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This is a gulley between Kingshurst Road and Hazel Croft. A gulley is just an alleyway, a path between houses, I don’t know how widely the dialect is spread. It’s the bit that runs behind what used to be my grandparents’ house. I used to walk to school this way as it was a (very minor) short cut to Great Stone Road. It’s the gulley I referred to in this story.
In the early seventies, as well as shortcuts and ways to avoid the watching eyes of people who sat in their front windows, these were our bicycle race tracks. Hazel Croft is a cul-de-sac in the middle of a circle bounded by Great Stone Road and the crescent of Kingshurst Road and as well as riding in the street, we would find adventure further afield between the houses. One garage was the home of a witch. Someone found a dead cat behind that tree, allegedly its eyes had been removed. The pathways were rough untended gravel and dirt. Who knows how many knees and shins must have been ripped open there over the years?
Now it’s just overgrown with grasses and weeds. Not just because we don’t let our kids out to play like that anymore – mostly because these gulleys are fenced off to protect the houseowners from trespass and burglary. To take that first picture I had to stick my camera through the gap in this:
I put my pen in my pocket
As is my habit
But I left the lid off
Now my jeans sport a big black blob
And I don’t know how much ink I’ve lost
On Sunday I took a stroll over from Stirchley where I was staying to Northfield. I wrote this after a little wandering around.
I’m in Northfield. Specifically, I’m in McDonalds. It seems to be the only place open on a Sunday that you can sit and drink coffee. My Grandma would have been appalled. I’m pretty sure she’d be appalled by the idea of going out and paying just short of twenty-six shillings on a coffee served in a plastic cup, that you had to take to your own table. A table that hadn’t been wiped down for what looks like the last four or five customers at least. I doubt she’d like the music that’s screeching out of the loudspeakers, but if she was really here, I think she’d be most upset by the general state of the shops along the Bristol Road. To her, this was always “the village” because when she moved here at the end of the nineteen-thirties, that’s just what it was. I lived here from 1969 to 1975 but it still feels like home. We kept coming here regularly at least until my Grandma died in 1991. We think the 1970s were grim (I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy this week and it evoked very well for me the dark, brown, smoky atmosphere of my childhood) but I can’t believe that this town centre area was nearly as depressing as this forty years ago.
When I was in Worthing last week I asked what was wrong that needed fixing. It seemed obvious to Dan, who’s a native of the town and has lived there practically all his life. Perhaps it’s the same for me and Northfield, perhaps you need a real connection to see it. Or perhaps this bit of Birmingham really is more depressed than a seaside town in Sussex. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, they both need help and neither of them are getting it from the existing mix of public and voluntary services or the private sector.
I sat here and had my lunch today. It’s the churchyard of St Laurence’s Church in Northfield. It’s the church where I was christened 40 years ago this summer, it’s also the churchyard where my paternal grandparents are remembered. I attended the CofE primary school next door, which has since been turned into houses, so it’s the church in which I first experienced harvest festivals, carol services, cub scout church parades, the joy of belonging and of community.
At school and in church I loved to hear the bible stories and I loved the idea that the church, this church, was God’s house and that he welcomed us in. How cool, to be welcomed in by God!
I don’t know where it was along the way that I stopped thinking it was cool but by the time I was a teenager I know I was rebelliously sitting upright and eyes-open in school assemblies when we were supposed to pray. The idea of God as it was presented just seemed more and more preposterous, a way to make people do what you wanted them to do and I became very attached to my identity as an atheist – it was a way to be different, to stand out, to upset other people who were very attached to their beliefs.
I don’t feel like that today. I don’t attend any church, wouldn’t call myself a Christian… or Buddhist or Jew, Hindu or Jedi for that matter but I have a strong sense of universal spirit, of unity and a connection with all that is. I don’t distinguish much between the terms God, Life and Love, they’re all the same thing to me.
I’ve been consciously working on my spiritual awakening since before I started blogging – it’s the inside job that I referred to recently when I wrote about my uncivilized life, but I still find it ridiculously difficult to write about it here. And yet I know that it’s a really important part of who I am and that my story is all the more difficult to understand when the spiritual aspects are left out. I was asked yesterday whether my hobo-ings had a spiritual element and I replied that yes, without that it’s just another crazy social media adventure, but that doesn’t make it any easier to talk about.
I know that it needs to be talked about, written about, acknowledged, not least because it feels like a constraint on my writing (and being in general) to keep it hidden away. The block to being more open is only fear – of the usual things: ridicule, rejection, anger, in general “what other people think of me” and I know that the way to deal with fear is to go through it and hit publish…
I’ve noticed these since I’ve been back through Birmingham a few times, the old cast iron street signs like this:
are being replaced (or at least augmented) with plastic copies like this:
I’m sure this will have been noticed elsewhere (oh yes). I don’t like. I’d rather have the old one’s left as they are, the plastic replicas feel a bit too Disney to me. Um… actually I don’t want them left like this though, a regular rub down and repaint would be good.
However, I don’t pay council tax here (as a #llobo I don’t pay it anywhere) and I’m not sure I’d want it to be top of the City Council’s priorities, but if I lived here, perhaps I’d want to be able to easily get permission to repair the street furniture or employ someone trustworthy to do it for our street.
This occurred to me in London too the other day – I was walking over Wandsworth Bridge and the paintwork’s looking quite shoddy. I’m sure one could quite easily crowdsource the money and local effort to pay for a community-based repainting party, but good luck sorting out permission from whoever’s responsible for its upkeep.
I met Clare Hedin at #tuttle a couple of weeks ago. She was talking about an event she wants to run called “The Big Connect” sounds like my kind of thing, so we spoke briefly but then she had to leave before the end. Just as I was about to leave there myself I got a text from her asking if I’d time to meet for a cuppa that afternoon. I did. So we met. In a Pret a Manger near Bank tube of all places.
We talked about lots of things but the thing that she mentioned that I really felt I needed to hear was what she called “Dynamic Emergence” She said that she’d started calling it that because it was something that we all are aware of, but don’t have a good term for describing it. It’s the principle that we behave differently with different people. That being with a particular person draws out particular aspects of our selves – these aspects (we) dynamically emerge dependent on the environmental context, the most important part of which is “other people”
This is why I think that open events with inclusive entry and a diverse memebership work so well in a a creative context – they give us the opportunity to experience different aspects of ourselves. There’s doubtless a whole book in just that. But where it helps me most now is to recognise it’s role in the things I do. The hobo stuff is me moving around experiencing different parts of me in reaction to my hosts, employers, collaborators etc. But it also works the other way round – I’m being useful by providing a different field or context for people to work in, a field that often results in them doing things they’ve always wanted to do but had no excuse to do yet. I’m increasingly being asked to do work that looks a bit like coaching but is actually about being with me and allowing the “client” to experience an unusual aspect of themselves. It’s also relevant to the Tuttle Consulting model. I have a scribble on the wall at #C4CC from a while back – “the answer is inside you, among your people, our presence helps draw it out”.