The Benches Where Bottoms Collide
The tree above my head was an apple tree.
The trough in front of my kneecaps contained three red geraniums in dire need of deadheading.
The bench under my bottom had a lot of bird poo on it.
The Church Warden was late.
Checked the time on my phone.
I was just leaning forward to dead head the geraniums, when an elderly lady carrying a plastic bag, trotted around the corner.
“Hello, are you the Church Warden?” I asked hopefully.
“No,” replied the elderly lady. She trotted over and eyed the bird poo on the bench. I followed her beady gaze and looked at the bird poo too. Politely, I shuffled up. She wedged her bottom closely to mine, leaned back and sighed.
“I’ve bought cakes,” she said, rattling her plastic bag. “The local children are going out on a camp and they’ve asked for cakes to be left here at the Community Hall.”
“That’s nice,” I said, genuinely thinking how nice it was that she’d made cakes for the local children. “I’m here to look at this room for some workshops I want to run. But the Church Warden is late.”
The elderly lady frowned. “She’s never late.”
I frowned. Batted a little gnat away from my face. “Maybe she’s forgotten.”
“Why don’t you telephone her?”
I pressed my lips together. “I would but her number is in an email and I have no Wifi to open it. I just thought I’d wait a while.”
The elderly lady was quiet. She stared with the unseeing stare of a waiting woman.
The sun was very hot on my legs.
“What workshops are you running?” asked the elderly lady eventually.
“The workshops are part of something called the Gorgeousness Programme,” I replied. “It’s a course to help girls and women to embrace their bodies and feel more confident in who they are and how they want to live their lives.”
“That sounds good. Yes. Very nice,” the elderly lady said in an agreeable way. “What a lovely thing to do.”
“Yes. It’s very rewarding. I’m going to do a road trip of the Isle of Wight, starting here in this village.”
I leaned forward and dead headed a few more of the old, ragged geranium blooms. Tossed the bits into the hedge behind me and sat back. The old lady didn’t make any effort to move to accommodate me so I rewedged my bum into place next to hers.
“You should go to the church,” she suggested. “There’s a man there called Andy. Very nice man, he is. He works with local children. He’ll definitely know of people to go on your workshops.”
“Oh, thanks. That’s very helpful.” I took out my pen and scribbled down Andy’s name.
“And bring some posters to the local library. I volunteer there. We’ll promote it for you,” she continued, her eyes half closed.
“Thank you,” I smiled, taking a happy breath in.
There was a silence. Cars swooshed past. A man walked past pushing a pram with a toddler attached to the back of it. He glanced over to us, then smiled and waved at the elderly lady. She rattled her bag at him and fluttered her fingers at the toddler. The toddler squealed in delight.
The sound of the pram wheels disappeared up the road.
The old woman gave a meaningful sigh. She shunted herself forward and heaved to her feet with a grunt.
“Right. Well. No one is coming for these cakes. I’d best take them up to the church.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“Yes, very nice to meet you too.”
She took a step out from under the shade of the tree, paused and looked back. “I think you should try calling the Church Warden. Her number is written on that piece of scrap paper on the Community Centre door.” She pointed to the door, two foot away from the bench. “She leaves it there in case anyone needs her.”
“Well, that’s a stroke of luck!”
As the old woman shuffled onto the pavement, she said, “Don’t run your workshops on a Tuesday night. Sea cadets is on a Tuesday night and lots of the local girls go.”
“Good suggestion. Have a great day.”
I stood up under the apple tree, brushed down my behind, slipped past the geraniums and rang the number on the paper that was attached to the door with a drawing pin.
It turned out that the Church Warden had completely forgotten about our meeting.
She sounded delightful and was full of apologies and turned up within a few minutes holding a freshly baked ginger bread cake for the local children’s camp.
“Is no one here to collect the cakes?” she said, looking around and frowning in surprise.
This … this is Community, my friend!
It’s full of human flaws, rich knowledge, simple interaction, generosity, home-made cakes (baked in kitchens where there is no health and safety), apple trees that offer shade, plants that have life cycles, benches where nature’s course is negotiated and where stranger’s bums collide, where local information is shared, names are passed, numbers are pinned to doorways in the scorching sun …. and where sometimes people are quite simply late or forget to turn up at all.
These are OUR communities; the beautiful, gorgeous antiphysis of the isolated, mechanical world.
They are our medicine, counteracting the heart-graze of isolation and disconnection and loss of clan.
In a world where we are connected to strangers at the touch of a button, where “hellos” are now “likes” and our heads are full of political situations unfolding a thousand or more miles from home, how many of us are truly touching our own local communities? In an age where we can gather a billion followers on Instagram, build global online platforms and smile through podcasts with people we’ve never met in real life, how much of the GOODNESS WE ARE CALLED TO SHARE is shared in our own little community?
For some time I have not felt called to hang out in my online community. I’ve instead spent a lot of time on the land – climbing hills, sitting on mounds, trekking coastal pathways and listening to the grass shiver and the trees whisper.
Simultaneously, due to having a wild little Mancub who requires large open spaces and places to be free, I’ve also been cut off from a lot of my local community and social haunts too.
At the same time, an ongoing battle with getting my programmes into the local education system meant that I steered away from live deliveries. Instead I’ve spent nearly a year converting it into an online programme that will traverse the borders and boundaries that cause obstacles in the Real World.
And during all this solitude/massive global online connection, what I’ve learnt is this:
I Crave Real.
Real bottoms on benches.
Real strangers telling me about their cakes and stories and local libraries.
Real community spaces that aren’t all corporate and beige, but have history and soul and old metal sinks.
I realised that what I really wanted was to take my work into the heart of my local community and work with the realest of real gorgeousness that resides there.
In the Realness.
And then something a little bit magical occurred.
I was contacted (out of the blue) by an Abundance Stream that funded me to run 8 Gorgeousness Programmes in different communities around the Isle of Wight.
Just like that.
And now, over the next few months, I get to seek out community centres, village halls and Scout huts where I can set up my stuff and talk to elderly ladies and dads with prams and Church wardens with ginger cakes and Andys who work with the local youth.
I get to meet the people, hear the stories and discover the richness that our island community is made out of.
Yes, I get to launch the online Gorgeousness Programme across the globe and I pray it will fly like a crazy flock of magical birds that multiply and go to the places where it’s needed … but what I’m most excited about is meeting the flesh and bone people, families and generations who live in the villages and the communities on this tiny island.
Basically, I get to see who my bum collides with on benches all over the place.
It’s 100% unglamorous and 100% perfectly beautiful.