[Guest blog by Mark Hancock]
As I take part in more of Talking Bird’s Cart outings, appearing at different places in the city, getting to know different people and finding out what culture means to them, I’m beginning to ask myself some questions about what I think a city of culture really is. And, interestingly, what that central understanding of the meaning of the word ‘culture’ might mean for people who come to make their lives in the city.
On Sunday when we set up at the Beake Avenue allotments, to meet with people attending The Pod/Food Union event, (basically an open day with BBQ, soft drinks and all-hands-on-deck mucking in with tidying up the allotments), I knew we were in for a different sort of day. For one thing, it’s the first time I’ve set up the Cart in the wild (well, off tarmac and concrete, at least), and trying to find a flat bit of land took a few goes. Luckily Janet designs ridiculously hardy stage props (the Whale is over ten years old for heaven’s sake!). Once we’d landed, we found a steady stream of locals all willing to come and chat and work on the Haikus. These were written as entreaties to growth and had some great responses from the people who came and chatted to us. If anyone wants to have a chat about the youth of today being dumbed down, go head to head with them to write haikus. Cov kids know their Japanese short-form poetry! I’m not saying I’m a sore loser but, my final appraisal of the art form? They’re not for me. Syllable counting broke me.
It was interesting being so far out of the centre of the city though. I think most Cart appearances have been very central, so far, so it seemed an odd choice at first. But what I began to realise was that we place an odd balance on the cultural heartbeats of a city when we expect the heart to be at the literal centre of a city as well. We’ll talk of a city’s centre, and locate that as a geographical space, then try to locate the heart as being the people themselves. Surely that creates an unresolvable dichotomy, because the people don’t spend all of their lives in the city centre? They have lives beyond the space where capitalism has decided that all of the shops should be, don’t they? Or have we come so far along the production/consumption path that we confuse culture and consumerism as one and the same thing? That’s really not the impression I get when I speak to people in the city about their views of culture.
As a fully paid up, lifetime member of the forced metaphor society, I’d just like to point out something that being around all those gardeners made me realise: Snap Peas are eaten whole, like mange-tout, whereas sweet peas (that’s peas that are sweet, not Sweet Peas the flowering variety! Keep up!) have firm, rounded pods, requiring you to remove the pod and discard it, eating only the peas/seeds in the centre. Let’s make Coventry more like Snap Peas! The whole thing is sweet, full of flavour and should be regarded as worth taking as part of a regular cultural diet!
If the successful outcome of the City of Culture bid brings a refreshed, renewed vigour to Coventry’s cultural heartbeat, it would be as well to remember that that heartbeat is fed by the flow of creative blood that doesn’t stop and start at the centre, but passes through it and outwards across the city’s landscape. Coventry is a city of musicians, artists, painters and writers. You’re just as likely to meet them down an allotment at the back of some houses, as you are outside Marks & Spencer’s.