Wednesday, 22 June 2011

8 in a bed

I'm writing this while Les calls the bingo numbers in St Michaels' church hall,  Four Acre, St. Helens. Les and Pat , both over-60s, run the bingo night, the allotment group (just won a prize) and Les used to oversee the Boxing Club too. He's a big man, a scaled-up version of the ordinary, with a big voice and a sharp insight in people. He's the anchorman in this group of people, calling the Bingo, making connections, helping to hold the centre of the community.

We went from table to table before the bingo stand and asked the folk here to offer a thought or two about celebration, then cut up their lines and let them fall into a rough shape. The poem that emerged sketched out a little story of struggle, but also perseverance: “I'm still here, that's celebration enough.”

teacher pulled hair to celebrate birthday

Many people had grown up with very little in the way of possessions or money and their families had grafted hard and long all their lives. The older people especially had a tough ride – one person remembered growing up in a family of 13, all sharing a little house with only three bedrooms. Very few remembered celebrating birthdays with a heap of toys – but the thing they did own was a strong sense of family, community: “Those were safe days. Everyone was your aunty or uncle.”

8 to a bed, 13 of us but oh what happy days

Les watched us work and then observed: “I've often noticed if you ask people to write down their thoughts they get all tongue-tied in their heads. But if someone writes it down for them, they get the ideas across clear as you like.”

This is one of the fundamentals of our work and it was sharp of him to pick up on such an important aspect of it. These moments of conversation - the flashes of recollection, or humour - are the energy feeding everything we do and those moments must be encouraged and valued. Some of the most powerful encounters in my life have been made through these arthur+martha sessions, I only hope that we serve the people we meet well.

selection orange apple shiny penny nuts I loved my home

The bingo's ending, people are packing in a flurry of numbers, discarded score sheets. Les makes a final farewell before the PA is switched off: "Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, hope to see you all next time. For now - bye."

ballons with short reminisces 

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