Walking together: psychogeography and psychotherapy

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( This is the article that I wrote for ‘Therapy Today’ , with added sketches – so longer than usual but hopefully interesting enough to hold your attention to the end!)

Unfortunately I missed the 4th World Congress on Psychogeography held in Huddersfield this year. I then discovered that the 4th World Congress was actually the second – the first took place in Huddersfield and Leeds last year – and the next gathering will probably be the 4th World Congress too. Also, although delegates voted that the next congress will take place in Copenhagen, it is likely to be held in Huddersfield again!

This might just seem silly, but as with Monty Python, some serious comments can be made through absurdity. A professional organisation demonstrating its importance through an expensive ‘world congress’, uncritically situated in the globalised economy and at home in fashionable Copenhagen is exactly what psychogeography is not! Psychogeographers are a more radical and diverse assortment of varied professionals, artists, amateurs and others with roots in surreal and absurdist critiques of society, who are more likely to be found at the edges and in the margins. They seem to me to combine intelligent, thought provoking analysis with the refreshing capacity to laugh both at their own pretensions and those of others, and I think they have interesting ideas to share with psychotherapists.

Psychogeography sprawls across many traditional academic demarcations and, like psychotherapy, is a model of multi-disciplinary cross fertilisation. This makes a concise definition difficult, and that flexibility is perhaps one of its strengths. There seem to me to be two key elements to the definition: psychogeography is concerned with the effect of geographical location upon emotion and behaviour; this is tied to an emphasis upon walking, paying critical attention to the (generally but not exclusively) urban landscape and the power structures that have shaped it. There has been much written about the impact of the ‘natural environment’ and its part in therapy, but I want to focus here upon ‘urban’ living – whilst acknowledging that the boundary between ‘natural/rural’ and ‘man made/urban’ is by no means straightforward.

For a detailed appraisal of the current definitions and varieties of psychogeographies, I would recommend Tina Richardson (2015). Here however I want to introduce psychogeography via those pathways that first attracted me, in the hope that along the myriad routes there will be something that resonates with each reader. So I have sketched out a map and invite you to walk with me through a landscape where psychotherapy and psychogeography can enrich each other.

The starting point for me is the relational environment. Group psychotherapy pays sustained and concentrated attention to the power of the relational environment that both clients and therapists inhabit and make. It is the context of others that shapes who we are, and who we in turn shape. In groups, especially long term, we witness this process whereby members insistently draw out and co-create their relational environment, until hopefully liberated by a growing capacity to understand and challenge each other’s attempt to shape the environment.

Any account of being human that reduces an individual to a singleton in a world of singletons is missing the point. We are who we are in the context of others. Although this may be at its most obvious in group psychotherapy, it is clearly just as crucial in any individual therapy. Liz Bondi (2005) suggests that this relational psychotherapeutic perspective can benefit human geography, which often ascribes emotion to individual subjects rather than taking a systemic view.

Starting out from this relational environment, it is a small step to embrace the physical. It might not even been necessary to move, but just to look around at the space in which therapy takes place. In our own therapy rooms we may attempt to create spaces that are containing but not intrusive, calm but not cosy, interesting but not over stimulating. However most of us work at times in spaces that we have no control over, which are hostile to the task in hand; rooms full of desks, cupboard sized spaces, consulting rooms with beds and screens, stained carpets, noisy corridors and so on. Neither patients, clients, students nor therapists can fail to be aware of the powerful intrusions from the physical environment.

What is said is linked to where it is said; to disclose our most intimate feelings we need a sense of emotional and physical security that derives in part from the place we are in. Spatial metaphors abound in the psychotherapeutic vernacular. A safe space, where you’re at, stuck in a corner, deep in a hole, falling through space; we so often turn to geography to find words for our experiences, so should not be surprised that geography shapes experiences. The unwelcoming ‘counselling room’ that clearly is also a cluttered storeroom will affect the communicative web between therapist and client despite all attempts to ignore it.

Of course we can explore this impact, and the possible resonance it has with previous environments. It could well lead into a consideration of power; who controls this space, who decides its usage, who is excluded from the decision-making, for example. This way it becomes even clearer that not only who we are is profoundly shaped by place, but that place involves power.

We have reached a place on the map that we will return to from many different approaches. Here psychogeography brings our attention clearly to the ways in which the spaces we move through and inhabit may be controlled by particular interests. Gated communities, CCTV cameras, car dominated routes, huge parking areas, gentrification, regeneration, lighting, signage, street furniture, graffiti, litter; places where men may walk but women avoid, no- go zones, threatening streets; the more we question the ways in which our environments are designed, built and used, the more we become aware of the values and interests that are shaping the terrain.

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In October 2016, the United Nations held the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, to agree on a ‘New Urban Agenda’ in the face of the massive increases in urbanisation globally. The UK Economic and Social Research council is undertaking a collaborative research project with China, South Africa and Brazil, mapping the web of water, power, energy, food, transport and behaviour within cities. Important elements are “lock-ins” and “path dependencies” Both are features that inhibit certain developments and favour others – regulations facilitating new developments may prevent green transport systems, for example, or the historical ghettoization of one community may be a block to innovative possibilities.

Thinking about this on an everyday walk in our own areas may be an eye opening exercise.

Looking around at our streets, it’s startling when you first notice it: like waking from a dream and forgetting where you are. A moment of disorientation as your eyes make sense of the shadows and see the room for what it is.

After that, it’s unmistakable: our streets are not our own. From the parked cars that line the roads to the traffic that speeds along them, in many of our cities we are second-class citizens if we’re not inside a motor vehicle’ ( Laker 2016)

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This is one reason why psychogeographers walk rather than drive. Walking can bring us into contact with the environment in a visceral and attentive way where we have time to look closely, to think and to explore. Walking in a psychogeographical sense is not the same as a stroll or ramble; it is observant, analytic, and self-reflective. It finds unfamiliar routes, individually or as part of a group, wanders without preconceived ideas of route or destination, and records the subjective experience in a multitude of styles. The kinaesthetic qualities of movement combine with reflection and analysis in a way that Rose (2015) suggests –

‘affords the opportunity to rupture the banal and disrupt the monotony of capitalism, (re)connecting with space, (re)mapping according to personal affect and (re)creating with multitudinous new stories’ (p.161)

Whether we walk or not for our own purpose, and so many do (“A good wander unveils the city” 2016 ), as psychotherapists and counsellors we recognise its potential. As therapy, or part of therapy, it is used in many different formats; in groups, individually, with mindfulness, with or without therapists, in conjunction with other interventions or on its own. It appears to have an effect that does not relate to energy expenditure or exercise per se, and is often recommended as a component in the treatment for depression (Robertson, Robertson et al 2012).

Therapists working with the elderly, especially with dementia, will recognise the way in which places remain embedded in even the most fragmented of memories. Andrea Capstick (2015), using walking interviews, finds that communications thought to be meaningless can accurately reference particular places in the past. She challenges the act of locating ‘amnesia’ solely in the individual rather than in a society that undervalues and forgets its own past.

The destruction of memory lies as much in the outer world with its demolition sites, road widening schemes, bomb damage, slum clearance and gentrification as it does in the ‘damaged’ brain of the person with dementia’ (p212)

Identity is bound to place. This systemic thinking forms the major highway between psychogeography and psychotherapy. The environment is not the backdrop, but is woven through our identity. One early strand of psychogeography clearly rejected the idea of environment as backdrop, seeing it instead as the screen upon which the experiences of growing up in a gendered body became symbolized and played out. (Stein and Neiderland 1989).

Exploring identities – our own and that of others – involves an appreciation of the powerful influence of place. The word ‘home’, for example, conjures geographical location, emotional resonances, attachments, images and memories, and more. It straddles the external and internal landscape in a way that demonstrates the permeable boundary between the two. We each, according to Fitzgerald and Rose (2015), inhabit

‘not an ‘objective’ space, but our own cognitive map of place and space, freighted with affects and memories, with its risks and hazards, its threats and lures, its familiarities and alien places, its locales of sanctity, solidarity, support, and much more’.

 We find ourselves attracted not only to particular people but to places; like a fingerprint, we have a unique patterned response to our environment created through our experience. Certain landscapes, streets, atmospheres, colours, sights, sounds and smells resonate, teaching us much about our own selves, if we pay attention. Exploring our own relationship to place can be a rewarding pathway to personal development.

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There is a substantial body of research looking at the impact of space upon mental health. Laura McGrath (2015) examines the impact of different types of space on those with mental illness, and argues that experiences of distress, rather than being determined by static internal processes, are contextualised. Those deemed to be ‘mad’, who once would have been in the designated space of an asylum, are now ‘in the community’; a similar redesignation of space has happened with children’s homes and special schools, for example. Losing the allocated space and becoming part of the ‘community’ creates a context that often belies the warm connotations of the phrase. For many the reality is dominated by surveillance rather than support whilst some find themselves in the least attractive margins of available public space – rough sleeping in derelict areas, underpasses, etc.

Osborne (2015) writes about the milieu – the space we live in, ‘cut from’ the environment material available. Cities, he suggests, are overlapping series of diverse and contradictory milieus –

‘milieus for some and not others, milieus for the rich, milieus for certain kind of business enterprise, milieus for consumption, and so on but not a single milieu of any sort. And for the excluded and dispossessed, cities are indeed simply environments.’

 It seems to me that therapy cannot afford to ignore issues of space any more than it can ignore social justice. Psychogeography offers a radical, subversive, challenging critique of space that psychotherapy can benefit from.

In addition, if offers fun. Winnicott would certainly have applauded the playfulness and creativity that psychogeography embraces. Walks may be directed by rolling a dice, for example, or following the gaze of a CCTV camera; arbitrary, whimsical, free associative wanderings that allow unconscious processes the space to flourish. Critical psychologist Alex Bridger (2015) uses walking based research methodologies derived from psychogeographical ideas, arguing that their playfulness can challenge routine behaviour and assumptions and promote creative rethinking of urban space. Psychogeography challenges the dominance of the cognitive in understanding the world, pushes against boundaries and conventions, honours the subjective experience – surely enough common ground to establish a mutually enriching relationship with psychotherapy?

Now we have visited, albeit briefly, most of the places marked on the map and it is time to consider the map itself. It seems that map making is an activity that is wired into humanity. The Bedolina petroglyph at Valcamonica in Italy is one of the oldest known maps still to exist, carved about 4,000 years ago. (Harmon 2004) We constantly map what is around us – the terrain, routes, geology, seas, space – and what is within us– MRI being the contemporary ‘scientific’ version. Maps are our attempts to orient ourselves in an environment and to grasp not only where we are, but who we are.

‘We all travel with many maps , neatly folded and tucked away in the glove compartment of memory – some of them communal and universal, like our autonomic familiarity with seasonal constellations and the shape of continents, and some as particular as the local roads that we have all traipsed.’ (Stephen Hall, p.15 in Harmon 2004)

 Psychotherapy has a close association with maps. As we ‘walk alongside’ the client, we travel through internal landscapes of desired utopias and feared hells, in order to find new pathways through old and scarred territory. We examine and unearth buried cities and civilisations, patiently expose skeletons and artefacts, draw up timelines and map future projects. Geography, geology, archaeology, and cartography all meet in my experience of psychotherapy.

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As psychotherapists and counsellors we are engaged in the vital challenge to understand and communicate at depth with different cultures, races, and experiences. We recognise the on-going struggle to relate at depth to the other, and its central place not only in the work that we undertake but the communities that we live in and the societies we help create. In our thinking too, we need to cross boundaries. Engaging with other disciplines is part of the process of expanding our cross-cultural communicative possibilities and understandings. Encountering psychogeography is simultaneously like greeting an old friend and discovering a stimulating, quirky, innovative and challenging new acquaintance. As Stephen Hall (p.18 2004) writes-

’(T)he most important thing a map shows, if we pause to look at it long enough, if we travel upon it widely enough, if we think about it hard enough, is all the things we still do not know.

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References

Bondi, Liz. (2005). Making connections and thinking through emotions:

between geography and psychotherapy, online papers archived by the Institute of

Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh.

Bridger, Alexander John. ‘Psychogeography, Antipsychologies and the Question of Social Change,’ pp.227-240 in Richardson, T. ed(2015)

Capstick, Andrea. ‘Rewalking the City: People with dementia remember’, pp. 221-226 in Richardson, T. ed (2015)

Fitzgerald, Des, and Rose , Nikolas (2015) ‘The Neurosocial City’ http://www.urbantransformations.ox.ac.uk/debate/the-neurosocial-city

Hall, Stephen S. ‘I, Mercator” in Harmon,K (2004)

Harmon, Katherine (2004) You Are Here: Personal geographies and other maps of the imagination. New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Laker, Laura.( 2016) ‘Will car drivers ever learn to share the road with bikes?’ Guardian Cities https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/sep/28

McGrath, Laura. (2012) ‘Heterotopias of mental health care: the role of space in experiences of distress, madness, and mental health service use’. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263964602

Osborne, T. (2015) ‘Should we look to develop a renewed vitalism of the city?’

http://www.urbantransformations.ox.ac.uk/debate/the-neurosocial-city

 Richardson, Tina, ed. (2015) Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. London: Rowman and Littlefield

Robertson R, Robertson A, Jepson R & Maxwell M (2012) Walking for depression or depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Mental Health and Physical Activity, 5 (1), pp. 66-75.

Rose, Morag. ‘Confessions of an Anarcho-Flaneuse, or Psychogeography the Mancunian Way’, pp147 -164 in Richardson T. ed (2015)

Stein, Howard F. and Neiderland, William G (1989) Maps from the Mind: Readings in Psychogeography. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/06/a-good-wander-unveils-the-wonder-of-a-city-readers-on-urban-walking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the point?

Events like food can take some digesting. The urban sketchers symposium in Manchester was exciting, tiring, disappointing, and inspirational. (More on this later).That was last week. Now I’m beginning to appreciate it in from a calmer, well-fed perspective.

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I saw a lot of very beautiful sketchbooks, each page skilfully drawn, coloured and often annotated. Part of me wants my own sketchbooks to look so perfect and impressive, but then part of me reacts against that constraint. Sketchbooks of artists’ as opposed to ‘sketchers’ have a different purpose. They are not in themselves the ‘art’ but underpin it, sometimes detailed, sometimes minimal, and often messy, explorative.

What’s the point of my sketchbooks then? I enjoyed being challenged  by Marina Grechanik who asked us ‘why are you drawing this?’ in her workshop.

Is there a story I want to tell? Something I want to point out? Or am I just drawing whatever is in front of me? Am I making a visual diary? Is each page part of a longer narrative or a self contained instant? Am I going to use the sketches in some way?

Does it have to have a point at all? Isn’t it about looking at the world from new perspectives, learning to see? Learning a new skill?

So far I can list the personal benefits of sketching. It’s absorbing, in the moment, challenging, and creative. It makes me look at my environment rather than glide through it inattentively. It can often be fun. It brings me into contact with a large and varied group of people and has been the starting point of some lovely friendships.

It provokes lots of thoughts connecting different aspects of my life – hence this blog. It challenges me to do more, in different ways, to develop and grow rather than recycle what I can already do and know – so life affirming!

But despite this impressive list, I do still come back to the ‘what’s the point?” question. The idea that urban sketching could make some contribution to the community still hovers around. I admire Len Grant’s sketches of food bank users in Manchester, for example, or Richard Johnson’s sketches and conversations with the homeless. The urban environment shapes so many lives. Looking at it critically, sketching it, can make visible  the people and things that often get ignored.

I was disappointed not to be able to get to the ‘ Loitering with Intent” exhibition at the Public History Museum  whilst in Manchester. Here are a group of people discovering the urban environment through walking together, noticing CCTV cameras, ‘no entry’ signs, the fences and obstructions that control movement in the city, demolition and construction. Finding the history as they walk and realising what has been lost and found as they go along. How fascinating to link urban sketching into this sort of project!

 

 

 

 

 

Conducting the group

 

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The large group is a particular species in group analytic terms, and personally I have shied away from it. But last weekend I was one of 850 people singing in the park in Bath, raising money for WaterAid – a completely new venture for me and definitely a sign that changing environments has a profound effect!

I’ve not done anything like this before, and I was amazed at the difference the conductor could make to the singing. We had 5 different singer/songwriters conducting their own songs so it was a good opportunity to contrast and compare. All were smiley and encouraging, but……

What is the ‘but’ ? At one stage I felt that the conductor was frustrated that we weren’t performing ‘her song’ quite as she wished, and in response I felt I didn’t like the song very much. It’s that childhood experience of encountering a teacher who is disappointed in you, and feeling that you are not good at whatever subject they are teaching. Chemistry, for example.

One conductor I felt seemed tired somewhere deep in herself, beneath the warm and nurturing surface, and I felt concerned, a little anxious, whereas there were others who seemed calm, alive and very much in dialogue with this unwieldy gang of 850. This of course may turn out to be all about me and my projections! However, as a great believer in unconscious communication, I’m not going to dismiss it, especially as it reminded me so much of group facilitating.

Calling it ‘conducting’ has gone out of fashion in some circles, but in my supervision I often find it such a helpful word. In the choir, the conductor at different moments emphasised, drew out, calmed down, provoked, encouraged the different voices so that together they created a rich and balanced sound. The parallel is clear I think! Add to that their ability to be personable – to incorporate their skills, techniques, talents with their own unique style and identity – and you have a great facilitator!

Of course, the relationship between choir member and a conductor that you meet once or twice is very different from that that develops between a therapy group member and the facilitator. Expectations, commitments, the long-term revealing and working with rational patterns – all very different, but there is some common ground, I believe. Few group facilitators are waving their arms, swaying, clapping, and pointing; but the ways in which they use their voice, body, facial expressions, the way they communicate warmth, displeasure, approval, enjoyment, frustration – these all very much part of conducting a therapy group.

My brief experience at the weekend as a group member reminded me how powerful this could be. I felt quite differently with each conductor. At best I felt open, light hearted, alive and enjoying the task. I would describe this as being contained- clear boundaries, clear signals, and challenged – let’s try that again – within a relationship that felt mutually creative. There was familiar ambiguity about control and authority. I was being told what to do by someone who I felt was fully aware that I could choose to wander off whenever I wanted. Power sharing ! However bossy I might be as a group facilitator, I know I have absolutely no power other than that given me by a fragile consensus in the group.

I started off writing about an experience that felt like new territory and have ended back on familiar ground. Being able to hold together the old and the new seems like a good way to proceed, and not only in psychotherapy.

Thinking, printing, & sketching

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Thinking is not easy, I’ve been thinking. But on my own, the thought stops there. If I search out a book about thinking, trawl the internet for relevant articles, then it might get further. But what really gets me thinking is talking about it with other people.

There have been many gains from moving house and area, but there are things I have lost that I am still trying to find again in this new setting. I miss the conversations about ideas, thinking aloud with other people that were a part of my psychotherapy world. Talking with an old friend and psychoanalytic psychotherapist who came to visit, I realised just how much I enjoyed that process of shared exploration; how we nudged each other into new pathways and expanded what it was that could be thought. And my experiences of thinking in groups were even more challenging and productive, and I remember the buzzing, fizzing energy that seemed to fill my head afterwards.

Next day I went to visit some of the nearby Open Studios nearby with some ‘new friends’, and suddenly the fizz came back! Here was the visual equivalent of thinking together in a group. We were sharing the experience of encountering some stimulating (thought provoking) art, and the interplay of our individual responses expanded what could be felt and seen. Part of the magic is that mixture of common ground – shared cultural references, for example, and unique appreciations that come from our distinct experiences and inner landscapes. The other factor, of course, was the art and the artist – the stimulus that initiated the process, itself the product of a complex interbreeding of cultural backgrounds, individual experience and imagination. Clare Bassett, step forward!

Interestingly, the other artist I was really drawn to (!) was in fact a collective, Pine Feroda, who discuss the group effect in this lovely video clip.

So as always I come back to the group. As for sketching, it goes without saying that drawing in a group has all that fizzing quality too, sharing views, vision, techniques and kit. On that note, I’m off to join up with the Bristol urban sketchers for the first time, in Bath. More to follow … meanwhile some sketches  below from another sort of group – a twitter hashtag, drawing together many and varied sketchers each month,  and at the top of the page, my first ever screen print done with at group at the Gloucestershire Printmaking  Co-operative.

No Pain, No Gain?

Personal and professional development is a big issue in the psychotherapy world. My professional organisations (BACP: UKCP: UPCA) all demand that I engage in the stuff called ‘continuing professional development’ with the personal bit assumed to be somehow incorporated or concomitant. However, having written a book on this subject I think I am on firm ground when I say the definitions of development are somewhat sloppy. Is change the same as development?

I’m thinking about this now for two main reasons. The major push comes from agreeing to write a book chapter on the subject. Out of the fog of procrastination, some embryonic thoughts are emerging. The other impetus comes from having moved from the Midlands to the South West. The change in environment and circumstance has had a big impact on me ‘personally’ – but have I ‘developed’?

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I think I have been freed up to experience what is around me in a new way. Of course it is unfamiliar and exciting, and perhaps in time it will all become taken for granted – but I don’t think so. It reminds me of holidays in beautiful places, where you get up every morning and are bowled over by the view; but now there is no going home – I live here! Unlike a holiday I now have the opportunity to appreciate a beautiful physical environment over a long period of time. Right now this is still difficult to grasp, whilst at the same time I feel I have a significant relationship with the place already.

Our relationship with place is something that I have been exploring here in the blog before. I see now that my proclamation of love for the boatyard was just a foretaste of what was to come. With this positive and very visceral relationship with the physical environment I feel that I am moving into new territory. If this had been an outcome of therapy, I’d call it a great success.

A great success but also a great challenge. The moving process itself was riddled with anxiety and shock, and despite the enormous gains there were many losses. It challenged me in all sorts of ways, and that, I am sure, has got to be a part of the process of development. It has to be more than reading the book and doing the ‘self reflection exercises’ that are now in every psychotherapy book I come across!

In just the same way my sketching is unlikely to develop without something toppling me off of the current plateau and making me struggle.

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sketchstroud3          blckbooks

It’s taken a while to get it going again after moving house, but it’s back on track – a track that will probably be ploughed up in the summer when I attend the Urban Sketchers international symposium in Manchester. Tickets sold out within 4 minutes of going online, so even the process of booking was a challenge. I’m thinking that the workshops will demand far more, shaking me free from my comfort zones but holding out the possibility of seeing more of the world than I can at present.

There is, it seems to me, no way of avoiding feeling useless, confused, upset, de-skilled, off balance –  if any new personal learning is to take place. I think this should be part of the definition!

 

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A sense of place – falling in love with a boatyard

What makes somewhere feel comfortable? Why do we feel at home in certain places, and out of sorts in others? We can fall in love with places just as well as with people, and some of the processes are the same, I think.

I’ve been thinking about this, both as part of the ‘Home’ project that  Jo Roberts and I are working on, and through reading more about psychogeography . But the major impetus comes from a recent encounter with a boat yard. I’m involved, in a small way, with the restoration of a narrowboat, and have spent a few weekends sanding, scraping and sketching near Saul Junction, on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.

This enormous old engine cheerfully guards the entrance from the car park.

This enormous old engine cheerfully guards the entrance from the car park.

There I am surrounded by boats of all sorts in various stages between construction and disintegration; rows of engines, from shiny to rusted beyond use; planks, cans, tools, ropes, gangways, drums, rags; an amazing jumble of ‘stuff ‘– in ordered piles or collapsing heaps where nettles and oil have reached a stand off. IMG_0018

This is a land of projects, overseen by an enormous crane routinely swinging a boat or an engine overhead. The most visible projects include the ‘pirate café’, rising to daring heights on the base of a river boat, with a life-size pirate at the helm and the ice cream refrigerator leading the way below decks; a former RNLI lifeboat, now being repainted in ‘rescue orange’: the restoration of various elderly narrowboats, motor cruisers, and something that looks to me like a small trawler.

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Then there are the less visible – boats shrouded in plastic, mysterious tents under which men disappear for hours, or the business of boatbuilding itself in large industrial sheds.; and all around, the routine maintenance of canal life – hull surveys, jet washing, and blacking boat bottoms . It took me a while to realise that the plastic garden chairs with sawn down legs, spattered in bitumen, were a vital part of the action!

At first sight it appears unruly, unkempt and chaotic, but no – there are men who know what is happening in every corner, who are chatting with owners, assessing damage, planning repairs, organising, advising, bantering. They are the business, these men who know about engines, gearboxes, welding, tools, boats – craftsmen and experts in their trade.

It is another country, but one that I have visited in the past. There are no iPads or laptops, very few mobile phones, no shops, cafes, restaurants, or retail outlets. There is nothing to do but get on with the project, joke about others’, watch the passing traffic on the canal or admire the resident dog as it climbs ladders that it can’t get down. There is a great sense of relief to leave behind 2015 and the world of David Cameron et al.

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There is a degree of shouting and swearing, mainly at the apprentice, but it feels ritual rather than aggressive. Most of the time the conversations are about engines, boats, boaters and sport. The swearing might be toned down in deference to the presence of any ‘ladies’, but this too feels familiar – the stuff of my childhood, ‘normal’ and unthreatening, where men held doors open for women who accepted it as their due.

The more I thought about, the more I realised that how much this other country echoed my past. I was fortunate in that the ‘menfolk’ of my childhood were in my eyes protective rather than persecutory or aggressive; the fixers, the craftsmen, the main wage earners,the respectable working class. It was only later that another, less benign side of all this became clear. I suspect another side would probably emerge in the boatyard too, if I spent more than a brief time there! But for now I love it!

I’ve written before about ‘resonance’ in our relationships – that very complex process whereby we recognise, or think we do, unspoken affinities or aversions; a map, only partly conscious, that guides our choices of who we stand next to at a function, who we avoid on the bus, who we want to spend time with, or who we fall in love with. The map is constructed through time from the experiences and materials of our personal and physical environments; we recognise familiar scenes and scents in some deep recess of our being way before we come to understand our responses.

Just as there is always more to discover in our relationships to people, our reactions to places can teach us a thing or two as well!