I leave city centre Leeds and walk west to Rodley where I am to stay with storyteller Peter Findlay. The walk is straight forward though not accomplished until I have spent the entire morning in a mobile phone and other gadgets fix it place trying to get a new battery for my phone. I have bought a second hand phone which also has a dead battery. The proprietor lets me charge it up in his shop while he tries, in vain as it turns out, to order in a new spare battery for either of my phones.
I write my blog standing at the glass counter, my feet aching; the slightly panicky feeling I have as residue from yesterday gradually subsiding as I become more and more a fixture in the shop, acclimatize to my strange surroundings, and start to take notice of the situation. I haven’t been anywhere remotely similar since my time in NE Brazil! We many of us have been abroad and experienced unusual things, accepted them as part of the local colour yet not really part of our own reality, and now I find that what I saw as almost romantically different in South America is actual stark reality right here, in the NE of my own country!
From the pretty young girl behind the till in the separate payment booth, to the posse of young men, hardly out of boyhood, ineffectually standing around taking up space, making the proprietor, a dynamic, charismatic man in his early 40s, king of the space, as he deals with every customer himself, occasionally barking an order to one of them to find him a piece of equipment, or to go out and buy him, or them, some food (several times). This is standard NE Brazilian set up for this type of shop. One wonders how they are able to cover the wages bill each week, especially as there, as here, employees spend most of their time asking for a sub.
Of customers there are many; all with the sorts of requests that you would have expected the mobile companies to deal with; they are all on contracts. From my own experience I begin to get a sense of what a malignant phenomena these companies are. They keep attractive well lit stores and bright young sales staff for the sole purpose of getting you to sign up to 18-24 months of debt. Try and get any service from them and you soon find that they are not there for that! I am very grateful my contract is monthly only – I will not be using their services once this project is over.
I finally leave Leeds centre after lunch; I have had a brief foray into the city and admired its old buildings, and its provision for healthy eaters, and its wonderful restored old market hall, splendid with its high roof and decorative panels, vibrant in its sellers and full of shoppers buying this and that from this stall and that; real shopping, not the addicted sort we have become accustomed to with the coming of the American supermarket and mall concepts. I read that though this hall was built in the 1800s for the people of Leeds, it had fallen into disuse and only returned to its former glory some 15 years ago.
To get to Rodley I follow the river Aire to where it meets the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Public right of way is marked on the tourist map I have been given. Public right of way is not complete; it is broken up by a patch that is private to a group of newish looking houses. Again and again I am aghast at the sheer sense of right people think they have to throw money at natural landscape and make it theirs and theirs alone to enjoy. It feels to me as though this type of behaviour is a crime against humanity; the sickness of greed. The arrogance that money brings with it; a sense of value that in no way correlates to real worth, considering real energy is not present, many have not worked its equivalence, but inherited it, borrowed it, or earned more for their hour of time than others.
Finally I find my way into the canal tow path but then almost immediately it splits into two and as I stand dithering I meet the next character in my long list of unexpected guides. He wears glasses that are held together most ingeniously and quite quirkily with assorted bits of copper wire, and carries an assortment of bags. He tells me the way; he has fished most of this stretch. He says he will walk with me a way until it is time for him to turn off. I learn that he is part of the local conservation group and often walks this way trimming back brambles from the path and picking up the litter people have dropped. He tells me they try and get the local youth interested in fishing but they just tear branches from the trees and throw them in the water. He is disillusioned by their behaviour; his love of the natural world shines through. I think of the boys I ran Transition Tales sessions with in Totnes who had to playact doom and gloom before they were ready to see a transition future, and wonder what these youths need to play out, what scenes from their lives need processing, before they will be able to engage with the world around them in a healthy way and gain nourishment from the natural world.
My guide leaves me after a mile or so, and to my surprise, doesn’t go off down the path that leads away from the canal but goes back the way we have come; this is not the first time a guide has gone out of his way to walk and talk with me. It is heartening to know that not everyone has bought into the stressful world of rush- rush- rush on to the next task, for fear that if I stop I might realise my life is in vain and I’ll have to take a good hard look at myself.
I walk on; plenty of time for me to reflect, I find I am owing myself some time to simply relax; I have had no day off since Cambridge.
The path to Rodley is simple to follow and there is plenty of time to survey the landscape. It leaves me sad. I cannot explain why the northern lands leave me cold; there are plenty of trees, now in full leaf, lining the canal but I am not moved by them as I am in the south. There is a dense closed off feeling, and they make the place dark.
I arrive at the Barge Inn at 6pm greatly relieved to get off the path and Peter comes out to meet me. I am delighted to discover that he and wife Leah live on a barge! It is a wide comfortable Dutch barge. Leah explains how the English invented this system of travel but that it was the Dutch that perfected it, widening the narrow boats, actually to such an extent that they barely fit through English canals in the narrower places.
I have passed many barges on my journey and hoped for more of an experience of one, and now I am to sleep aboard one!
Both Peter and Leah are full of stories about all kinds of things; they are a fascinating young couple, he a storyteller by profession and she an interfaith minister and Steiner kindergarten teacher. Find out more about them here http://www.hotpotatostories.co.uk/index.htm .
Peter studied at Dartington where his amazing impro storytelling was a little more than their criteria knew how to categorise but the schools he works with have no such difficulties. I am thrilled at the realisation that this is the type of storyteller who may well be able to tell the story back to Quest participants and hope to be able to work with him on this at some point. I am beginning to find my way around the nuances of the modern storyteller; from the tightly scripted learnt formula performances at one end of the spectrum to the totally in the present moment, being with the audience teller that creates as s/he goes. I still don’t know where my storytelling fits though; it feels as though my stories are in the making, growing as the tale of how we transition unfolds…
Leah and Peter tell me about living in Hebden Bridge, where they moored their boat before coming to Leeds. It is a little haven of alternative thinkers in many ways, and sound quite idyllic. Things are never quite so straight forward though, are they? The terrifying shadow of Hebden Bridge is underage drinking. Boats are moored at Hebden by the park. It is to this park that the young drinkers go, Leah and Peter could hear them howling till 4 in the morning; quite a frightening thought. I recall the primary school children in the pretty Cambridgeshire village talking about going to the pub as entertainment, and think of the fear ridden world we are gifting our children with and am deeply saddened that we have been so little aware that we have told our children our fears, worse, projected them onto the children, and then scapegoated them when they behave anti-socially out of terror and desperation for the world they are to inherit.
We have told them of the things that don’t work as if we somehow expect them to solve all the problems. What kind of immature attitude have we taken? One cannot lead where one hasn’t trodden; it is for us to lead the way out of the disastrous consequences we have created with our unconscious greed.
I am fascinated to hear a little of life from the perspective of people in their twenties. Peter explains that he and Leah live in a seemingly very ecological way; they do this, however, out of necessity; they cannot afford to buy a house. Even their choice to buy a more affordable home, their barge, has been fraught with difficulties; boat owners have difficulty in finding long term moorings, and are constantly being moved on by local councils, meaning they cannot get permanent work. Over and over I begin question a society where not everyone can have access to a home and land of their own. It is inhuman that we decide who lives in a good house by how much money they have in the bank; that it is those same people who have money in the bank who will be able to afford to fit solar panels and PV to their roofs, perpetuating the state of inequality on into the future.
I talk about my choice to rent; it seems to keep money, and therefore energy, flowing in the system. It is a difficult choice to make in England. Landlords are no respecters of human rights; believing that they are somehow superior beings as they own property. It is different in Holland, Leah tells me. There it is better to rent than to own. Being a landlord is seen as a job like any other, and not a way of making easy money. In Holland landlords take pride in ensuring they provide the best possible service to their clients.
I recall the three terrible creatures I overheard in a pub outside Matlock. They were all women of about my age; one soured in face and utterance by childhood experience, another grossly overweight and tucking into a huge meal, a third with a teenage daughter trying hard to choose her own diet in the face of incomprehension from her elders; all grossly made up and dressed to almost pantomime caricature. The three had in common their stories of how they were getting one over on both the rules in place for landlords which they were flouting, and the tenants themselves, not giving out contracts, justified by taking in folk with no credit rating and therefore obviously untrustworthy. They have in common charging high enough rents to cover any default of payment and delight in getting money for doing nothing.
They laughed and laughed about their situations, from within their world they were normal English people; from my perspective a symptom of the unhealthy system in which we live.
On a more positive note Leah talks about the three generations of women within her family, and how she sees it as representative of societal trends in relationship. Her mother got married and stayed married because that is what women did. Her much older sisters, my age, had tried marriage and divorced, and Leah herself had chosen marriage as the right thing for her having found a partner with whom she could live as an equal. This a nice story; I hope that it is a trend ; it would be good to think that the mistakes and trials of my generation might be paying off and that even if many still struggle to find the right mate, perhaps it is paving the way for the next generation.
A final feel-good story from Canal Boat Heaven; that of the local CofE church in nearby Farsley. The vicar, who rides his motorbike when he can’t fill his car seats up with people, allows all faith groups to use the church; there has been a Zen garden service, and Leah and Peter have led an interfaith service. The congregation are vibrant and community orientated and have regular shared meals together. Now how about that for a success story in the honouring of diversity!