“Can tell you’re not a re-enactor.” I first encounter Dr. Lesley Prince – Les – outside The Broadway Cinema in the rain, having a smoke. Rain plops into his cup of tea, and when I express discomfort at the weather, this is his response. You see, Les is a battle-hardened veteran of the English Civil War Society. But this is only part of what makes up the picture of this fascinating Clifton-born academic, who is now turning his energy to organising charity events across the city…
He’s also an anarchist, a Druid, a former graphic designer, a follower of Daoism and an academic. There are so many facets to Les that it’s hard to know where to start, or stop, an interview. Professionally, he’s a retired lecturer who taught psychology, philosophy and statistics at the University of Birmingham, an occupation he misses. It was, he says, a chance to defend original thinking, spark the interest of his students. Spiritually, he’s an advocate of humanity’s connection with the natural world. Politically he’s a pragmatic anarchist who believes deeply in respect and dignity, and enjoyed his lifetime hobby of Civil War reenacting partly because it connects people across social boundaries.
Sockful of Porridge, his new project, cannot be separated from the threads of his life and beliefs. It got its name from a Spike Milligan Goons Show stage direction, but that seems almost incidental. It’s all about the good causes and bringing people together. He’s held one event already, called There Ain’t No Planet B, to raise funds for Emmanuel House and Extinction Rebellion. The next event is coming up on 3 October at The Barley Twist on Carrington Street, to coincide with National Poetry Day, and will benefit The Woodland Trust.
The set up is straight forward: performers are invited to give their time and talents to the charitable cause, gaining a platform for the night and a chance to reach new audiences. The organisers take no expenses, and there is a suggested donation to be part of the audience. Les says the aims are threefold – to raise awareness, to raise money and to have fun. He wants to support charities without the guilt trip, to “give people something, make them smile, entertain them,” so that they don’t mind donating.
What to expect from the upcoming event? It will include folk singer Marc Block; poet Dave Wood; poet, storyteller and academic Deirdre O’Byrne; Les’s own anarachic theatrical storytelling performance group Tales from the Fireside; and more. New acts are welcome to join in the fun and fundraising, and Les is looking for new performers to get involved.
He’s also plans further gigs, with the intention of supporting two charities each time, one which cares for people and one which cares for the environment, with a preference for small, local causes.
“It’s an overflowing of one man’s urge to bring some unorthodox positivity into an increasingly dark world.”
“You can only make a revolution by being the revolution,” he says, paraphrasing Gandhi. Sockful of Porridge is about more than gigs to raise money. It’s about making a difference, “spreading a little light.” Les believes that in a difficult world you should “do what you can, where you can.” He is very pragmatic about the limits of this, but full of hope for the future all the same.
These first two events are the start of what he hopes will be a series, spreading joy, making people smile, and raising a little cash for good causes. He is actively seeking performers, venues and charitable causes for his future plans. He would even like to run an event in his birthplace of Clifton estate, he says, to prove it’s not the “cultural desert” it’s often seen as being.
Sockful of Porridge looks set to bring some interesting events to the city’s arts scene, with music, spoken word, comedy and more, all for a good cause. It’s also an overflowing of one man’s urge to bring some unorthodox positivity into an increasingly dark world, to spark something in audiences in the way he used to in his students. Having spent an hour with Les, I’d bet on him succeeding.
The next Sockful of Porridge event is at The Barley Twist on Carrington Street on 3 October.
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