Something changes in the small wee hours. After the hubbub of the night calms down, your conversations are deeper and stranger. The twilight, slow re-emergence of day light, gives the streets a magical quality, and you become excited by things that, in the every day, would be banal, and accept with calm and gentle humour the appearance of the strange or the bizarre.
The occasions were rare enough that I can remember the times when I accidentally stayed awake all night – the early morning walk down Brick Lane, when we discovered Captain Kirk, sat in a doorway, and talked to him, delighted and excited. A strange few hours walking around the suburban streets of Arsenal, with no real idea of where we were, waiting for the trains to begin again. There seems such a difference between climbing into a cab or night bus at black 4am, and walking steadily in the emerging morning. There are special bonds forged in the conversations had, and it feels sad to lose members of the group, as they peel off to follow their final steps home, to bed.
Award-winning poet, Inua Ellams has harnessed all these experiences – ‘the simplicity and intimacy of walking and talking’, the ‘natural wonderment’ that you feel when your city becomes unfamiliar in the dark,’ to dispel the idea of ‘danger after dark’ instead to ‘discover after dark’, in the creation of ‘The Midnight Run’, a movement and series of events that has been growing and expanding for the last ten years. This year, to celebrate ten years of Midnight Runs and as part of UNESCO’s International Year of Light, there was a special, epic London Midnight Run, with four different groups walking across different areas of London.
I turned up to the Roundhouse in Camden at 17.45pm, with a backpack of a jumpers, diet coke, and snacks, designed to fuel me through a twelve hour 6pm – 6am all-night walk through London, with stops along the way for workshops from different artists, along with a group of other people. Simultaneously, other groups of people arrived across London at The Albany, The Almeida and The Bush Theatre.
In the time leading up to the run, I had been concerned about the all-night part of the run. I am an enthusiastic sleeper. I don’t have great stamina for staying awake.I once decided to study all night before an exam, took some Pro Plus, only to fall deeply asleep. But, by the day of the run, this concern had been replaced by excitement. I had no real idea what to expect, and my concern about staying awake had been dealt with – I knew I would just keep staying awake – and I was left with 12 hours of walking ahead, with little idea of what they might hold.
In this, it’s difficult to know how much to tell you about the run. It was very important to go into it without knowing what to expect. It requires you to be open and interested, it fuels your sense of wonderment. There is something deeply relaxing about just following, with no end in particular in mind, when you’re walking in the city. Can you remember the last time you did that?
Perhaps if you’re planning a run, and don’t want any inkling of what might happen, look away now! The workshops formed the structure of our walk. We began with hilarious child-like playground games in a beautiful, colourful square in Primrose Hill, where we out-shrieked and out-played the children there, and definitely bemused their families. We posted Post-It Notes and messages on a Camden Pub, taken over by developers. We listened to bats in Regent’s Park with Jen and Louis from Guerilla Science and Hubbub Group, shone light in abandoned areas of tucked away urban London with Vivianna Chiotini, created some surreallist poetry with Andy Craven-Griffiths, and heard some of his, less surreal. We played games in Chinatown at 4am and listened to a list of dreams in a square somewhere, wrote postcards to ourselves, and wrote in chalk on Soho Square. It all becomes hazy, before we lay and sat in St James Park at 5am, listening to one man and a guitar, who started an impromtu wave of dancing, despite the sleepiness. We finished with some Mei Quan exercises.
But, the bits I liked most, where probably those that were unplanned. There was a double-rainbow over Regent’s Park as we walked. A peaceful, listening walk up the canal through London Zoo was disturbed by a party boat – showing urban living will always assert itself over your plans. A pink car squealing round the corner, arriving to announce, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, pink cigar!’ gave the poetry a surrealist bent that could never been planned. I cried with laughter. Moreover, the conversations and connections I made were definitely my favourite part. Somehow, as a group we lost more members along the way than the others seemed to, so our group was small and friendly and fiesty. We survived, while others had left. How strange and how brilliant to end up at a table in a Chinese restaurant in Soho, laughing and chatting with people I’d only met a few hours before, but suddenly felt I knew. That level of instant, relaxed communication, fun and laughter, is rare and special.
I very much recommend the Midnight Run. There are still events in Berlin and Paris this year, or do sign up for the mailing list to find out when the next one will be. It’s a truly unique experience, that sets out to re-create wonderment, adventure, play, and connections, and achieves it. Practically speaking, it’s definitely aided by comfy shoes, a good jumper, and some excellent people to talk to.
The only thing I’d add to it, if I could, would be a stop for tea and toast. There weren’t many people I chatted to craving a chinese buffet, but I think a trip to a cabbie’s 24 hour cafe, for some strong tea and buttered toast would have been popular. Or perhaps it’s just me, and my need for a cup of tea approximately every waking hour.