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A conversation with Rev. Micheal

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Content note: In this conversation there are references to death, funerals and reflections on the cremation process. I’m late to my call with Anglican Priest Michael Payne. The reminder message on my calendar app didn’t go off and I’m out walking. I realise because I receive a polite text message enquiring if we are still meeting.  It’s the 24 March and yesterday was the year anniversary of the first lockdown. Marie Curie had curated a day of remembrance. I’m angry about a lot, all day. It starts with an ill-advised foray into Twitter where I see a tweet where someone says they don’t want to keep wearing masks and keep distance after 21 June. It ends with the phrase, ‘We’ve done enough to protect the vulnerable’. I makes me so sad and so full of rage. I try hard to remember guidance from a podcast the previous day – about responding and not reacting, and letting go of, or discharging, anger in skilful ways. I don’t manage it. I’m incensed by a government that seems to be dodging an enq

Conversations with Joe

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I have an hour long conversation with Joe, one of Swinging the Lead shanty band . It’s wonderful and rich and challenging. We agree on a lot politically, and he’s an amazing font of knowledge – he follows up our chat with lots of email links and connections which is so generous. I’ve fallen a bit behind with writing up what I’m doing and I’m struggling to keep pace. I thought about condensing the writing but I find the process of writing and reflecting helps me to rediscover things and make connections between all the conversations I’m having. (so yup, that means more long blog posts!) We begin our chat talking about shanties and folk music – my mum has always sung a lot of folk music, she used to go to folk clubs as a young woman and in the last few years has enjoyed going back. Gravesend used to have a folk club in the Kent and Essex pub, it burned down under mysterious circumstances and the club never got restarted. Joe notices that a number of Gravesend pubs met a similar mysteriou

Wet and windy Windmill Hill

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I leave Northfleet and head to Gravesend. After I applied for the residency it turned out that I know a few people who live there and I’m off to meet Hannah for a lunchtime walk. Hannah and her wife Elise are part of a big, warm, loving friendship group that I am on the edge of. We’ve met a festivals and parties over the years and it’s always been joyous. The sort of acquaintances that you find yourself wishing you had more time to nurture a friendship with.  I hadn’t realised they lived in Gravesend and so it’s a treat to be able catch up. I’ve come from Northfleet and it’s raining. It’s a little discombobulating and I find myself feeling gently nervous. We’ve messaged over social media but it’s probably close to two years since we actually met in person. Starting from their home, Hannah wants to show me Windmill Hill, which is great. It was on my list of places I wanted to visit. She wants to take me to show me her favourite streets and houses and we walk and catch up. Hannah’s start

Meopham

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After a lunchtime walk up Windmill Hill, I head to Meopham to meet Liz, an artist I met online at the Gravesham Arts Salon. Liz has lived in Meopham since she was 9 and on our walk around the village I’m shown all the different places she’s called home – where she grew up and where her mum still lives, the Oddfellows cottage that was a first home and where she raised her young family.  Liz currently lives in an amazing old house, it’s been a 15 year labour of love to restore it. As for many in the arts, the last year has been devastating. Liz is a body painting artist, she’s run Follies  as a successful business for her whole career. This work has taken her all over the world, through glamorous locations and working on exciting and meaningful projects. She’s also set up and hosted the UK body painting festival. As the country closed Liz saw all of her work disappear. The financial dread, the empty days, the lack of contact and creative outlet was utterly disorientating. Liz quickly sta

One year later, halfway through.

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I wanted to make this a thoughtful, reflective blog. But to be honest I came up with the title on the 16 March, half way through the residency and a year after my first visit and then I ran out of steam.  So I’m going to share two things I’ve been enjoying each day as a connection to Gravesham. Both are Twitter accounts. @Meopham_Weather tweets detailed weather updates. It’s strangely nice to know the humidity in Meopham (when sometimes I don’t even know if it’s raining outside my own flat)  @FraserG32883664 Fraser Gray – who tweets the comings and goings of all sorts of marine traffic past Gravesend. I just like dropping in and then checking up where the tankers have come from and where they are going. I hope that you enjoy them.

In this chalky soil, community grows

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Sarah had seen my posts in different Gravesham Facebook groups and sent me a message to find out if anyone had responded, and to offer some suggestions.  Sarah works at the local hospital (Darent Valley) and was born and grew up in Higham. She moved to Gravesend in her 20s, back out to Chalk  and has recently moved back to Higham to support older family. A whole life lived in this chalky soil. Sarah wanted to share that the thing she is proud of, how 22 miles from central London she can stand in open countryside and not see a single house – she love’s the open space. Through my chat with Sarah I learn how proud she is of so much – the Sikh community who delivered hundreds of meals to the hospital staff during the peaks of the Pandemic, the beauty of the local woods – Cobham, Shorne Country and Jeskyn’s Parks, the Cyclo park that friends of hers travel from Cambridgeshire to enjoy (it’s that good) Sarah is someone who builds community  through connecting and sharing. I finished the call

Northfleet

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It’s a grey and rainy morning as I drive into Northfleet to meet Mandi Knight, Creative Community Development Manager of Big Local. To an outsider it’s difficult to get my bearings about where the houses are Gravesend and where they become Northfleet. I wonder about these invisible boundaries that mean so much, I know from my husband’s family who live in almost joined up villages in Staffordshire that getting the location right is important.  It’s a connection to identity. I remember hearing an anthropologist on a TV programme saying something along the lines of, isolationism and purity of identity based on geography is always dangerous but vigour in place based identity is vital to retain a sense of belonging and culture.  I don’t really know what to expect from Northfleet but after 90 mins with Mandi, seeing this place through her eyes I’m fascinated. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere that is on the brink of so much radical change. It’s unexpected and fascinating with a particul