Yesterday we arrived in Birmingham. We’ve done roughly 169 miles/272 kilometres since we left Moss Side. Since last writing from Derby we’ve covered around 75 miles and we’ve walked through Kegworth, Loughborough, Leciester, Orton on the Hill, Polesworth, Tamworth and Sutton Coldfield. A lot has happened along the way.
Some people, places and incidents have stood out in my mind as important.
The first was the day after Derby whilst looking for a campsite. Walked past a small Traveller camp and thought they might be able to help us. My experience of the Traveller community is that I’ve taught two Traveller children and I’ve watched ’My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’; so it’s limited to say the least! I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’ll admit I was a bit scared so I’ve obviously got some subconscious prejudices. The camp was made up of 3 caravans just below a major roundabout and the caravans were surrounded by grass verges and a small field where 3 ponies were grazing. I didn’t even get to knock on the caravan door, the door was already opened as we approached with a couple in their thirties with big (toothless!) smiles beaming ’Hello!` I told them what we were after and they directed us to what has been one of our best free camping spots. They were open, warm and very chatty. In this instance definitely not the picture that gets painted in the press.
The second instance was I had a mini ´strop´ as we’d say in England. Mikael had told me this would be a hard two months- this isn’t my life normally- I’m usually to be found in a classroom or an office- but I just thought ´Walking and meeting people- how hard can it be?’ Well wrong again, this life is exhausting. We´re up at 6am, walking long distances and then just as I´m hoping to set up camp and collapse in an exhausted heap someone very interesting turns up and the other work- filming- starts. Mikael is of course completely used to this and walks and walks endlessly. It seems like a 24 hour job where you never get to switch off. Fascinating but exhausting. Anyway it was all getting a little bit too much for me by the time we arrived in Loughborough, I was exhausted, thirsty, and hungry (I hate being hungry) and so I had a strop. What I felt like doing just after someone nearly ran me over and yelled at me from the car window was throwing my rucksack on the pavement, tipping the contents out and kicking them across the road. What I actually did in my slightly repressed English way was walk in silence on my own for half an hour. That was 50 miles and about 6 days walking ago so I´m pleased to say I´m getting a bit better about saying when I need to take rests and saying when I´m not ok – and not conforming quite so much to the English ideal of ´stiff upper lip- don´t complain, just get on with it.´
Then there was the visit to the Gudwara in Leicester. This has been without doubt the highlight of the expedition so far for me- it was a beautiful place as well as being extremely welcoming. We interviewed two young Sikh men who were full of a gentle self confidence and pride for their religion and culture. They found the question of how they were integrating their culture and religion into contemporary England as a bit confusing and redundant. They weren´t sure how to answer- they just did it naturally. We had a tour of the temple and then were invited to eat a very delicious Thali and tea – I loved this- in a Princess Diana mug. We found this Gudwara as it was recommended to us by two girls working in a shop nearby. The girls had been really intrigued by our packs and the pram, they were charismatic and friendly with lots of great questions but once again as soon as the camera turned on they virtually ran away.
Finally there was the Reverend at the Abbey in Polesworth. For those of you who haven´t been there is a stunning Vicarage and abbey at this historic (people are very proud of this- we got given several history lessons from various people!) town. The Reverend was welcoming and allowed us to camp in the vicarage garden. What struck me about this person was his warmth- we were complete strangers to him but he had that love for fellow humans that some people of faith just seem to have. It reminded me of the young Sikhs in Leceister a little bit actually. I think it´s a lack of fear that comes with a healthy confidence in your faith.
Throughout all of this people and places and miles though there is a fact I can´t escape. Over the 169 miles out of all the men asked if they would be interviewed on camera one man has said no. Out of all the women asked only 3 have said yes. It does not matter what age or background women living in England are from there is an undeniable fact that women are relunctant to be filmed. Me included. I would much rather be behind the camera than infront of it. I asked one of the three women interviewed why she thought this was. Were we afraid? Were we unopinionated? Were we being controlled in some way? She said she felt English women were very opinionated and certainly not controlled but just very ’camera-shy´. I agree, but how is ’camera-shy´different from ’afraid’? Food for thought for me for the coming days and miles.
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