Tuesday, 7 September 2010

An isolationist stance

I'm currently making myself a sort of mixed vegetable platter for tea. This must be what the French call an assiette de legumes. It's the only thing you ever get offered as a vegetarian in Paris. Well, that and omelettes. I always opt for the latter, and then spend my meal searching for the inevitable specks of ham that they've slipped in, with vitriol. Whilst steaming a pan of peas, carrots and sweet corn, I'm also boiling an egg for the Tyndarids. Rats go crazy for boiled eggs, and as I'm insisting that our boys grow up vegetarian, we need to give them a good dose of protein every so often, so their coats stay nice and shiny...

There was a mortifying incident in Costa today when the girl behind the counter asked if I wanted to redeem some of the points I've collected. I said I didn’t. She looked at me rather curiously, “are all these points just from cups of tea?” she asked. “Yes” I replied. “Well, there's rather a lot of them. How many cups of tea do you drink?” I immediately blushed, which made her blush. I couldn't think of anything to say, so there was an awkward silence, whilst I pretended to laugh because I didn't know if she was joking. It was at that point I wondered quite how much money I'd wasted in that cafe. How many cups of tea is "rather a lot?" and at £1.65 a pop, how much money does this amount to? Now that I'm signing on, should I be staying at home and drinking Tesco's own brand?

I've been reading Ian Clayton’s book, Our Billie. Ian interviewed me a month ago about A Symphony For Yorkshire and I was extremely impressed with his outlook on life. His book is about the death, by drowning, of his 9-year old daughter and it’s deeply harrowing, but somehow incredibly uplifting. It's really a book about love. He writes a great deal about community. He comes from a Yorkshire town where people truly look out for one another.

His book has made me think a great deal about my own views on community. The work I do is very much centred on groups of people sharing a commonality of some sort. I'm often described, or perversely accused of having a slightly rose-coloured view about life, specifically communities. Supporters would call it a sense of magic, critics, a tragic optimism.

I look back at my childhood in Northamptonshire and realise I never really felt a sense of belonging to the town in which I grew up. It wasn’t easy. My Dad was a local teacher, I was a vegetarian, my mother was a hippy and my brother was a "boffin." This was apparently enough of a communal crime for us to merit regular bricks through our windows. As an eight-year old boy, I fell off my roller skates at the end of my street and was immediately surrounded by a ring of teenagers who took it in turns to spit at me. It was character building incidents like this that understandably made me withdraw somewhat from my surroundings. I started looking down at the people around me. They'd rejected me, so I'd reject them. I was often accused at school as having a "isolationist stance" but I didn't care because my community was 15 miles down the A45 at the music school in Northampton; which was a community, if you like, of outsiders just like me.

As a result of all of this, I've often doubted that a community can exist purely on the strength of environment. I often struggle with shows like Eastenders. Why do these characters only hang out with those who live in their neighbourhood? What do they actually have in common? Why would anyone want to drink in a local pub?! But then, reading Ian’s book, reminds me that this life does exist in a world beyond my television set. Neighbours genuinely care for one another in many towns across the country, including the place where my parents now live. It's just something I've never been a part of in my London-based bubble, and the reason why I was so excited to meet some of my neighbours a few weeks ago, and ironically why I've dedicated my life to making films about communities!

The 7th September 1660, and Pepys wrote one of his shortest ever diary entries, on account of his having stayed in all day, there being nothing to do the in the office. He was rather pleased, as the day off gave him the chance to start the process of going through his books and tidying things in his house. Pepys informs us at the end of the entry that it was on this day that Montagu set sail for Holland from the Downs.

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