The ‘Hackney is Friendly’ project is gradually building momentum. People are returning and connections are slowly building. “Everything builds from the past,” someone says today.
With total strangers topics like the weather, and Hackney are safe opening gambits but as I get to know people we range further afield exploring the “interesting times we live in.”
The pedestrianisation is an ongoing theme which continues to provoke strong views positively and negatively. The wooden boxes which have appeared, to make informal seating and planters are referred to by some as “coffin boxes”, and sat on by others. People come to ask me what’s going on. I tell one man about the planting workshop (this Sunday 11am-4pm) and they ask, “Can we plant marijuana? It would make people happy!”
Most pass by without speaking to me, but some say, “I love Hackney”, or “I shall miss it when I go back to Camden Town.”
The street seems quiet this afternoon – until a lost child stirs a great commotion up and down the Narrow Way, with women of all ages bursting into a tsunami of conversation during and after the finding of the child.
At the barrow, the art of being friendly is discussed. Someone talks about the great benefit of offering, “appreciation, being nice, kindness, simply by extending your greetings.” There is consensus that people need to learn social skills. Someone finds that “people are all so tied up with their own selfish worlds,” that they don’t have time to chat. Someone mentions lives “lived behind a screen,” where real eye contact and relationships are not developed.
Some of the friendliest people I meet often describe being regarded as mad for chatting to people at bus stops. Someone says of the project, “It’s a great idea. It might actually teach people to respect each other.” Being friendly with a stranger involves taking a risk, which can be scary. It means risking being rejected or dismissed as mad.
Someone on their way to go swimming considered the potential risk involved in going down a shute at the pool “at my age”, and someone else told me about the “great risk they had taken in their life at middle age,” which they have navigated, through being radically honest.
During a conversation about the benefits of travel – to learn about other people and other ways of life – someone from Tooting arrived. One woman described London’s north/south divide, “like crossing the Berline Wall, going south of the river for the first time when I’d just retired.”
Another conversation about the society we live in, and the democratic process, explored where we may be “losing our rights”. One determined and informed person said, “If it matters to me I’ve got to stick up for their rights.” We talked about the spread of corporate space. Someone else talked about shopping centres, and their popularity, “I hate those places”, they said. It was pointed out that in standing on the street with my barrow I am technically peddling, engaging with people, and exchanging ideas.
These are just some of the people I met today: