I’ve now done two of the three creative writing workshops for the libraries, and the ideas for a guidebook for Deptford are building up, as are the ideas for what shape it will take: a map which can be displayed on the wall? a fold up map like you get from a tourist information place? an actual guide-book? We’re still deciding, and it will depend on the gathered material and what suits it best. It is such an interesting time to be having these conversations in Deptford (sorry that the blogs have slowed down a little! I have been doing lots of interviews but it is hard to keep up with it all at the moment, so I promise they will all come in a flurry, there’s been some fabulous chats and stories )
My main recurring thoughts over the last few weeks have been connected to kindness and listening.
For the last five years since my project 366 Days Of Kindness I have thought about kindness more than any other subject, and in a wonderful and beneficial way it has influenced all of my work, and the outcomes of my work (and my life) But I have been glad to be reminded the last few weeks of the power and the kindness of taking time to listen to people, to actively listen rather than to just wait until they stop talking so that it is your turn to speak again! This has happened to me, because when you ask strangers what their favourite thing is about Deptford, as I have been doing, in all honesty their first answer isn’t usually the interesting one. The real magic happens when you stick with each other and have a conversation, a cuppa, share a piece of cake maybe. Then a generic “I like the market” turns into great story about the discovery of a new vegetable that happened one rainy Saturday morning when you spent time asking the stall holder what something was and how on earth you cook it, then you get the story of the cooking the recipe and the dinner party too. If you listen, you get a story, a real human connection.
We are all so busy. And when you say you’re busy people say “that’s good” like it is a marker of success or happiness, but I am not sure that it is. This last Saturday I spend one blissful hour speaking just one fantastic woman, and we wrote story each, sitting quietly side by side. When we parted we gave each other a hug. I would rather that any day than 100 rushed interactions. I truly felt like I had made a new friend
Lydia, writing her story and brightening my day
In the afternoon lots of folk in Deptford Lounge told me about the 999 club, and how much of a safety net it is for people in need, people spoke about the anchor and how it was missed as a place to meet friends and drink. I asked one woman where she drinks now and she said “outside the library now. but no one likes it”.
My friend said these people are the dispossessed and it’s an indication of our true compassion, how well we treat them. They can’t just disappear, if you “move them on” where will they go?
Other people said to me they don’t miss the anchor because of the drinkers but having spent plenty time with “the drinkers” they have stories to tell and they share them happily and easily if you listen and share yours too, happy and funny and wierd and crazy stories, just like we all have.
I’d just finished reading George Orwell’s “The Clergyman’s Daughter”and I was struck by the excerpt about how homeless people wait for the libraries to open and then shelter there, for warmth and safety, and also to read and look for jobs, and how this is an unspoken service of libraries, and not just homeless people take shelter there, but people whose homes aren’t warm or welcoming or safe. This was written in 1935 but the same could apply now, and with the closure of libraries, we are in danger of losing another communal public space that provides sanctuary. Kids doing their homework. Mums meeting other mums for tea and company. People doing research. People keeping warm. People trying to get a bit of peace and quiet.
Whilst I was having these conversations and thinking this, the campaigners, including children and pensioners, fighting to keep Carnegie Library in Lambeth open are due to be evicted by the council. You can read about them here .
Anyway, back to this Saturday justI met Stephen Thompson, he with a twinkle in his eye and his beautiful crinkly face.
Stephen Thompson, raconteur
This is one of the many stories he told me during the Saturday afternoon we spent together in the sunshine eating custard creams and talking about Deptford
“My Only Piece of Luck”
When he was a kid Stephen went swimming in Ladywell. He said his stepdad was a “vicious nasty cad who should’ve been in a psycho ward” who “beat me every day”.
It was a sunny day and his mum and step dad were out. They told him to stay put but he wanted to go swimming and he knew if they caught him swimming his stepdad would beat him, but he went anyway.
By accident a girl he was swimming with hit him in the back as she dove in, just mucking about, and he remembered “trying to reach the glass shelf after that, just trying to get my head above the water”
”Then he was drowning. He saw a freeze frame in black and white of “everything what my life could’ve been, should’ve been or had been, projected from my third eye”
Next thing Stephen knew he woke up with worried attendants worried standing over him, asking him if he knew who he was. He was terrified about getting in trouble from his step dad so he didn’t tell anyone.
”I have held that secret all my life, of what I saw. And that secret has changed the way I view life, because I have died and survived. which has been the only luck in my life so far. I couldn’t read or write, I had a stammer after that, caused by the drowning, but I knew I was lucky because I had died and come back to life”
All afternoon with Stephen and others, we spoke about what is lost, what is gained, about good luck and bad luck and kindness, and Deptford. Stephen told that the expression “chip on your shoulder” originates in Deptford: they would leave chips of wood on the floor in the Dockyard and you’d take them if you were skint, for fires, and they’d say you’ve left with a chip on your shoulder.