Perfect timing. 31 May, the day designated for the "Facebook suicide" I decided to take part in, happened to be the same day as the latest instalment of West End Stories. I got to have my resistance culture and enjoy it too!
The wonder of West End Stories is that it is a routine of novelty. Every month, without fail, this is what happens:
- The café opens up. People start to arrive and order refreshments/meals from Erin, who takes care of the food & drink side of things.
- Howard, the ever-excellent host who presides over the chaos, appears. He puts tea lights on all the tables for the proper atmosphere, greets everyone who's there, and stands out on the sidewalk looking for all the world, as the ever-perceptive Rhonda put it, "like an expectant father."
- A little after 7PM, Howard manages to herd all the cats (audience) and gets us to be quiet long enough to welcome us to another night of West End Stories. He quickly goes over the rules (anyone can tell, everyone else will listen), then tells us the story he always starts with. I won't spoil it for newcomers by telling it here — you'll have to come and listen for yourselves.
- The first teller goes up and tells their story. Then the next, and the next, until a little after 8PM. A ten-minute break ensues where people go to the washroom, get more refreshments, and chat.
- The second half proceeds with more story-telling until nine-ish. We all try to clear out quickly so Erin can finish cleaning up and get home at a decent time.
Every time it all, miraculously, hangs together. No-one knows who will tell what, no-one knows what order the tellers will go up and tell in, but somehow it always works out. It's the opposite of rehearsed, yet it feels put-together. Casual, laid-back, but put-together.
I give the credit to Howard. He sets the structure every time, creating this "safe place" where first-time tellers can and do regularly go up and tell stories in public that they may not have even remembered until the evening got underway. Howard is a wonderful story-teller himself, so he can easily fill in when people get shy and won't volunteer, plus he gets help from experienced, superb story-tellers like Pat, Norm, Harry, and Ariel (who has to be heard to be truly appreciated).
It's hard to explain to people who have never experienced anything like it how accomplished it all is while you're there. We've been so conditioned to leave sharing stories to the professionals that we forget that people used to spend evenings this way all the time.
Come see. Come hear. And if you live too far away and won't be visiting soon, try creating your own.