Optimistically I decided to go with the forecast, which predicted a dry afternoon and took the barrow out. There was an occasional rain shower that wet me and the barrow with fine water droplets. There were a few quiet moments but the drizzle did little to quell friendliness. “How did it go today?” Asked someone who often sees me heading home. I said that I was surprised that it was so friendly in spite of the weather. “We’re learning to dance in the rain”, she reflected.
It seems that many of the people I meet are grappling with ways to overcome the challenges they face, to dance in the rain. Many see the changes locally and are also aware and concerned about other people, and are looking for ways to be compassionate. “When my parents came here in the 60’s, my Dad worked, my Mum looked after the kids, and they could pay a mortgage. Now you’d have trouble paying a mortgage on two incomes. This is causing division.”
Someone else points out, “Money goes to money; poverty goes to poverty.” I speak to someone working for a charity about chugging. “It’s a hard job”, they said, but as they moved on, encouraged me with “Carry on giving”.
“Life is a journey and we should travel it well. You are helping, whether you know it or not. These people who drink and take drugs are sick, not bad. They need places to talk”, someone thoughtfully commented.
As the project comes toward its end, I am asked about my “findings”. One interested observer tells me something I have witnessed myself. “The people on the street take care of each other. They are the ones who are out 24/7, although there are some who are predatory.” They tell me about an organisation called Poached Creative – a writing and design company who use unemployed people in their team to help them gain skills, experience and confidence, and the Localism Act.
I also hear about a scheme called ‘Suspended Coffee’ where you can “invest in a cup of tea or coffee in advance for a homeless person.” The café in the ‘Hackney Heart’ pop-up shop are hoping to join the scheme.
Visitors who want to buy stamps are directed to the post office, and I give them post-cards to send. Someone suggests I “make it (the barrow) a barbecue with kebab”.
I meet “a budding artist”, who is struggling with showing her work to others, “I don’t know if I can take criticism”, she wonders. I think this is something everyone creative faces. My critics seem less likely to engage in conversation, so I hear lots of positive feedback. However, I think this reflects the need that people have for meaningful contact. “I think you’re providing a valuable outlet for some people, particularly older people”, someone offered today.
“You’re such a happy person it’s unbelievable”, someone said. I’m not always happy, but I’m usually friendly. I recognise and speak to more people now locally. This morning I met a woman in the park, “You’re the friendly woman”, our conversation began.
The polarities of experience continue to be spoken. “Multi-culturalism here is more embracing”, appreciates someone in comparison with elsewhere. “I always knew Hackney was friendly – lived here long enough”, someone else said; and another, “No it’s not, it’s rubbish”.
“They (the government) have done nothing for East London since the Olympics. It’s deprived. They don’t care about the East End.” “It’s a ghetto”, says another of the young people I am talking to. “What could we do to make it better?” I ask. “Make streets with houses, not estates”, said one. “Re-open the police station”, says another.
Today I have a photograph with me of the beautiful ‘board’ house a friend of mine has built in the Caribbean. A frequent visitor to the project drops in, and I am able to show them. It is admired and offers “inspiration. I will be the eccentric from England. I am going to build a log cabin”.
“This is a good idea”, said someone of the project, “how did you come up with it? What drugs are you on? Whatever it is, it’s alright by me.”
A simple question to someone else, “What is important to you today?” produced the response, “health”. We discuss how “knowledge” is important,, enabling people to make informed choices about the drugs and treatments they consent to, the potentially harmful effects of some toxins, and the power of pharmaceutical companies to influence our care providers’ choices.
One sage, who is learning to look after their body well, tells me of the “muscle exercises for your eyes” which has improved their vision, describes the myth of Prometheus, (whose liver is eaten daily by an eagle); and warns me “Above all else, look after your liver, and never lose hope.”
These are just a few of the people I met today: