Elizabeth Chats With…Kimwei

This month’s guest is a singer-songwriter; spoken word artist; music tutor; and the current Grand Bard of Exeter. When you become Bard you take an oath, a commitment to the land and to be creative. For him, the natural result of that commitment is climate activism – it’s the only course of action that makes sense to him. Kimwei approaches life from a different angle. His lifestyle experiments include travelling by Fixed Gear bike for a yearliving in a yurt, and running out of money on purpose in his self-created £0 Challenge. I am delighted to be chatting this month with Kimwei McCarthy.

Hello Kimwei and welcome. What is your earliest memory — and how old were you at the time?

I have a vivid memory of the world turning upside down when I went over the handlebars of my little red bike, aged 3. In my upside down world as I lay on the tarmac, I saw my mother running towards me completely panic stricken. I couldn’t understand it at the time. I remember thinking “Isn’t it strange that I’ve fallen off my bike and something seems to be wrong with my mother at the exactly the same time? What a co-incidence!”

What was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

Naturally art and music were both my favourite topics, but I couldn’t abide history. It wasn’t learning about the past that bothered me, just the obsession that schools seemed to have with only telling kids about the most traumatic things that had ever happened in the whole of human history in a very trivial way. I remember one activity was to ask us to do the maths on how many people had died of cholera in a particular village and then to answer a cheerful quiz on the symptoms. I was horrified and started shaking before every lesson until finally my parents made the school let me off history.

If you had to escape from a fire, what three things would you take with you?

My guitar, my little bag of keepsakes… actually that’s probably it. Everything else I own is replaceable because I am a digital nomad so almost everything I own has been digitised so that I can have it with me when I travel. Little sentimental objects I keep in a little drawstring pouch that I always carry with me and I lay them out on a handkerchief whenever I’m staying somewhere overnight.

Talking about yourself, how would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know…”?

…that I play the penny-whistle. To keep sane during lockdown I decided to take up a new instrument and wanted to choose the simplest instrument I could find. I’m amazed by any pipe or flute with 6 holes, because you wouldn’t think that a simple stick could provide dance music for the whole town, but it can – it’s like a magic wand.

Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?

Exeter, because it has claimed me. I came to Exeter in 2006 thinking it was a place to pit-stop rather than to settle but over time I have come to love it and despite a few attempts to move away, I just keep coming back. I used to judge Exeter by saying that it wasn’t very good at being a city but it wasn’t really properly rural either, neither was it properly by the sea. I’ve come to realise that what I love about Exeter is that is has a bit of everything, a magical spirit and is just the right size so that I can get to know everyone creative.

How do you relax?

At the moment… by playing the penny whistle.

Upload a picture or a photo that best represents you, and tell us why (and it doesn’t have to be a portrait, although it can be).

This is my Facebook profile picture: I realised when I saw this picture that really, I am the sort of person who goes up a tree with my cat and plays her some music – I never knew that before the photo was taken

If you knew you only had 24 hours left, how would you spend them?

I would spend time with my wonderful partner Emily and my best friend and blood sister Katie.

If you could change one law, what would it be?

To make it so that people got to choose their legal gender when they came of age (say 16-18) rather than it being assigned at birth.

If you could change one thing about yourself or your life so far, what would it be?

Once I took my friend to see my favourite singer-songwriter and she didn’t really enjoy it…I’ve always regretted that. I should have taken my housemate even though I didn’t know him so well, because he was really into that singer-songwriter.

Describe your ideal menu — and where would you like to eat it?

Right now I’m on a super-healthy diet for lockdown, so in honesty I’d like a donut for starter, fried chicken for main course and ice cream for dessert, to be eaten sitting in the back of my van with the doors open onto the beach at Exmouth.

What would be in your ‘Room 101’?

Boris

If you were a car, what type would you be — and why?

I suppose I’d probably be the van I own – A VW Transporter – versatile, resourceful, able to go anywhere and feel at home, commanding respect from some and disdain from others.

If you could meet one person from history, who would it be — and why?

I’ve always been curious about Stravinsky – what was it that made him so confident to write music that his patron hated on first hearing? What was he thinking when he started playing the same 8 note chord to him 52 times knowing that the man probably would have hate the chord even if he only heard it once.

There is a saying: to make the punishment fit the crime. Which character from fiction would you like to punish — and how?

I think James Bond should be portrayed as a token male love interest in a film with an amazing heroine.

Watch a film, go to the theatre, read a book or talk to friends — which would you prefer?

Surely this depends on which tank is most full/empty at the time of asking. At this point in time, for me, the theatre tank is empty so I’d do that.

If you could take part in one television programme, which one would it be?

Ru Paul’s drag race, as a celebrity guest.

What would you have printed on the front of your T-shirt?

Has anyone seen my button up shirt? I seem to have mislaid it.

Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both?

I’m a definite mix of both but I have phases of each one. I try and make sure my left brain has cleaned up my home, mended everything I own and done the food shopping before I let my right brain take over for a few days of solid creativity when I’ll lose the ability to do any of those things.

Thank you, Kimwei, for a fascinating set of answers. Readers, you can find out more about Kimwei and his work on his website; or by following his blog. You can find him on Facebook or on YouTube.

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By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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