Posts Tagged ‘neighbours’

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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.

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switch off and breathe.

May 17, 2010

For all of the time that I do spend on my Macbook, texting on my phone, and attached to my iPod, lately I’ve started feeling that my personal reliance on technology, as well as our dependence on it as a society, is getting on my nerves a little bit.  I freely admit I could not live without my iPod, but to me that is an addiction to music rather than an addiction to electronics; music is something I know I could never give up, as I’ve always been around music since I can remember. As a child, if it wasn’t on TV, radio or the stereo as my mother and I danced around the living room to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, then I was singing it.

Even though I had my first mobile phone at 14, I can remember not even wanting one initially – I got it for my 14th birthday with a sparkly cover (my penchant for shiny things has always been well known) and I said to my dad “I told you I didn’t need one!”.  I didn’t really use it until I started my first part-time job at WHSmith when I was 16, and suddenly I had an exciting, interesting friendship group outside of school – people who were cool, who hadn’t known me for the last 5 years and had therefore formed preconceptions and misconceptions about me, and with whom I could socialise.  Suddenly I was texting and spending my credit like water, and my mobile phone seemed to come into its own.  Today, again I couldn’t be without one, and I use it to tweet, send messages, call people if necessary, record song ideas on the go and generally kill time.  But then, life simply seems to have changed in the last 10 years; it’s just expected for everyone to have a mobile phone, it’s convenient for meeting people (in the days before texts to say you’re running late or there’s been a change of plan / venue, you had to arrange meets in advance and be where you said you were gonna be, when you said you were gonna be there!), they can come in invaluable in unforeseen circumstances or emergencies… they’re a logistical and social necessity.  And yet we survived fine without them 10 years ago… Well, I’m glad in that instance that we’ve come 10 years further.

I adore my Macbook, and I couldn’t imagine getting through my university degrees without it.  I remember when my dad gave me his black ex-work laptop to take with me to university; I felt so grown up, 18 years old in a new city with my very own laptop!  When I knocked water all over that laptop approximately 3 weeks later and destroyed it beyond repair, I had to survive two weeks (!!!, though this felt like an eternity at the time) completing essays by hand, watching DVDs on my friend’s computer, and checking emails in the communal computer room.  It was a massive inconvenience, and it really made me appreciate just how much easier computers have made my working life.  In terms of pleasure, music allows me to keep up with (and download) all of the music that I’m interested in.  It allows me to write this blog and share it with you all.  It allows me to produce and record my songs and create albums like Quiet Storm which is my pride and joy, and I’ve felt so privileged to be able to share that with all of you.  It’s allowed me to make new friends through myspace and twitter, some of whom I now hold very dear to me.  I wouldn’t have gotten to know my boyfriend and realise just how compatible we are without MSN.

And yet, despite all of these obvious considerable pluses, I’ve felt myself getting a teensy bit annoyed.  I deleted my facebook a week and a half ago because all of the constant notifications (most of which I had turned off, except then they were clogged up on my profile every time I logged in), the tension between having high privacy settings and resulting awkwardness from restricting certain people who believe they have more of a right to my life than they actually do, the user-unfriendly profile format updates and general invasiveness of it all had just got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.  Unlike twitter, which is quick, easy and on-the-go, I found that facebook was becoming a cumbersome site which does everything very well (and I will miss the photo-sharing facilities it had), but sorta places an onus on you to join in with every single aspect of it.  I like that only a select few of my friends have twitter; it allows me to have a little in-crowd, without having to either censor myself or let everyone in the whole world know exactly what’s going on with me.  On facebook, I found that people whom I barely knew were adding me as friends, and after a short period of rejecting them, eventually I just acquiesced because if they were that desperate to be my friend, they might as well inflate my friend count.  In short, it just wasn’t fun anymore.

And yet, I felt scared to delete it, because it’s become such an institution.  When deactivating my account, facebook’s last stand was to show me pictures of my closest friends along with “Nana will miss you.” “Sarah will miss you.” “Nathalie will miss you.” “Hannah will miss you.” “Toby will miss you.” “Mike will miss you.” My heart panged for a fraction of a second, and then I realised: all of these people have my mobile number, my email, my address.  If they really wanna talk to me, or I really wanna talk to them, I will make an effort to do so in a more personal way than facebook offers.  At that point, I got pissed off by facebook’s attempt to emotionally blackmail me into using their service, and decisively deactivated my account.  That was a week and a half ago, and I haven’t really missed it nor felt tempted to return.  I feel emancipated… I’ll let you know how I get on and if I eventually return to the fold!  But I’d like to say that I won’t 😉

I spend a lot of my weekends with my laptop taking advantage of the wi-fi in Starbucks in Cabot Circus.  Usually I’m getting work done that I can’t get done at home, but sometimes I’m blogging or doing various other things.  I remember having to steal neighbours’ wireless internet at home, and the signal constantly cutting out because I would move my laptop a fraction out of range.  I appreciate now how lucky and how convenient it is to have a stable internet at my fingertips.  But sometimes, if I don’t need to do work, dragging my laptop everywhere is somewhat cumbersome (and my laptop’s not exactly huge!).  Between laptop and power adaptor, it takes up a lot of space in my bag (leaving less for necessary cosmetics, obviously) and gets quite heavy.  So the last two weekends I’ve made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I use my Macbook most evenings, I usually fire it up in the morning while I’m getting ready for uni / work / placement / whatever I’m up to.  So in retrospect, I don’t need to carry it wherever I go (especially since half the point of my most recent mobile phone was that it has mobile internet browsing).  And that’s exactly it.  Technology is a massive convenience, a fantastically useful tool that has revolutionised my life exactly as it’s revolutionised yours.  Or if not exactly, then in similar ways.  I appreciate it and I can remember enough instances of it failing that I generally don’t take it for granted, despite being under 25 and therefore a “digital native” (if you’re over 25, you’re a “digital immigrant”, so now you know!!! 😛 ).  But I don’t want to turn into somebody who doesn’t know how to live without technology.  I used to be happy just singing songs, doing jigsaw puzzles, watching TV and reading books – no internet, no cell, no computer, no iPod, no Playstation.  I could spend days doing simple things like that, and while I’m sure that these days I’d get bored after a while, I want to know from time to time that I’m still capable of living independent of these things that I feel I need, that we’ve all become used to thinking that we need, but we don’t really.  We may need them to survive in our contemporary social landscape, but our lives won’t physically end without them.  I’m currently trying to teach myself that.

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break the ice.

September 21, 2009

So today was my first day of my Careers Guidance course at uni!  It went well, there was a lot of information to take in and my head is still spinning a tiny bit, but it was good, everyone seems nice and I made a couple of friends already!  It seems a bit daunting and also a very fast-moving course, but I am ready for the challenge (I think!) and I know that it’s only natural to be nervous and I am capable of it.  I can do this.  Let’s go!

So as it was our first day in the classroom, and we only knew a couple of people (whom we’d gone to interview with) very barely, so it was natural that we had to do some icebreaker games.  I had feared this, but I had expected this too.  We had to each write down something “unusual” about ourselves, and although thinking about it now, I could have written that when I was 18, I met Janet Jackson at an album release party for Damita Jo (I won a radio competition with Star FM) and talked to her very briefly.  I could have also written some other stuff that I can’t recall right now, but in the end, I came out with the fact that I sing, write and produce my own music, and I promote it here online (on this blog, on myspace and on youtube, as well as through my twitter account).

There were several people who had done musical things, like me, and it was very interesting.  However, everyone seemed to take an interest in me to the point that I almost felt a little embarrassed about mentioning it, because although I am very proud of my material (and listening to some of the songs from Quiet Storm again last night, I really did some bangers on this album!!!! I can’t wait for y’all to hear it 😀 ), it was strange for people to be so interested in it.  Especially for people who a) didn’t know me from Adam, and b) people who have done their own music things (with varying degrees of success but some certainly more successful than me) in a variety of genres and settings.  I was touched that they took such an interest and gave me respect, but I did feel the glare of attention on me and I wished I had chosen something else to reveal about myself.

Especially because out of the 22 of us, only me and one other guy (Mike) smokes.  Though it seems not to have crossed anyone’s mind yet, I am anticipating someone’s eventual question “why do you smoke if you sing?” I know that I shouldn’t, but luckily up until now I have gotten away with it with barely a scratch on my vocals, so to speak.  I can still sing, I can still belt, I can still whisper, I can still whistle (sort of… I can do a pretty good whistle for a guy).  I am learning to belt less and to sing powerfully with my head voice more, which sounds less straining and also allows me to control myself more and emote slightly more.  So my technique is changing, but improving; not declining.  My father said the other night that although I am apparently “still too loud”, I “sing more and howl less”.  It was supposed to be a compliment and I took it as such – although I don’t deny that I am loud when I sing at home against the stereo (poor neighbours), I was touched that my dad can hear the improvement in my technique.  Power is important, but also I value transmitting the emotion when I sing and trying to carry the impact of the tune and the lyrics and the emotions all at once.  That’s what I feel is the true task and true skill of a singer – to really feel the story / mood that a song tells, and to transmit that to your audience so that the song becomes special / significant to them and they feel a little bit of what you feel.  Singing may be a technical thing, but it’s also a primal and emotional thing.

I guess it did break the ice, and I guess I do feel more comfortable within the group.  I certainly don’t dread tomorrow!  But I hope that the music thing becomes a footnote in my year on the course, unless I decide to make it otherwise.  I want to have the control and power over what I sing and when I do it.  That’s what I’ve always enjoyed up to now, and that’s something I hope to maintain throughout my life. 🙂

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windows.

July 10, 2009

(nothing to do with Microsoft!)

I was talking to Jess and doing one of my crazy things riffing off a concept on Wednesday, and overly appreciating windows.  Windows are something we generally take for granted, because we just look through them to appreciate what’s on the other side, whether it’s a shop display or a view inside / outside a cafe, someone’s home or while we’re travelling.  But after a while, my silliness started to display a shred of truth… Without windows, we wouldn’t have oxygen to breathe, sunlight so we can see, fresh air so we can keep cool when we are indoors.  So windows are a pretty useful invention, let alone if there’s a fire and we need an escape route.

Okay, so I may be exaggerating a tiny bit, but at the same time none of what I’m saying is technically wrong!  Anyways, tonight I was on the bus and I find myself looking out of the window a lot, rather than reading whatever reading material I have with me (I usually carry a book or something) because I can listen to my ipod and escape with my thoughts a bit.  And I find myself looking to see whether I will by chance pass anyone I know… A part of me for a long time has wanted to see this guy I was seeing for a few weeks last year, but then we lost interest in one another… but I guess I never forgot about him completely.  His name is Mikey, and he actually lives quite close to my nan.  But I hadn’t seen him in nearly a year – well guess what.  I was on the bus home and finally I saw him – he looks as good looking as I remember, wearing the same clothes I remember… he hadn’t really changed.  And I wondered what he would think if he saw me from the same window, whether he would think I looked any different (I personally think I do, the gym has paid off, my hair is darker now and my fashion game is always stepping up – but I don’t know if these are types of things that are instantly noticeable).  How much do we take in at first glance, and how much do we simply see in the blink of an eye and then let it pass us by?

At my nan’s today, we also had a situation where an ambulance pulled up outside our neighbour’s house and was parked there for a few hours.  Obviously, we were slightly curious as to what was going on, because the neighbour is a noisy nuisance but the old lady whose house it is has mysteriously disappeared after a fall (she had been living alone far too long, suffering from near-blindness, near-deafness and possible dementia, but her family couldn’t be bothered to intervene – they’re all a bit crazy) and has been replaced by her grandson who has no job, comes and goes at all hours (sometimes with dog), leaves dog poo in the back yard for days on end (along with piles of plates… outside!) and causes lots of disturbance.  And the strategy of eavesdropping through a window (ok i know this sounds really bad! but we’ve all done it 😛  ) requires some finesse!  You need to not rustle the net curtain, to keep enough of a distance from it so that nobody can tell from outside that you are by the window looking out.  You need to have a window slightly open so you can hear what is being said, but you can’t open any windows once the event has started because otherwise it will be obvious and construed as somebody wanting to eavesdrop (even if you genuinely just want fresh air!).  So we had to be strategic… though it turned out we learned very little anyway, other than the old lady has not returned to the house, and people were wandering in and out wearing masks… was the grandson ill?  Drugs, smoke?  Swine flu?  Who knows… it’s a mystery.

Anyways, windows are something we take for granted every day, but they are also a gateway which trap us on one side, but bestow upon us a view or an insight into the daily mysteries of life, all while keeping us on a lifeline.