Of Gerards and Geralds

I know I’m jumping around a bit with my trove of old diaries, but my 17 year old self having a holiday pash made me chuckle. Not least because I shift from ‘Got up.. dressed..went to bed‘ type accounts to an exercise book filled with ethnographic reflections that Margaret Mead would be proud of. Description, narrative, sketches, music, food and interpretation. Of a two week coach/camping trip to Biot.

It was a cheapy cheapy cheap cheap holiday with three school mates; Mandy, Louise and Tamsin. A two day drive from Gloucester Road bus station, central London, via a night in a campsite ‘near’ Paris, to a craphole campsite in the South of France.

We fell into a happy routine in our fully equipped tent [brown plates, cups, a gas stove which collapsed, a table, 4 plastic ribbed chairs, metal beds with blue plastic mattresses], daily walks to the beach [quite a long walk, over a bridge over the motorway then turning right down a fairly narrow winding road, passed the Camp de Pylon (the other Nat campsite). We then had to cross one main road, go past JR’s through a tunnel, then across another main road to the beach], nosh (tinned ravioli, yoghurt, cacolac) and the campsite bar/disco.

The range of characters included the punks; really nice. 2 couples. Alison and Roger (peroxide blonde) and Sharon/boyfriend. Alison was ill most of the time with diarrhoea and sunstroke. The two couples didn’t get on very well. They lost £200 in Antibes and got left behind at the end of the holiday.

But what about the pash??? Gerard. From Clitheroe. Touring Europe on a motorbike with Vernon [very kind, paranoid about his age, lived with his mum, fell for Mandy big time] and Paul [27, drunk all the time, looked like Starsky and disappeared on Saturday morning and didn’t come back]?

Well. Turns out he was Gerald and not Gerard. And piecing together the story, with the detail provided and hindsight, he played with my 17 year old feelings with cups of Oxo, the odd slow dance to ‘Still Crazy after all these Years’ and general shite treatment [Gerald walked passed me without speaking and spent the evening with the posh girls/Gerald asked me to stir his oxtail soup].

Sigh. Maybe, just maybe, this tale of sun, sea, Oxo, love and leg warmers suggests very early signs of a sociological imagination.

Thanks to Kate Bielby for pointing out that all Gerards turn out to be Geralds in the end.

The tiny woman with the chair

I’ve written before about our neighbourhood in terms of the colourful characters. And posted photos*. One person I haven’t mentioned before is the tiny woman with the chair. Now she, more than Chicken Bone man reading his extreme porn in the Cafe Bonjour, disrupts social space for me. Not in a negative way. But in a “Wow! This is so unusual!” way.

I first saw her about a year ago, when she was sitting on the other side of the road, on a small, white chair, facing a row of parked cars. Bundled up in a thick coat, she was sat back from the curb, leaning forward, unmoving, staring intently ahead. People walked past her, but she remained seemingly focused and undistracted. Was she doing a traffic survey? Or some other functional task? It didn’t seem like it. She just sat.

She was still there later, when I went to the shops.

“Eeek.. ” I wondered, “Should I say hello on my way past?” But she had such a stillness, it seemed intrusive. She was sitting so privately, publicly. A few weeks later, I saw her again, in a different street. Same chair, same stillness. I mentioned her to Richy.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I saw her sitting on the edge of the roundabout on the ring road the other day. Funny.”

Until today, I’ve seen her a few times. Always sitting. In random places. Well random to me, that is. Today was different. Today she was walking up our road. Very slowly, with the chair in one hand. Heading somewhere.

So why am I writing about a tiny woman with a chair?

Because she is breaching social rules in a way that makes visible the rigidity (and possibly the tyranny) of those rules. She is doing something that is so unusual, and yet shouldn’t be. Bit like LB being an unlikely ethnographer of the normal, she is doing nothing remotely wrong. It’s public space, after all. And people sit on their own chairs in other public spaces, in parks or lay-by’s, queuing for the New Year sales or for the launch of new games or gadgets.

Carrying around a chair and hanging out in different parts of the neighbourhood is strangely remarkable. But I wonder why more people don’t do it?

* A mate of mine recently suggested I staged these photos…I didn’t.

LB, the unlikely ethnographer

I’ve mentioned Garfinkel before on this blog, in relation to old Chicken Bone Man and the extreme porn.  (And for the geeky among you, here is a lovely conference paper about Garfinkel, space and the achievement of the ordinary.)  I used to think having a dude like LB was like having a permanent little rule breacher.  Now I’m beginning to think a bit differently.

I’m starting to think of learning disabled/autistic peeps more as unlikely ethnographers than rule breachers. Unlikely ethnographers of normality.

Here’s an example.

LB said he’d wait in the car when I needed to get some milk the other day. I rushed into the shop, bought the milk and walked  back across the car park towards the car. I could see LB in the back of the car looking my way. I waved to him. Nothing. I did an even bigger wave. Nothing.  I waved like I was in the audience greeting the return of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island. Not a movement. He just watched me.

“LB, next time I wave at you, can you wave back at me?” I asked, exasperated, when I opened the car door.
“Why Mum?” he asked.

The stinky goat and the power shower

I didn’t know anything about ethnography when I signed up for this overland trippet all those years ago (for the previous episode click here), but it was a missed opportunity to explore how a group of strangers live together in a mobile unit, in/across unfamiliar spaces with a changing cast of additional characters.  Some of whom were quite short-lived.

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