It’s funny when I sit working in the Phoenix Cultural Centre. I’m near the front so people can come in from the Job Centre for advice or passers by can find out what is on or where to go for help but it’s quiet and peaceful in the day when there is no course or training on. Sometimes you’re working and people hurry past, sometimes slow pushing pushchairs or wheelchairs. One man speeds past on his mobility scooter, I think he has modified it. He used to come in for classes, he had no legs and would jump in and out of his chair like a cowboy on and off a horse. When he left we pushed the door as far as it would go, he would put his headphones on and turn his mp3 player up to full volume and speed out the door taking the corner like Lewis Hamilton. He was like Road Runner on that thing.
Other times, people who have been with us before know we are here and go past waving or saying hello poking their head through the door with their news, they sometimes stop but they have moved on and have places to go. That is what we want, but they know they are welcome and we are always interested to hear how life is going for them. It’s not always a smooth journey whatever path they are following but it is theirs. Sometimes they come in all brave and smiley and then burst into tears. What can you do but listen? Sometimes, we all just want our Mums. It’s the same feeling no matter how old we are or how far away they are or, sadly, how dead they are.
People who don’t know us wonder what we are, is it a furniture shop? a charity shop? What exactly are you? It’s just a little venue where everyone is welcome that is all. If you believe in alchemy if you believe in magic then that is what happens. If pure science is your thing the sound made by the music inside makes a resonant vibration with your body and mind and lifts you. You produce endorphins and oxytocin from being surrounded by encouragement and human contact and the live music hasn’t been digitally compressed so the effect is magnified on people especially where there are more to share the experience. Either way. Magic happens. Science was called magic once by the people who thought they owned logic and burnt scientists at the stake as witches. Let’s not build anymore pyres to sacrifice people just trying to make life better for others.
The winter has the heater on and a blanket over my knees. The summer the door is open and the music goes out on to the street, sometimes it’s Northern Soul, sometimes relaxing, often a local band’s CD. Into the Mire by Cardboard Carousel has featured a lot. People going past sniff the air as the incense smoke snakes out. Sometimes they have gone past before they realise and stop puzzled and look back. You don’t mean to watch them. People don’t realise how endearing they are, in the silence of their everyday journey they wouldn’t remark or think they are being fabulous and human and vulnerable and strong just by walking to work, or town. They go past in pairs laughing, walking their dogs, with their headphones on, brows furrowed, on the phone talking about what to have for dinner. All of the stuff we all do but to be accidentally their audience, the humanity that shines out in the everyday makes it essential box set back to back viewing.
Nothing more than when parents go past with their children from babies to teenagers. Toddlers and Primary School skipping ahead older ones being lectured. Lean down and do up a coat in the cold, wipe a tear or pick up a fallen child. A man just did that and when I watched him put his shopping bags down to do his sons coat up in the bitter wind I realised I knew him from years ago. He used to bring his wife and baby to my English classes, they’d missed the enrolment and the creche was full. He was insistent, I explained I had no spaces in English classes but would fit his wife in anyway somehow but couldn’t fit the baby in the Creche because we weren’t allowed to have too many children to staff because of safety. Every week he walked with the buggy and his wife to classes and asked for a Creche space and while we didn’t have one I had to say no. In my head I was dismissive, the baby was fretful and I thought he was just not wanting to be in sole charge of the baby. I assigned him every stereotype of a man. I was wrong.
He was in pain, he didn’t get any sleep because he was helping his wife with the fretful child. His eyes were desperate and he needed help, what he had fled from abroad had crippled him with memories and pain. We couldn’t find a space but if, when they arrived the baby was asleep we could let him stay with his mother in the class. Soon a space became free. I learnt a lesson that day. Since then I had seen them at various points over the years as baby one grew and two came along and then three and realised what a kind and patient man he was, but it had been a while.
Today, he stopped and put his shopping bags down. He fussed at his sons coat, a big boy now, not quite grown but grown enough to think that coats and parents and fussing just gets in the way of fun stuff all brought up as a little British kid thankfully so far away from what his Dad suffered. But he stood there patiently while his Dad did it and put up with him tucking his hair tenderly under his hood before picking up his bags and moving on. That was the point at which I realised I knew him and the point at which I felt the instinct to open the door and say to the boy ‘ I hope one day you know what a brilliant Dad you have and how lucky you are’. Obviously I didn’t, I might be a sentimental weirdo but I know the line where friendliness ends and injunctions begin.