SevenStreets wasn’t nervous. We had agreed to give a talk at Ignite Liverpool’s fourth event, on a subject we weren’t entirely sure about, with virtually no preparation. No, we weren’t nervous. But we were lost.
Despite knowing Liverpool fairly well, SevenStreets was not familiar with the Liverpool Medical Institute. It’s one of those buildings you will have seen many times before, without paying much attention to.
That’s a shame, because the Institute is a fascinating and rather beautiful place; all oak and mosaic tiles and open fireplaces and, er, skulls.
There’s a fearsome library of medical texts going back 300 years too, and a quaint old bar dated back as far about 1974 – at a guess – serving beer and nibbles. But there’s a rather more uncomfortable angle to the building that serves to add to its atmosphere.
The Institute was the venue for the meeting that ended in the foundation of the Liverpool branch of the Eugenics Education Society on 20 October 1910; a society that featured many prominent members of the University of Liverpool and invited only men and women deemed sufficiently intelligent. Quite what they might have made of Ignite Liverpool’s fourth night is up for debate.
We eventually managed to locate the entrance in the wedge-shaped building, around the back, and track down some fellow Liverpool tweeters and bloggers.
Standing in the wood-panelled Oak Study, ringed with dusty, leather-bound tomes, a collection of Liverpool’s journos, bloggers and snappers look like nothing less than the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
There’s snapper Peter Goodbody who’s giving a talk tonight on the Festival au Desert. And over there is famed Liverpool blogger Stuart Ian Burns. Also arriving is local NaNoWriMo coordinator Rosie Harris, set to deliver a talk on haunted dolls. Daily Post journo Alistair Houghton will be delivering a talk simply titled ‘Hull’.
The Institute feels like a forum for plans to be hatched, and secret meetings to be held – but a discussion of how and why Christmas means rouged cheeks, voluminous bloomers and fake breasts for grown, muscled men also seems apt.
There’s time for a quick beer and we shuffle into the impressive lecture theatre, its glass dome covered for tonight’s proceedings.
Host Neil Morrin jokes that dissections would historically take place on the large, high desk at the front. But it doesn’t seem particularly unlikely. We wonder if, downstairs, there are old, dank, tiled cellars that might once have housed terrible things.
Fortunately, there are no such terrible things happening upstairs. Ignite talks consist of 20 slides that auto-forward every 15 seconds – more on that later – regardless of whether the speaker is ready or not. A certain amount of preparation, confidence, familiarity with subject and presentation, and unflappability are required.
The presentations can take in absolutely any topic, with the loose aim to be informative on a given subject. ‘Enlighten people, but make it quick’, runs the tagline.
Thusly, topics as diverse as scouting, kitchen design, panto daming, DIY shed-builidng, using independent shops only, a remote African festival, ideas and thinking, military misuse of PowerPoint, Hull, NaNoWriMo and writing speculative fiction come and go in quicktime.
All of the talks are enjoyable, but if there’s something that doesn’t do it for you, there’ll be another along in a minute. It’s like the tapas of lecturing, but the emphasis is always on fun.
SevenStreets delivered a fairly shambolic talk on naming websites and publications, taking in the long gestation of the SevenStreets name. Unfortunately, we’d misread the instructions and delivered a talk consisting of 15 slides timed at 20 seconds each – the wrong way round – leaving us desperately pushed to complete our talk within the allotted time.
Nevermind, with an indulgent audience and a machine-gun delivery we managed to get through, bombarding the audience with a nonsensical mix of Jimmy Corkhill, Tim Vine and a hybrid human-feline creature called Mike Cat.
There are post-mortems. Were there post-mortems here in the past? Maybe. Certainly important deeds were discussed and grand plans fomented.
Ignite – hosted and curated by the formidable How-Why-DIY team – also feels like a fertile place, with enquiring minds coming together to create something valuable and enjoyable.
There’s an interesting circularity to the choice of venue. 100 years and one month ago another collection of bright minds were discussing ways to improve the human race by removing the poor, different and disabled from the gene pool.
Ignite brought people together to discuss building sheds for under a grand, a dispossessed Saharan tribe and the largest Chinese restaurant in the UK. An altogether more fitting use for one of Liverpool’s architectural gems.