Richard White

explorations in place and time

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Year of walking early observations

I am about half way through this year of walking, essentially a series of monthly recces for future projects and walking though of ideas. This is what I have learned and what I have observed:

  • An informal collaborative social network approach seems to work….list of 20 walkers to date
  • Social media is no replacement for old style participatory arts development…need to take this further and bring in wider networks
  • Walking tours are popular..making the transition to something collaborative is a challenge, people expect to be led on walking tour
  • Story/narrative is vital , a clear storyline reinforces the narrative structure of the walk itself and thus gives a walk coherence. Cf HonouringEsther
  • Sound, both oral testimony and other voices and music help generate depth and engagement for walkers and online
  • Walking and social media is not something many feel comfortable with…I can walk and type only twisted my ankle once.
  • Live online active participation is rare but the number of people engaged especially in the almost live facebook updates is considerable acrtoss a range of projects
  • Length of walk, in time, as well as time to build relationships amongst wlakers on foot, enables an audience and audience online participation to build
  • Length of walk in distance builds respect, those meeting walkers or following online recognise that an effort has been made
  • Staged, themed stopping points for talk/ drawing/ capture of sound and images/gathering thoughts produce timed clustering of live postings, the audience knows when to check in, walkers, especially those new to social media feel some sense of solidarity.

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Going down the river

First steps today exploring a bigger project developing the work on Bath’s Last Legal Slaveowners and getting into larger legacy of slavery.Bath start

Those boats did not set off to West Africa empty. They carried goods some of which must have been made and transported down the River Avon to Bristol. River energy used in the manufacturing process as well as its flow harnessed for transportation.

Brass. Brass goods. Cloth. What else?

What else went down river to Bristol and on to West Africa to be traded for human beings?
Saltford lock1
Thinking of the people who worked in those mills in the cold wet banging deafening stone built brass mills where the water turned hammers beating the metal into bowls, incessant trundling of stone rollers, roar of the furnace  and in the cloth mill the nimble fingered children and women on the clattering looms. This was a valley of working noise and smoke.

The coal mines are long gone, the scars in the hillside landscaped away. The mills survive as street or house names romantically converted. Mill owners long gone to big houses or next speculation bankruptcy. Salford Brass Mill water wheel occasionally turns as evidence of work once. The product of the labour less well documented.

Twerton Mills bridgeIs my history all messed up or could it be that the products made by the sweat and labour of Wiltshire and Somerset men and women was used to trade for their enslaved brother and sisters along the coast of Africa. What kind of legacy does that give us?

Bath River alley

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River Crouch Festival Walk day 2

Waking up to the river, a great expanse of wet grey and small boats. Tonight as the dark gathers round the pool of lights on the timber ship up the river I am reflecting on this day in the distance a line of orange street lights. Southend.

Today we crossed the river for the first time. A walking day but not extreme either in distance or weather. Summer grey clouds and a wind that drove the spattering of rain dried us off just as quick. Two  flags fluttering in the wind driven by the motion of the boat: we returned with three. This was Burnham’s day the Mayor turned out to greet us and children from the local primary school came to launch their paper boats and hand to us a box of memories for safe keeping across the river.
Burnham brief the mayor
A good gathering of potential walkers greeted us at the quay the result of some good networking with U3A and slowly the school children and parents gathered out side the yacht club. Why Corinthian…?the tweeted question was never answered…maybe Burnham is  twinned with Greece..could be an empathetic link. The Burnham community flag was unfurled and local artist Alan invited us to get into position to see the paper boat launch.

Burnham outside RCYC2The school did not have a twin across the river, only some land, Wallasea.  About to become the largest bird reserve in Europe, so the mayor told us but perhaps this lack of a structured connection with people across the river was a mistake.
Burnham paper boat launch2
Excited school children all tagged and risk assessed walked onto the pontoon and in the distance we saw their creations open up to flat paper and flow away on the fast falling tide out to see. Proud parents looked on. I was given a decorated shoe box of casts of interesting and strange things found on the northern river shore, the memory box, to care for and carry across the river. Great concept but I am not sure the children understood it, the idea of a biodegradable time capsule was perhaps a bit too conceptual.  I loved it but did not feel that I was carrying something precious to them or to Burnham. The full story did not seem to have been told but the flags photos and Facebook begin to fill the gaps.
Burnham memory box
Across the river with the memory box and two flags on the Burnham Ferry, we walked the sea walls.

Burnham ferry1First to the west through old shipyards and over looking timber yards,  a ship unloading and the air rich with the smell of creosote. We walked and talked and the dynamic resumed. A returning walker and child from yesterday carrying the banners and the U3A walkers hoping to do a bit of bird spotting but game for discovering ghost crossings  and the Great Festival Walk!
Wallasea walk3

Creeksea ferry pub3
At last we came to the RSPB reserve and the landscaped under London mud from cross rail, here the Wallasea flag was exchanged for the memory box. Wallasea memory box handover

The box will be buried and GPS tagged so that in a virtual world it will always exist even if the box and its contents return to the soil. One wonders if anything will be left in this world, in the actual memories of the children of the workshop and the specific object they found and cast.

Walking back we saw the last flight of a Vulcan bomber and I remembered a bored school day brought to life when one such flying triangle roared hedge height my long distance stare out of the classroom window. A Hurricane flew over sounding like a flying bentley, it barrel rolled over my head . I shouted and clapped. Walking and talking again, diving stories, home made wet suits, Portland Harbour, Clarks shoes and sandwiches for parliament. Visiting the Taj Mahal. Love.
Creeksea ferry lane 2
The walk brings it out and connects. Bitterness and missed opportunities fall into place, fall into perspective. We move on.