From the moment the barrow leaves the workshop where it is stored, there are a stream of looks, reactions and comments. This ‘performance’ takes me past those that hang out at the bottom of Clarence Road, (a friendly crowd who are now used to my comings and goings). One regular gives me a peck on the cheek today, which although not appropriate according to my own guidelines, feels like a mark of acceptance.
I navigate the pedestrian crossing at the lights and head down the Narrow Way. I set the barrow down where the pavement is wide, north of St Augustine’s Tower, ready to engage.
The curious but unsure read one of the signs on the barrow or take a card, then continue on their way. Some ask what I am doing, but choose not to enter into conversation further, others chat. “Hackney is getting friendly,” came one view. “Hackney is friendly, but…you’ve got to watch your back”, said someone whose neighbour had just returned having had his bike wheels stolen in a few short minutes. “It depends on the effort you put in,” suggested someone, making a fair point.
I am asked for my view by someone; who then introduced me to the concept of ‘Positive Psychology’ (the scientific study of what makes people happy). I am interested to hear about it. “If you write down three positive things that you’ve done today it increases your wellbeing.” I am very aware that the ‘Hackney is friendly?’ question seems to be answered in terms of a general ‘glass half empty’ or ‘glass half full’ view of life. Luckily mine is usually half full.
Six ‘chuggers’ just down the street arrive and create a net to catch a different kind of conversation. They are unusually keen and step towards their targets with a forthright, “How are you today?” I hook one of them myself, to try and glimpse something of their experience of the pavement we share. I found a young person whose passion for the charity they serve was clear. They felt that if the public only knew what was happening in the world’s crisis locations, they would donate, “I can’t understand why people aren’t running up to me.”
I watch passers by swerve to avoid the fund-raisers, shutting them out by lowering their gaze. Vying for the attention of those who might be open to communication, I relocate further north.
For charities and many of the traders in the street, there are slim financial pickings in these straightened times. Prices and the cost of housing and food are recurring themes in conversations. Someone today felt that the street needed another good value pound shop, while another saw where, “those who can afford to buy good food may choose other spending priorities instead”. We talked about the vicious circle of the greed driving corporate privatisation of services, fuelled by advertising, and our complicity at chasing low prices, at the expense of independent shops.
Despite all the reasons to see hard times, there are also many people out there in small often un-noticed ways working with good intentions. Someone today described our society as “a block of flats where a few people are cleaning up all the shit.” I guessed they were one of the ‘cleaners’.
Every day I am out on the street, I discover these undercover workers striving for the good of all, and I am often surprised by what they look like, and how they are using their individuality to bring about change.
One inspiring individual working with “sport, music, creativity, and sharing through the things that people love,” sees how “creativity has no borders,” so can bring people together. We talked a shared dream to build bridges between different groups within the community. He quoted John Lennon, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality”.
These are a few of the people I met today: