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The Dilettante Society

28 January 15 words: Ali Emm
Ever seen a pretty gazette knocking around the flier section in the pub? We exchange pleasantries with the lovely ladies behind it
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Photo: Grace Copely

What’s at the heart of The Dilettante Society?
Lady M: We’re an art collective that’s about creativity and historical interest, a little bit of mischievous activity and writing the Dilettante Gazette. Our aim is to encourage imagination and local interest, with a little bit of absurdity thrown in for good measure.

How long have you been going?
F. Dashwood: One afternoon in a pub last November, sitting beneath a Lord Byron portrait, we wrote down our goals and where they crossed over - that’s when we decided we wanted to do something. We wanted to make something tangible, so that we could say, “We’ve done that.” We were both floundering a bit creatively, we didn’t have anything we were specialising in - just doing things for fun. We wanted to keep that ethos, hence why we liked the term dilettante because we’re both creative and have probably tried all the forms, but we could never find one thing and be like, “This. I’m going to be a this.” So we made it into a philosophy of, “We can have a go at doing everything, all the while not taking anything too seriously.”

Where did you first meet?
F. Dashwood: At the Nottinghamshire County Council Road Safety Quiz 1997.
Lady M: We both got lost backstage and they shoved us on stage, two ten-year-old girls, ten minutes into the show. We’ve been friends ever since.
F. Dashwood: And getting lost ever since.

You’re both Nottingham girls then?
F. Dashwood: Yes, we both moved away but then both found ourselves back here. Nottingham’s got so much going on at the moment, I don’t know whether it’s a change in mindset and I’ve started seeing the things that were already there, but there seems to be a real community.
Lady M: I definitely didn’t see that as a teenager. I only came back a year ago and I’ve loved it. I wasn’t expecting to stay.

Your art events have a fresh outlook, from the screening of The Punk Singer followed by a zine-making session, to the brilliantly titled Stop Pretending Art is Hard nights at Hopkinson. Where do you feel you fit in Nottingham’s art scene?
Lady M: We’ve been trying a lot of things and basically making it up as we go along.
F. Dashwood: It’s about getting everyone to join in. We’re just really interested in all the different things people are doing.
Lady M: We’ve got grand plans, but we’re starting small.

Who comes to your events?
F. Dashwood: We get people from the Gazette side of it, and people just interested in the local history aspect who then get involved in the more creative side...
Lady M: We’re always surprised by the motley crew of characters we meet. We might not have spoken to them otherwise, it’s nice.

Your monthly meetings at The Golden Fleece, is it tea and niceties or does it tend to descend into mild debauchery?
Lady M: There’s definitely more wine and gin than tea! It depends - most of the events we’ve done become more debauched towards the end of the night, but whoever comes along decides what the night becomes. No one’s on their phones, no one’s talking about the weather, it’s much more, “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done this week? What have you heard about Nottingham that’s fascinating?”

Your Be Inspired section in the Gazette is… well… inspiring. How does one go about creating such an inspiring list?
Lady M: It usually involves a little bit of alcohol. We have a brainstorming session and the next day we find all these absurd ideas and realise there’s at least three good ideas in there - the rest we should probably keep to ourselves.
F. Dashwood: Write drunk, edit sober.
Lady M: A lot of what we do is to remind ourselves - we don’t constantly live like that. Seeing it all in a box helps because they are little bites that make you think, “Yeah, I can do that.”

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Photo: Grace Copley

What was it that made you do a gazette?
F. Dashwood: We’ve always been interested in DIY publishing, zines and stuff. We both like writing that isn’t just for function...
Lady M: Using words if they perfectly describe something. The first issue was maybe a bit over the top. We want it to be accessible but still be elaborate, so we try to toe the line with that.

Your design is quite striking, how did it come about?
Lady M: Open source, and a word processing document.
F. Dashwood: It’s much limited by our technical ability and not our aesthetic vision.
Lady M: We were going to handwrite it, but it’s not the kind of thing you can do by hand.

How many get printed?
Lady M: About 350, and then we have a huge folding party.
F. Dashwood: “Does anyone want to come for a drink…” “Oh! Look, we’re folding, get stuck in.”

Why did you choose the A3 format?
F. Dashwood: It’s like a broadside. When printing presses first came about, broadsides were printed on a single side and it was the first chance, for people who weren’t wealthy, to publish anything they wanted cheaply. They were distributed for the cost of printing and gave lots of people a voice and communities formed around certain ones - we always thought that was really cool.
Lady M: It’s also nice to have something that’s not just on the internet. Something you can keep, or that will just turn up in your kitchen. You can read it over a cup of tea, we like that about its size.
F. Dashwood: And we just really like the idea of people stumbling across it and going, “Ooh, what’s this?”

Do you get a kick when you see someone reading it?
F. Dashwood: Where we work stocks it, so you do see people reading it. If someone chuckles, you can’t help think, “Ha ha! I did that and they don’t know! I made you laugh!”
Lady M: With a lot of things you make, you get a sale, but it’s just a nice little something when someone really appreciates it.
F. Dashwood: And when someone’s talking to me about an article we’ve written that’s deliberately mischievous and they’ve taken it literally, I get all excited and think, “Ooh, we’ve started a rumour!”

Gumbo Barley. Where does he come from and what does he look like?
Lady M: His name came from a crossword, the words gumbo and barley were on it and I thought, “Who’s this Gumbo Barley fellow?” His mate Shonar Bangla is named after a font, we saw it and said, “Oh, Shonar Bangla, sounds like a mate of Gumbo’s, let’s get her in.” She’s a bit of an Anthea Turner character, she comes in a bit too energetic and you think, “Why are you friends?”
F. Dashwood: He’s definitely got a bit of a pot belly, little glasses.
Lady M: He looks a bit like Greengrass out of Heartbeat. He lives on the outskirts of Nottingham and doesn’t venture out much. The way we write it is like that game you play where you write a sentence, fold it over, pass it on and someone else does the same… That’s why he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. We have a vague idea, then end up with two random stories and edit them together.
F. Dashwood: He’ll go off to make a mash, and by the next line he’ll have completely forgotten he’s doing that. It’s fairly rare, but sometimes the stories just fit and work perfectly.

What have you got planned for 2015?
F. Dashwood: More Stop Pretending Art is Hard events…
Lady M: A website, that’s going to be fun. We want somewhere on there where people can submit work to be uploaded for all to see.
F. Dashwood: Obviously, continuing with the Gazette.
Lady M: And it’s our first birthday, that needs celebrating.

The Dilettante Society meet every second Tuesday of the month at The Golden Fleece, Mansfield Road, and you are cordially invited to join them for tea, gin, chit chat, creating and good times.

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