Meeting The Roses

Women’s voices and laughter ripple through the opulent foyer of Woolwich Town Hall. I look up into the echo chamber that is watched over by Queen Victoria.

“Room 4” a male voice shouts from behind.

“WI?” I ask.

“Yes, up the stairs to the right” the security guard confirms.

It’s my first meeting. I’m not sure what to expect, other than assurances of homemade cake, tea and some yoga promised on a Tweet from theWoolwich and Plumstead Roses the day before.

My last encounter with the WI was their cake tent at a very wet Bestival on the Isle of White about 10 years ago. It was by far the best venue at the festival, followed closely by the rum shack and dance hall where I learned lindy hop in Wellington boots.

Back in Woolwich, there’s something reassuring about by the early formalities of the meeting where guests and new members are welcomed. This is followed by news from craft and food sub committees, announcements of a new book club, supper club and walking group. The Chair reads out a list of resolutions that have been put forward by WIs throughout the country including campaigns on promoting plant biosecurity, improving air quality and more women-focussed issues such as pelvic floor education and menstrual health. As someone with long suffering period and ovulation pain with no clear answers from inconclusive NHS investigations, its reassuring to hear this is on the agenda.

Whilst I’ve read about the WI being a progressive and modern organisation, smashing stereotypes of jam making and knitting circles, I’m pleasantly comforted by the pillars of tradition at the meeting. A celebration of homemade culture threads through: the display of mozaic tiles made by members; requests for jam jars to stuff full of goodies and make pretty as £1 raffle prizes for the next Plumstead Made Merry market; the cake making rota; future craft sessions to make macrami plant holders; cocktail stirers repurposed as stems for material tulips; more requests for jars and fruit for jam making.

I am reminded of my grandmas much sought after chutney recipe. I wonder if my well organised bead collection that is gathering dust might find a new lease of life through this forum.

After completing yoga (fuelled by cake), to close, theres a raffle, where one member has made a colourful bag out of her husband’s ties as a prize. The room chuckles as jokes are made about whether this now tie-less husband knew about the craft project.

This welcoming, diverse community of women have clearly developed close friendships, shared interests and don’t take themselves too seriously. They have purpose and agency, and I’d like to know them better.

I thank them for having me and as I leave the smiles behind the security guard is enjoying a slice of chocolate cake. I find my way back down the stairs, out the door and cross the road to the bus stop.

Echos of the meeting are carried with me all the way home.

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Adventures of Old Red & Other Tales from Woolwich

Crossroads.

I take an unmarked path between Bloomfield and Burrage Road into a residential area. I turn left down a narrow, walled corridor and get to a crossroads of garden fences. A sorry looking folding chair sits poised with its ripped lilac material, facing someone’s back garden gate.
A discarded Christmas gift bag with a confused looking polar bear leans nonchalantly against the wall, staring at the gate. A red mop handle, ‘Old Red’, contemplates his fate in the corner.
Out of picture are two mop heads, each wondering which one Old Red will choose. Limp desperation is in the air. The tension is really too much.
Something has definitely gone down here.

I scuttle off.

******

Caught at the right (or maybe its the wrong) angle, the 1st Duke of Wellington is looking most pleased with himself, asserting his grandeur on a plinth that is surrounded by 4 balls. The Duke is peering down on a group of rather miserable looking exercisers who have just finish their workout. There is something superhero about old Wellybobs in his cape. He was Master General of the Ordnance, Royal Arsenal, from 1818 to 1827. I think better of singing an “I saw your winkie” jingle, and wander off. To retain his dignity, I should respectfully note that the statue is best viewed from the front. [I didn’t take any pictures from the front so go see him in person if you are curious].

******

Two guys having a cigarette break loiter in a car park against the backdrop of Cannon Place.

I walk in, past the window of what looks like an office. A man waves and gestures to go to the tiny door within the big door. I think I might be trespassing on private property so I muster a friendly smile and give him the “I’m a local just walking about” spiel. He tells me that Cannon Place used to be a repository for the British Library and that they bought it eight years ago and now its a corporate storage facility. He says I can wander about the car park which is nice of him.

I do this, diligently.

I find an emergency phone.

-ends-

Social

If I learned anything this week it is that nothing beats going to a community event run by local people for local people to connect in person through shared concerns, visions and care for the place we live, Woolwich. And, the last two weeks I have also been mulling over how I use social media to keep up to date with local happenings, and how my own online presence for my artistic practice and research might be helped by interacting with others online. The latter has been prompted by the ‘23 Things for Research: digital tools for your professional and personal development’ course ran by University of Surrey. In fact, the way I found out about this community event was on my daily search “Woolwich” on Twitter.

So, taking a ‘killing two birds with one stone’ approach, at the community meeting led by Speak Out Woolwich I tweeted comments from the speakers to engage with local Twitter accounts as well as having good old fashioned, actual conversations with my Woolwich neighbours. For me, the real-life interactions are what count the most (no surprise there). Yet the support that Twitter (@dizzfort), Instagram (@lizzfort), Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn can provide help to keep me more informed about local goings on from a range of perspectives, angles and agendas. That said, broadening the diversity of people I follow on social media and engage with removes the potential of being in an echo chamber [only sharing ideas and views with people that have the same ideas and views as me].

In other news, my 24 year old friend Freya showed me how to post an Instagram story (yes I know, late the the party), and so I published a series of photos from one of my walks this weeks, and got ‘creative’ with the 1st Duke of Wellington…

What I haven’t got my head round yet is linking these platforms and being a bit more savvy with regular postings to develop my online community interactions. I found out about using something like Hootsuite for this but I am not sure whether this is right for this project just yet. I also need to starting publishing every 2 weeks on my blog, moving towards weekly to get into the habit of writing regularly. This is, after all, one of the modes of documentation for my practice based research. OK, that’s all for now.

Passage

Crossing over the road from the Powys Street car park to walk to the Waterfront leisure centre I discovered a new (to me) cut through via Mortgramit Square, just to the left of the Grade II listed Art Deco Emporium building.

At this moment I am not on one of my walks. I am in pursuit of a hot shower since the boiler has broken at home.

Yet, yet, as the narrow road weaves to the right, to the left, to the right again, I am in new walking territory.

Mindset shifts to curious, less directional. Walking pace slows.

I can now hear the traffic on the South Circular beyond the buildings to my left. And then, the buildings open up to reveal an alley. Blink and you’ll miss it.

I pause.

Two pigeons engage in what looks like a courting dance. Well, I think its courting. The male pigeon is strutting, flapping it’s determined wings in pursuit of the demure, aloof female. They seem unfazed by my presence. There is bird shit everywhere.

Hood up, I am compelled to walk through this monochrome, dingy, narrow passage that is decorated with splashes of colour; a yellow doorway, bright red discarded cup, faded teal painted wall and grafitti.

Midway through, mouth closed, I gingerly look up, shrinking slightly. An overbearing industrial maze of pipes, chimney flues and extractors lead you to the grey sky above. A romantic old lantern light confidently asserts the building’s past, “Plaisted’s Wine House” also known as The Coopers Arms, that closed in 2010.

The building is up for sale, most recently host to the Lantern Cafe and Laundrette. I recall drinking coffee in the cafe with Tina asleep on my lap, chatting to the generous columbian owner who gave me spanish omelette with chorizo on the house. I later contacted her about having a birthday party there but regrettably the business was closing.

And so the building’s identity will shift again. Its past will remain in the physical signs it leaves behind. and in the memories of the people who encountered it. In my brief, embodied encounter, I am reminded of Italo Calvino’s writing in Invisible Cities…

“The city, however, does not tell it’s past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corner of the streets, the gratings of windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls” (1972, 1997, p9)

In the palm of Woolwich’s hand are the stories it contains, written in its buildings and nooks and crannies if you look hard enough.

And the pigeons continue to dance and shit all over it.

I cross the road for a hot shower.

References:

Calvino, Italo. (1972, 1997) Invisible Cities. Vintage Classics

Pausing with places & people

Over the last few weeks there have been many reasons to take a few moments to pause during my walks. Pausing to talk to people, pausing to take a photo, pausing to sit, pausing to observe, and pausing to just imagine what a place is, was, or might be. In this first post I’ve included a selection of pauses that are documented through photos and recalled conversations. I am just starting to experiment with autoethnographic writing, but have not reached the point where I am connecting anecdotes and stories to wider cultural and social meanings and understandings. Perhaps some more on this next time.

Thank you for taking a pause in your day to visit my blog.

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“It’s a dead end” a woman shouts down to me, smiling and pointing from her balcony. I look in the direction I was intending to walk, smile back and thank her. Tina, my dog, is sat looking up at me with a daft smile and tongue hanging to one side. I am now in a dilemma. The explorer in me wants to walk a little further down the derelict path (which I think would be Tina’s preference). But the resident in me wants to respect the warning from my neighbour. I am on unfamiliar territory in this part of town.  I am watched from windows, balconies and parked cars. I am off-roading on the many unmarked foot paths and alleyways that connect the mapped, marked roads on Google Maps. I turn back this time and find another way through, likely to return to the find the very end of the dead end another time.

“Move, you fucking…” he shouts. There is a man walking towards me with a dog that is pulling on the lead to meet Tina. The man’s angry eyes meet mine, he moves sideways off the path in between the parked cars, pulling the reluctant dog behind him. In that split second I simultaneously turn around to walk the other way and then realise that he has moved off the path for me and my about turn continues round 360 degrees to resume my original journey. We pass each other with a row of cars between us. His dog is still looking back at mine. “Come ‘ere…” He aggressively pulls the dog and we walk in opposite directions.

“Can I stroke her” she says. “Of course,” I reply,  “she is very friendly.” “My husband and I want a dog.” She continues to tell me about her partner being retired from the army. “The thing is, I am worried about when their bottom is dirty and they sit down get it on the floor. Is that a problem?” I reassure her that Tina is very clean, and that the only poo incidents were during her puppy months.  I answer more questions about where we walk her, how much walking she needs a day. She introduces herself, goes to shake my right hand, sees the sagging poo bag and I gesture with a nod of my head that the other hand is a better choice. She gently touches and shakes my left forearm and says “nice to meet you Lizzie, I live at number 9. I am just going to my mums to drop some stuff off. Hey maybe if I get a dog we could meet up and walk the dogs together.” I smile and agree and say I look forward to seeing her again.

“Hello” I smile at the man as I cross the road. He has 2 dogs off the lead, going about their business on a grassy patch. Confused, he half replies. “uh Hi…(pause) Get over here…now…I said now…” I jump a little, then realise he is shouting at his dogs with all the [unnecessary] bravado he can muster.

“Hello” I say to a man perched on a wall, reading a newspaper. “Hello love”, he replies.

“Is that a pug?” A lady asks, as she weeds the paving in her front yard. “uh, yes we think so, she’s a rescue.” She continues, “Oh, are you the lady that lives over there?” She points indirectly across the way. “No, I live along Hill Reach.” I reply. “I’ve not been around here before, just exploring that’s all. Do you have a dog?” I ask, “No” she shuts the conversation down. Too familiar I suppose?