By Fiona McGarry

It was good to see the return of the Bavard Bar to the Kino on Wednesday – the first live Bavard since lockdown. The event normally involves three volunteers talking for 15 minutes each about a subject they feel passionate about. The topics are not revealed until the night, so you never know what to expect. 

This was a slimmed-down event with face masks (soon to be removed as we tucked into our drinks) and just two Bavarders instead of the usual three. It was admittedly quite cosy, with mostly Bavard regulars in the audience, eagerly waiting to find out what was on offer. As usual, Piano-man Dan introduced the event with his eclectic playlist and Maria O’Neill captured the speakers with her talent for drawing in the dark.  There were adaptations just for this first live show: a video of Ted the drum introducing each speaker and most of the ‘wild card’ games were missing, particularly Oojah Kappivvy and KP lite, although Tim began the evening by introducing the ‘caption competition’ with his usual infectious (in a good way) enthusiasm. 

Athena Jane Churchill by Maria O’Neill

The performances more than made up for the missing fringe events  – the first talk: Chinese Prison Break, was by musician, Mike Willis (see HIP 156 Interest-ing People#1). This was an unexpectedly auditory experience: no slides, no props (well, just his guitar: “I thought I’d bring it in case things really go South”). It was Mike in his jeans and flipflops reeling us in with his unhurried, raconteur’s voice (think American, sweet, Southern drawl) and sharing a story about a tour in Beijing that involved a night club, a sticky plastic dance floor, gangsters and police. The story included a wealth of archetypical characters including Mike himself, “an American idiot in China” – a sort of cross between James Bond and one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. I won’t divulge any more in case you meet Mike; it’s a gripping tale and one I’m sure he regularly regales people with. There were also some useful tips in the Q&A at the end, such as: “Don’t wear flipflops in a Chinese roadside toilet.”

Everyone I spoke to afterwards felt Bavard talks don’t get much better than that. But we were in for a second treat: this time, a visually spectacular talk entitled: 20 Marvellous Months Before I Died, by Athena Jane Churchill. This chronicled the speaker’s recent projects after deciding at the start of 2019 to “let go of being a ‘good girl’” and live as if she had only 20 months left of her life. 

Mike Willis by Maria O’Neil

The celebration of her life began with several burly audience-members bringing a coffin onto the stage (supplied by Kate and Kate of Coffin Club) while Dan played the death march. Out leapt Jane, dressed in a grown-up tutu and full of life and passion. She talked about life and death, her pet fish Binkle, and her art: murals, mosaics, sculpture, community projects, installations and journeys through imaginary worlds. She showed us fantastic images, including the 250 sparkly, jewelled birds she has created over the past 20 months while trying to live “as consciously as I could”: by travelling, walking and drawing, going on retreats, having fun, creating art and coming up with the idea of filling a labyrinth with her art. 

Both speakers overshot the 15-minute limit, but it didn’t matter – the audience were enthralled and inspired. It was great to have two very different Bavarders with virtually nothing in common, but who provoked a lot of discussion afterwards, to the extent that the audience seemed reluctant to go home. Hopefully this was the first of many more live Bavard Bars to come.

The Bavard Bar returns to the Kino on 21st October at 7.30.  

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