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.