There is nothing like arriving at a place by water, except perhaps arriving in a place on foot. The slowness, the naturalness, they lend themselves to a gradual knowing of a place that is all to do with how a settlement fits into its landscape. It is clear from this how geography, sense of place, has always been the first determiner when creating a home.
Southampton is no exception. Nestling in the point at which the estuary best affords good harbour, part of its ancient town walls can still be seen. I have crossed from Hythe on the ferry. Hythe boasts the seventh longest pier in Britain, you can walk along it, for 15 minutes according to the signs, or you can catch the little train that has been running along it since 1922. It is the oldest of its kind and seems to be pulled by a system of pulleys. I walk along the pier, enjoying stopping to look around and reading the signs that give bits of local history at regular intervals. I am passed by a group of young boys on their bikes who remind me of the pack instinct of young male animals, and a pair of older boys on their rollerblades. In turn I pass by an elderly gentleman strolling along.
I am informed of the joyful occasion of the Kaiser coming to in to visit along this very pier, just a few short years before he became enemy and the war started. We have forgotten, it seems, in our cosy world of oil dependence, how nothing remains static, that every situation is whole within itself, and needs to be met with total presence and awareness. The grounding of the aeroplanes is a good example of how much we have come to rely upon something, to take it for granted as our right, and now it has been taken from us.
Later on I am told that the sunny still weather that is perfect walking weather is the reason the ash cloud is not shifting. Well, I cannot say that I am too sad about that! I am delighted on arrival to look at the headlines and read a paper, The Times is what I manage to get hold of in the cafe, (it was that, or the Daily Mail!) and see that planes will not be flying for a while and that the last time this particular volcano and its neighbour erupted it lasted for two years. Nature, it seems, can look after herself very well.
I visit the Wool House, now the Maritime Museum. I learn that this is where the wool, the trade of which I have been tracking all the way from Devon, Dorset and through the New Forest , was stored (ever since the 14th Century) before being taken across the water to Venice and Genoa. How sad that we now buy synthetic oil based fabrics cheaply from far away places.
I go round the Titantic exhibition. I learn that more than a 1000 people lost their lives, mostly from steerage (or 3rd class) and crew, and that practically every family in Southampton lost someone. The whole town was in grieving, and funds had to be set up to pay for the children whose father had been lost to have an education.
I am struck by how the character of a town must be deeply changed by such an event, of course that was in 1912, to be quickly followed by two world wars. I wonder how much loss is deeply hidden under the layers of consumerism rife in our society of today; lots of layers of comfort to soften the unexpressed pain.
I arrive at the town gates. I have already read that Southampton is known as the Gateway to the World. It is no different now, ferries take you high speed across the waters to the Isle of Wight, and large cruisers and container ships come and go, their size quite mind blowing when you get up close. There is a feel of anticipation in the air, and a little I fear, I think, of the enormity of the waters out there.
The town gates are now in the centre of the city centre shopping street. There is a Lush outlet beside them and I go in to better understand what Sophie and Andy of East Lulworth were talking about. I am struck by young enthusiastic young people who clearly love what they sell, and are knowledgeable too. A far cry from the usual unhappy souls you meet in Primark stores! I come out with a bar of shampoo (yes a bar, that means no artificial preservatives are needed) made from nettles and rosemary, essential oils and little else, and which doubles up as soap and for clothes washing, and a cocoa butter and lavender oil massage bar for my feet. I have the toiletries I need for my journey for the next 80 days!
I stay with a friend and we go for dessert at her local Greek restaurant. It is the first time I have spent any real time around non-transitioners on this journey and I am struck by how different they can be to be around. They do not see the Southampton I have already fallen in love with on this clear sunny day, felt its pain, its achievement, its long endurance, and its beauty. They lament the neighbourhood’s fall into the hands of a local mafia, the multi landowners, the loss of local shops for outlet after outlet of fast food. The South African Greek owner talks about doing his big shop in Asda’s, and sees GM food as the only answer. To this depth of despair he has fallen. I am saddened, these people do not want to believe in the power of positive thinking, they have become trapped in a cycle of believing it is all too late, and will argue for it almost as though their right to be right is more important than a positive outcome.
The only other customers talk of local food. They can see it on the rise and see it as a good thing. They are Air Traffic Controllers and are on holiday right now, and expect to be working as normal by Wednesday. Unlikely.
They see the paradox of their jobs. They think we should fly less and yet it is the source of their good income which means they can afford to eat out. The man remembers his childhood and how his mother would make Sunday Roast and then the meals for the rest of the week would come from that, cold sliced meat, then cottage pie, and how the veg came weekly in a cardboard box. I realise we are really not so far from knowing how to live well and in harmony. It really isn’t too late, the only thing in our way is the barrier many people have put up to cushion their pain, through anger; denial; hopelessness.
The Air Traffic controllers think we will soon be in trouble with supplies by aircraft stopped. I remind him that contrary to common belief 95% of all our supplies still come by ship. They look relieved.
I leave the restaurant early, more saddened by the poor communication than the topics discussed. Like the Mad Hatters Tea Party, like Pinter’s painfully accurate play the Caretaker, the protagonists are not really listening to one another, but are battling it out over the rights and wrongs of GM crops, skipping from one point to the next willy nilly, with no consideration for the other’s point, nor gentle questioning to what led the person to their beliefs.
I am struck by the difference it makes to feel empowered and trusting of the world we live in, and to feel disempowered and out of control, desperately clinging to strong beliefs to stem the flow of pain that would surely follow, and flow through if they could but let it in.
We do so much each of us, I feel, live in a world of our own creation.