As people walk down the street, I look for small signs of interest, a glance that might allow engagement. I cannot know what someone else is carrying with them – their history, and circumstances; but I notice body language – posture that is weighed down, or proud, gestures that are confident or shy, faces that are closed or open, pace and styles of walk that say, “I’m busy,’ or ‘I have time’.
Two of us today hold the space by the barrow and wait to see who enters into it. Some come to say, “I love this idea,” best of luck to you,” or wave in friendly solidarity. Others bring issues and opinions that they are grappling with.
Many return visitors invest something into a budding relationship with the project. This capital of friendly goodwill is growing. It feels as though something is sprouting, and at some unknowable time and place in the future, this will bear fruit.
I experience a series of wonderful meetings with extraordinary people, who each share something of them-selves and may have something to teach me.
Someone talks to me about the injustices and contradictions they see living in this borough with its “extremes.” They speak of a movement in America where citizens “take back the streets.”
One conversation about the nature of being human expands into a philosophy for life. “Use your super powers for the general good of the populace, or for your own selfish ends. Kindness starts with being kind to yourself”.
Another of these conversations was with a philosopher who probed into my thinking processes with provocative questions that explored the NHS, democracy, history, greed and hunger; each question opening up more and more uncertainty in me and expanding the conversation.
A mum whose friendliness is a way of life tells me, “I talk to everyone. It’s just in me. It’s not the way I was brought up. I was told, ‘you shouldn’t talk to strangers.’ I tell my son that, but it’s different for an adult.”
Last week, someone suggested bubbles. Today some kids helped us to make bubbles happen. They turned in circles and let the wind blow the bubbles. Then some adults experimented with bubbles, which felt like a brilliant leap, being playful together, changing the dynamic of the street.
Some take ‘Hackney is Friendly’ to mean happy. I am often smiling, the barrow is colourful, happiness is a good thing, but it is not the only way to be friendly, (although for some it can allow a way into connection). “I’m not happy,” someone said today. “Want to chat?” I ask, “No, I’m joking,” they reply, and we laugh.
One man remembers Hackney 53 years ago. “There was more freedom then – a game of dominoes, going to the pub. It was every man’s dream to have a car.” Now he has a car but regulations make it impossible to park.
Someone asks me for my opinion on difficult conundrums about politics and religion. I notice that through meeting and talking to people, my own views have become less certain. I say, “things mean different things to different people.” We speak of generational or cultural differences. Everything is relative.
In conversation with the philosopher, the responsibility for government is brought down to its smallest unit, the relationship between two people. “Government is people,” he says. “Communities happen one person at a time”, says someone else. Hackney may be a place, but more importantly, it is people.
These are just a few of the people I met today: