Why am I doing this? Like many people who look at me sideways, I wonder whether I am mad, stupid or both. Someone today told me about being inspired by Michael Eavis – who apparently wakes at 4am with moments of doubt and asks himself why he is putting on Glastonbury.
I hear words of inspiration from the people I meet and it inspires me. While my intention is to encourage and champion friendliness, it is the people I meet who teach me about how to be friendly. The guardians of the street, who spend their day hanging out, have a code of etiquette and often a way of seeing things that goes beyond the surface. I still have much to learn.
“We live in a society of fear, perpetuated by the leaders because it’s hard to control someone who is free, free in mind, heart and soul,” said one free spirit today, welcoming me with my barrow. I am just a part-time visitor on the pavement, but they will be keeping an eye on things after I have returned home.
Another free thinker navigates the street on roller blades, stops for a conversation, sharing information and ideas, then rolls on his way again.
For some, fear keeps them “indoors after 8pm. Gun crime makes people scared to go out. I wish all that was gone,” said one person. Someone else I met today looks and listens for the signals of friendliness, like “the tone of voice”.
Another person today said, “People like to stereotype things. You see what you want to see.” I notice this in people’s perceptions of Hackney (good or bad), and in passers-by’s perceptions of me. I enjoy the tentative sidle that brings the curious person in to look a little more closely at what I am doing. Others reflect what they see, “It makes me happy to see you happy,” said one familiar friendly face this afternoon.
I met someone today who was just visiting the neighbourhood. After being born here, circumstances took them elsewhere. Someone else was proud to say, “born and bred here and it’s home.”
A couple of friendly ambassadors arrived. “She is the Queen of Talking to Strangers,” said one. The Queen herself tells me with relish, “I like being friendly, you hear people’s stories.” Just at that moment someone walks past waving and says hello to her. They seem to be doing a great job of spreading friendliness, and show me that I am just one of many working to be friendly in this community.
A man with his own queens, ‘the Honey Man’ tells me, “Not being selfish, not being an individual, working as one towards a goal. That’s what the bees do.”