I haven’t found much time so far this year for picturesque country or coastal walks. I get antsy however if I don’t walk, hairs sprout from my teeth, so for the safety of the general public and for my own health (physical as well as mental) I walk to local venues rather than motor.
I was at a vocal workshop last Saturday. I arrived on foot and turned down the offer of a lift home. Despite downloading directions from Google Maps, I got lost on the outward journey and had to ask for directions.
“Do you know where Cliffe Road is?”
My question brought a trio of lads to a halt as they racketed down the steep hill I was slogging up.
They exchanged looks, frowned in puzzlement and chanted the street name as if Cliffe Road, Cliffe Road, Cliffe Road would sing its location up out of some collective unconscious, into their minds.
One of the teenagers was black, another coloured, the third white. It wasn’t a conscious observation, but perhaps its proximity to the opening line of many old jokes about three men each from the three different countries which make up the United Kingdom, walking into a pub, brought the idea of public houses to mind.
But anyway, it flashed through my mind that if I was going to ask directions from three young lads from differing cultural backgrounds, heading downtown on a saturday afternoon, I was probably asking students – non-native to the town – and street names were likely to draw a blank.
Unlike pub names.
“There’s a pub on it called The Cecil Arms,” I ventured.
Recognition darted into the eyes of the pack’s leader (there’s always a leader in a group) then into the eyes of the other two as he gave me the directions I needed. We parted, laughing at a joke that had something to do with stereotyping and how it’s sometimes accurate.
And as I crossed the road, that they were all so beautifully different physically and sociologically and yet, pal-ing it up together, rose to my conscious awareness.
A sign of the times.
A good sign. I had no black or coloured pals in my youth, nor Irish. I somehow knew I shouldn’t mix with Irish – because they were Catholics. It seemed like I’d been born with this knowledge, but without doubt it soaked into me from negative comments uttered in my presence by family and neighbours and signs in windows: No Coloureds. No Irish.
I got lost a second time and approached a teenage girl with a baby in a pushchair. She sent me down a street that however seemed blocked off at the far end by a hedge. I spotted another young man on the other side of the street, heading to a house carrying a plastic bag of shopping.
“Is this a cul-de-sac?” I called.
He stopped and gave me a funny look, sneered slightly.
I realised he didn’t understand cul-de-sac. I forget I’m from an earlier time and my language is out-dated.
“Can I get out at the end of the street, or is it blocked off?”
Give him his due, he was quite pleasant after I adjusted my vocabulary and gave me good directions.
The workshop was held in a Methodist church. I re-told the joke about three boys and The Cecil Arms to a fellow soprano.
“And you’d still be lost if you’d asked for a church!” she returned.
Urban walking is rarely, if ever, picturesque but it does offer the opportunity for a slice of other people’s lives that you just don’t get as you whizz past people from the driving side of a steering wheel. It’s still good exercise and an opportunity to get to know your neighbourhood – and neighbours.
And for artists (any discipline) it’s a way of refilling our well of images and ideas. And practice writing dialogue.
Maybe artists and writers should regularly pound the streets, pretending to be lost! Do any of you do this already, I wonder?
The You Tube video at the top is Vaughan Williams’ Linden Lea; the singer: the great Janet Baker. We sang this at the workshop.
Blatant hint: I’ve books on urban walking on my web site.
- Irish Pub in France? – Cannes, France (travelpod.com)
- O’Donold’s Irish Pub opening in downtown Youngstown (vindy.com)
- Fado Irish Pub and Restaurant Annapolis Now Offers a New Happy Hour Deal and Menu (prweb.com)
- It’s Easy to Get Super Thirsty at The Asgard in Cambridge (bostinno.com)
- Urban Ideals (mobmodedotcom.wordpress.com)
- On a mission with London’s urban explorers (standard.co.uk)
- Dublin is as much a state of mind as it is a city (willeke73.wordpress.com)
- “Go green at Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade” and related posts (orbitz.com)
- Star struck: Naples residents catch glimpse of Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban around town (naplesnews.com)
- Urban Male Chronicles: What Are We Supposed to Do? What Are We Supposed to Say? (urbgasm.com)
- My Sunday afternoon (minkyweasel.com)
- Torridon (mcalisterium.wordpress.com)
- Features to Look for in a GPS (answers.com)
- Biking/Walking in Davis (tchistorygal.wordpress.com)
- I Walk in Peace (notadietstory.wordpress.com)
- Pub Shed: Mapping your five minute stumbling distance (placeshakers.wordpress.com)