Wednesday, 28 April 2010
John's Journal: day one
Today I was enjoying the first day in my new job: working in a community based art project, called 'Encounters,' based in a shop building in Dewsbury West Yorkshire. Here you can see me enjoying the gigantic blackboard with the weekly opinions of people in Dewsbury scrawled on it.
The night before, I had set my alarm for precisely 8:39am, giving myself an extra nine minutes in bed. However I ended up waking much earlier and spent that time restlessly trying to get back to sleep. I acceded defeat around half eight, had a shower, made sure my hair and face were neat and tidy as I could get, then dressed in the clothes I'd prepared carefully the night before- the old man tweedy brown jacket, the navy blue v-neck jumper, blue tshirt, grey skinny jeans and converse all stars. Also a teacherly pen in jacket pocket.
The early morning was intensely gloomy, like a heavy and extensive grey spillage of rice pudding.
Though I was to be down at the shop at half nine, by nine I was already chomping at the bit, so I grabbed my satchel and headed for town. I was almost there when shockingly on the other side of the street, I spotted my old boss, the tyrannical 'Tas.' I haven't seen her with her trademark red jumper (making her look like a killer tomatoe) in a long time.She was a dodgy kettle of fish, a stalin-like del boy. She's caused me and alot of other people a whole host of problems.
But happily I arrived outside the 'Encounters' shop at quarter past nine- so I had time to think calm thoughts before starting a momentous day of work.
I had volunteered in the shop on one or two occasions, and had come across all sorts: long lost Canadians sampling native pasties as well as Yorkshire relatives, general rough diamonds, kindly souls and cynical crones.
Today however, as a newly self-employed chip off the block I can have a few days paid work over May into June-thats great because I need a few pennies.
The first task of the day that the nicest boss in the world, Ruth, sent me out to do, was to head into town for an hour with a chalk board, camera and clip board, to try to get members of the public to participate in a photography activity. It was very simple, so I thought. 'Joe prole' was to take photos of things listed on the clipboard list, then write down your age and name. Most likely a fairly diverting and enjoyable activity.
Last time I tried this task, as a volunteer, I had fifty and sixty year old regulars at 'Val's Cafe' jumping and taking photos, laughing so much their makeup ran, making a valiant effort to take the photos, even though their long laquered nails and cigarettes in hand somewhat encumbered procedures.
This time I set up outside 'Tony's Textiles' with chalkboard announcing my purpose, smiling and looking personable. Streams of the elderly, with freshly minted tight perms, comfy shoes and carrier bags were rushing to and fro from market to charity shops, faces set in grim determination. These acolytes hardly stopped to look at the innocuous youth with the camera. Anyone I approached would determinidely shake their jowls in the negative, with a definite 'no.' Young peroxide mums would offer withering stares and further 'nos,' for my collection.
I was standing there feeling increasingly desperate, as hordes of chattering pensioners in cardigans and beige slacks made their unstoppable endless march to the market, for tripe, cut price bingo pens, bric a brac and leisurely snacks.
However, one noble youngish man stopped to notice my chalkboard sign. I showed him the camera, explained it's functions and the task at hand, and soon he was admirably taking photos of items on the list.
For 'growing things,' he carefully chose a cluster of minature daffodils in a flowerbed in the vicinity. For 'someone jumping,' I had to repeatedly jump into the air like a maniac, until he managed to cadge a snap.
After that things went from downhill to strange. I managed to stop to talk to a thin man in black wide brimmed hat surrounded by metal discs, long coat, black leather gloves and heraldic tie. When explaining to him the photography task, I noticed he looked dead behind his tiny button eyed non-face. His 1980s specs were hiding his true self. His only words as he drifted away were 'I'm already a photographer, I'm not from here, I'm South African.' He strode off to the market with cyberman precision, like Clint Eastwood on a mission.
By half eleven I lost my faith in humanity and stumbled back to the 'Encounters' shop. Waheeda, a woman also working the same day was outside the shop encouraging folk to plant sunflower seeds, and write down their hopes. She had a similar verdict- a rushing public intent on market day retail. I took over her role, and was pleasantly suprised to recognise the man who I purchase my return tickets to Leeds from, at Dewsbury train station. He happily planted a seed, then went on his merry way. As well as that, I managed to gain a customer to purchase one of my tshirts for his grandson.
The town crier briefly made an appearance, a jolly man in pristine knee high white socks, buckled shoes, tricorn hat and regal blue, maroon and gold cape. He declared he was entering an international competition for town criers. We said he was the best and was sure to win. After he left, we'd registered sixty people in the shop.
Later on, I was diverted by a pleasant Ayrshire woman with a nostalgic hairdo and lipstick. She believed Yorkshire was her spiritual home and enjoyed the beauty, humour and down to earth qualities of God's own county. She stayed a good long time and tried many activities. Apart from the stepping stones, which flummox everyone. Sadly, whilst talking to her, the pretty girls with possibly music cases and elbow patches entered the shop, and Waheeda got talking to them instead. Foiled again!
The day was almost over just after four in the afternoon,I left the shop with not so much as a cafe latte.