blowing in from the East and a girl with clipboard and meaningful nails proclaims ‘rules are rules’.
Standing speaking, as I come to connect, I stoop. I speak about what I had found out that morning: To exist and to be in no uncertain terms, to let the universe know that you mean it. Then a quote comes to mind, Oxford is the city of lost causes (Civil War, Protestant Martyrs and Monasteries).
A nearby office worker trots out and unplugs the microphone, but for a second I find out what it is like to belong. I hear the sound of saying what I want to change in the world.
“It is a May Day for books. Remember how the microfiche was supposed to slay the books then it was kindle but books are still with us unlike the dodo or T Rex. Renew your commitment to books. Remember why they are so great. Most of all books are a way to connect with the world that goes beyond supermarkets.”
“We have supermarkets. What our town needs is a post office!” (The microphone is plugged back in and someone new picks up the gauntlet)
A lady with purple hair brings her knitting to the stage to protest against Trident and another lady chants beautifully for five minutes in the rain, in Broad Street close to the spot where the Protestant Martyrs held their protest.
There was an audience of one at the 7am start, the listener outnumbered the performer in girth. The free show rolled on relentlessly into the suburbs. Each speaker with a time limit of five minutes reached the crescendo of their own flash fiction in time. For me the above is the story of Oxford’s May Day call for books.
A novelist narrates a newly printed novel and the audience relaxes knowing the book still lives on. “Renew your commitment to books. Remember why they are so great.” She speaks about her fallopian tubes bursting. Morris dancers and bells swing around us to welcome the Summer.
When I am asked in future ‘have you got 5 minutes?’ I may run. I know the distance a short chat can cover. After my stint at the mic I am happy to see the finish line (and the free fudge samples in the shop across the road). Cue: the klaxon.