Each time I take my barrow out into the street, I make a journey into the unknown. It is always different, and always fascinating. Today it was an incredibly rich experience.
Someone wanted “to moan”, and we discussed the needs (rather than the wants) of older people to have the bus stop nearer the shops, but somehow, against the odds, this conversation opened out into a more free-ranging exchange of views, and I was left with a satisfying sense of having really met one another.
Conversations grew up spontaneously between a relay of different kinds of people. Someone pointed out that “mankind will always find something to complain about, in a coconut shell.”
Visitors from Bristol asked those present to “tell us about Hackney.” They admired the Narrow Way’s “proper ordinary shops”, and we discussed the proliferation of betting shops where those who still believe they will be lucky “lose every penny.”
Someone later likes the fact that “Hackney is a real place where real people live. Once you allow expensive shops to move in, it will sterilize the area.” Another writes in the comments book that, “the love is here, but quite hidden at times”.
There was an organic ebb and flow of conversations. One sprung from a moment where sunglasses were deliberately removed to offer “eye contact”. The disconnection of people in head phones, aloneness that people can feel in the city and London as “a hostile environment,” all came up, and we talked about ways to connect, and the emotions or “material and financial issues” that people may be carrying unbeknown to us. “Looking in someone’s eyes,” is the way to initiate or read the friendliness of a stranger.
A young woman and I talked about the use of “how are you?” as a greeting, rather than a question that expects an honest reply. We thought this might be a “post war stiff upper lip” British legacy? Do the young have a different experience of friendliness or its absence? Does age and going through ‘the troubles’ make connecting with others easier? Or does it just “depend on who you are”?
One enthusiast of the project observed that, “being weird gives you the freedom to break the rules.” Today, the leap of faith, to break unspoken social rules in the street really worked well.
Something happened in some of the group conversations that took a mundane starting point, but dived into deeper philosophical enquiries. From gardening we talked about “the natural way of things, that persons need to understand the earth, to show more respect for it.” We talked of the benefits of multiculturalism, “the English language being enriched by immigration”, the rise of “the consumer individual”, at the expense of “the collective”.
We talked about how small connections can offer a “feel good factor”, as well as helping us to meet ‘the other’. In exploring together it felt as though we deepened each other’s thinking, and had a small but meaningful collective experience. I am once again in awe of the people who took the plunge with me.
These are just a few of the people I met today: