h1

community.

July 5, 2010

When I am on my driving lessons, my driving instructor (who lives around the corner from me and has done for the whole of my lifetime and probably many years prior to that) often points out people who he knows, chats about the various people who have lived and continue to live in certain houses and streets, and talks about life in Kingswood in general.  Most of the time, I can only nod my assent because I have no idea whom or what he is talking about; I only know the names and faces of the people who live within 3 doors of our house and across the road from it.  On the odd occasion that I am walking around the local area, I could quite happily walk past people who live on my street without recognising them.  This street is not and has never been a community to me; my town is just a place I live, and although it’s adequate (I like the fact that unlike other, more wealthy areas of the city, it doesn’t have a ‘grey’ atmosphere and I can see the sky – I’m not a total urbanite then!), I don’t feel any sense of community with the other people who live there; in fact, I feel like more of an alien (and with my dress sense, I look like one too).  I must add that I will stick up for where I come from, despite its chavvy, slightly dangerous reputation; I did get slightly offended by a comment made by one of the people on my careers guidance course at UWE; being a graduate of Spanish and French, I was asked “But in Kingswood, you don’t get an opportunity to practise your languages, do you?” This comment was accompanied by a smirk; I took slight offence because although it’s true that where I live is not a cultural hub and I don’t meet many people who are multi-lingual there, Kingswood is not formative of who I am.  Moreover, it’s not a bad place, and given that the area of Bristol that this person comes from is more renowned for crime and poverty than mine, it’s somewhat hypocritical and condescending.

Anyway, I went to Peterborough to spend the weekend with Toby last weekend, and I had a wonderful time, but I noticed that for him, life and his sense of community is different: he knows all of the people who live in his close and a lot of those who live in his village.  He went to school up the road from his house; he can point out many people in the photographs included in the local Parish News (I am unaware of Kingswood having a Parish News leaflet, or any kind of worthwhile community publication). It is interesting that I cannot do this.  I always went to school on the other side of the city, because my parents paid for my education and decided to send me to those schools (and based on my subsequent track record and academic success, I can’t quibble with their decision – it was pretty wise and with hindsight I would now have done the exact same thing).  When I went through a brief phase of playing with the family of girls who were my age and lived across the road from me, they had a group of kids who lived in the neighbouring streets as their friends: I knew none of these people because they all went to the same school down the road from our house; I went to a private school across the city.  We had different school holidays, different teachers, different friendship groups, different subjects.  In retrospect, that was most definitely for the best but at the time it felt like I had to work extra hard to fit in with them.  Despite living across the street, it was like I was visiting another world, their world, every time we would play together, and after a couple of years the visit wouldn’t be worth it, and we would just say hi without animosity as we occasionally passed each other on the street.

However, whereas Toby can name all of his neighbours and various people who live in his village (and I also understand that part of this is the difference between city / country-ish mentalities), I enjoy my popularity when I wander round the Bristol city centre – Mike commented once on a shopping excursion that it seemed as if I knew at least one person in every single shop (and there are a lot of shops).  This is an exaggeration of course, but not a massive one; I like shopping and I used to work in retail in that area, therefore my face is recognised in the area and I can recognise acquaintances who work there too. An amusing story is the Guess Boutique – whenever I go in the staff are extra-happy to see me because they still remember the time Toby & I went in and I fell in love with a bag that I could not afford; Toby & I left and I spent the whole of that Friday night babbling about the bag. Saturday lunchtime we returned to the store and I bought not only that bag that I had originally claimed was “too expensive” but also a hoodie to boot (it was on sale, there was only one and it was in my size, it was black and gold which are my colours – it was obviously fate so who am I to stand against destiny?). I don’t know if the staff there work on commission but I think that that day, they were very happy!  So I make friends in shops.  My friends who live in Bristol may have gone to school or university with me, but we came from all different parts of Bristol (and their experiences of commuting to find a community may be quite similar to mine) so urban centres, shopping districts, cafés and cinemas are our meeting points.

My point is, I have my own community of people whom I call my friends; friends are the family you can choose, as they say.  However, my friends are all dotted about the city (and beyond that, the country); the way we keep in touch is via telephone, email and internet most of the time; and when we want to meet in person, it’s got to be an arranged thing rather than a spontaneous wander down the road.  Although it can feel slightly isolating living where you have no real connection to anyone else in the immediate vicinity, it’s made irrelevant by the fact that I can speak to and arrange to see a lot of my friends within very little time; and that my friends are so, so good to me.  I think that having my own space is something that I value too; at the end of the day, I can retreat to my home and have a little time for me, safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to bump into or be harassed by anyone who knows me.  I can be anonymous, think independently, live as I choose without any fear of anyone whom I care about judging me. I know that in Kingswood, I dress differently, I wear different clothes, I speak and think differently to the majority.  I would never change that; I like being my own person and I won’t ever change to conform (a hard lesson that built my character during my school years). But it’s made easier when I’m surrounded by people with whom I have absolutely no desire to fit in. My community, the people whom I love and value, are my friends; my community is not local but instead city-wide, national, and one day I hope it will be global.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: