Sunday, 24 February 2008

Valentine’s Day 3-legged Race

Sometimes You Learn More When Things Go Wrong.

When we appraised the turnout for our grand Valentine’s Day Three-Legged Race in Covent Garden and realised that the total head count came to a somewhat underwhelming three (Amy, Charlotte and myself), we had a sense that we were in for a challenge. We called an emergency meeting. We hid away and drank tea and deliberated as to the correct course of action. We had anticipated a bigger group, and had hoped they would help us persuade members of the public to join in. The sole condition of the race was that each competitor had to be tied to someone they had never met. Clearly, with three people, this was going to be tricky.

We considered going home. We considered doing shots. Then eventually we decided that we had to just get out there and give it a go. Surely someone, someone, would happen to think that hopping around in the freezing cold tied to a complete stranger for the chance to win a fun-size Mars bar sounded like a good time?

We stood around for what seemed like ages; sizing people up, always finding excuses as to why it would be a bad idea to ask that particular person if they wanted to join. Too old, too young, too boring, too ugly, too weird. Who exactly was the perfect candidate for an impromptu three-legged race?

I eventually settled on a mother with three kids in tow, thinking maybe we could rope in the whole family and have done with it.

Excuse me, hi. Would you like to do a three-legged race with us?

She looked at me incredulously, then with a softer expression. Clearly I had taken total leave of all my senses and deserved a little sympathy.

No, thanks.

Oh. Are you sure?” I put on the most winning smile I could muster.

Yes, quite sure.”

The softness disappeared and she shot me a stare, tugging her children away from the crazy lady.

We stood around for a while longer. There was a lot of nervous laughter. I think I stated approximately seventeen times that I was “Way Out of My Comfort Zone”. We nearly persuaded a charity fundraiser with a clipboard to join, but he wanted money for sick children first, and we decided that was against the spirit of the whole endeavour. And we almost managed to strap a young French boy to Amy, but then he realised what was going on and bolted. Finally, after several failed attempts and with no remaining credibility, we tied our own legs together and hobbled around the Piazza, laughing our heads off as Charlotte’s boyfriend took our picture. It was time to go to the pub.


Sometimes You Learn More When Things Go Wrong.

So what exactly did we learn?

Clearly, we had misjudged a great number of things. We decided that if ever we were to attempt such a thing again (heaven forbid) that we would definitely be more organised. We had to publicise it better. We would need a stand, flyers, costumes to wear (hide behind), race numbers, a better prize. But then, of course, it wouldn’t be quite the same.

What we did agree on was that we would need to give people a reason to want to do it. Why would anyone want to do it? Why did we want to do it? In the beginning, it had all seemed so clear. We had wanted to create a private space in a public one, employing mechanisms of game play to raise questions regarding the nature of received modes of behaviour in public space. We had wanted to have fun, and make Not-Art. We had wanted to create fleeting interactions between strangers, spawning invisible networks that would stretch far beyond the here and now through recounts, exaggerated tales and the weaving of a new urban lore by word-of-mouth. We were all about extrospection. All of which was well and good until we were faced with standing around asking people if they wouldn’t like to have their leg tied to someone else for a bit, at which point it all felt distinctly silly. Our intentions may seem lofty to some, and inconsequential to others. But I think they still stand. We are feeling them out in a number of different ways, and some are more successful than others. And, of course, sometimes you learn more when things go wrong.

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