Gurteen Knowledge Cafe: An evening exploring Quality Conversation with Ray Shaw

I’m looking forward to tonight’s Knowledge Cafe. Not only do I have no idea what to expect from the event, but it’s another opportunity to return to an area of London I used to know very well.

Walking towards the London Development Agency’s office across Blackfriars Bridge, I notice both The Coat and Badge and The Founders Arms seem to be going strong. But The Paper Moon has closed, its miserable facade reverting to a similar condition to that which once led a student colleague of mine to nickname it The Paper Bag. Of the brass lettering added during a previous facelift, only the P now remains.

Quality Conversation
Of the many characters who populate the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe, Ray is one of the most memorable. He’ll happily take a provocative position to see what happens or speak his mind even though his thoughts aren’t yet complete. This is the second such event he’s led and both times the lead up seems to have been jokingly characterised by an undercurrent of revenge!

Ray takes a while to set up the discussion, having split the subject into four areas to make the conversations more manageable. I specifically avoid the “social media” conversation and find myself drawn to the group discussing whether conversation is a business process and if so, whether it can be managed.

Our group listens as a former police officer tells us about the best conversations he’s observed: those concerned with shift handovers in hospital wards. Coincidentally, another of our group had worked to improve these conversations by educating those involved in the importance of using conversation to transfer information.

As we reflect on this serendipity, the fire alarm rings and we spill out into the street for ten minutes, during which our former policeman disappears. And yet, when we reconvene such a strong conversational direction has been set, no one is inclined to change it.

The long introduction and interruption mean there is plenty to discuss in The Young Vic bar in The Cut after. As I leave, Ray collars me with a challenge: “What is your knowledge cafe going to be about?” I suspect he’s done this knowing full well it sit in the back of my mind eating away at me over the coming weeks…

The impermanence of memory
Afterwards I take a stroll through the backstreets of Southwark, heading back down Blackfriars Road, then turning off towards Borough Station. Twenty years ago I spent the industrial year of my sandwich degree working at the Economic Adviser’s Office at the D.H.S.S., providing PC support and C programming expertise to the economists who provide statistics to answer parliamentary questions.

Friars House passed from Government hands long ago when much of the Department moved to Leeds. The Screenwriters Store is one of the new tenants, though I’ve no idea who occupies my old office on the top floor.

Turning left at the building, I glimpse some familiar sights – the row of flats, the pub with separate lounge and public bars (still intact, I think). At the end of the road I made a wrong turn and have to resort to heading in the general direction of Borough station.

Emerging north of the fire station, I cross the road and walk south to the entrance of Mint Street playground. This area of green was an oasis 20 years ago and I’m happy to see the local council has continued to maintain the area.

I can’t see David Prowse’s car or any sign of his gym. And I’m even more saddened to note the old “Mint Street playground” sign is gone. This was notable for a confusing graffito which I passed every morning.

“Loins”, it read, simply.

I puzzled over it for a number of weeks, before realising it was merely a misspelling of the nickname of local football team Millwall: The Lions.