I spent two days out in Mansfield grabbing people. Not literally, just sort of springing on them asking them to talk to me. This is, believe it or not, an art. I have no idea how sales people do it, how they actually get people to talk to them. It was hard enough when I wasn’t selling anything to persuade people to talk to me. Although I did hone a pretty good technique by the end. I started by saying ‘Excuse me, have you got a few minutes?’ which absolutely did not work (mostly) as people immediately think ‘charity mugger’ or ‘Sky deal saleswomen’ so I found the key was to get the words ‘Hello, I’m collecting memories about Mansfield’ in as quickly, clearly and as positive a way as I could. Smiling, trying not to look like a salesperson, indicating my tea and chat ten with ‘Free cups of tea’ and actually…it worked pretty well!
The first day I was at the bus station, which came with its own issues which I probably should have anticipated such as ‘I’m just about to get my bus’ or ‘I’ve just got off the bus and now I want to go home’. However this meant I had time to chat to Ivan Roland who works at the bus station and told me many gems including his memory of watching elephants from the circus walking through the streets of Mansfield (not the tigers though). It’s funny how people are more likely to open up to you when you’re just having a relaxed conversation rather than asking specific things. Because people were in a rush it meant I got nice snapshots of peoples lives. I met a wonderful 91½ year old who told me the secret of old age
“I’m 91 and a half. I have 10 grandchildren, 18 great grandchildren and 3 great, great grandchildren I have tons of friends, I go to bingo every Tuesday at the Apollo. The secret to a long life. Don’t worry just keep working and enjoy going to work. When I was 80 I went roller-skating. I got around…at Great Yarmouth. I’ve got all my own teeth”
The four seasons was a challenge. I wrote this in a hiatus…
People walk, fast, head down, not looking.
Their shop, the one they want, new dress, new shoes, scrubbing brush, toothpaste for holidays.
What we miss when we’re on a mission.
What we don’t see when we see only our destination.
Missing the views.
Missing that moment with that person that will never be.
People look, then look away when I smile…just incase a smile commits a monetary exchange.
I’m the same. I get in my own little world and I stay there, needing something to jolt me out.
“Do you have a few…”-cut off before completion, before I get to tell you about my wonderful present, celebrating Mansfield, beautiful moments of love, existence, what makes life great in Mansfield.
They are already a hundred meters down the shopping centre and I’m still talking into oblivion.
‘You know what Mansfield needs? It needs to think about the future’ (someone chatting to me)
Then out of the head down, walking crowd come head tall, smile, interested…
‘Yes I’ll sit down. Yes I’d love a cup of tea. Yes I’ll tell you my life story’
If I get a smile I’m halfway there, to getting you in the chair, to getting you talking. It’s hard to get people talking but once you do it’s like the universe opening up.
But then there are the jewels that come to you.
Not what you’d expect.
A blue haired girl called Rhi, at 23 cares for her mum, volunteers at a charity shop and is a pagan.
She drinks her tea black with two sugars and wants to help.
It makes my day of sticking my neck out, smiling at strangers, getting odd looks, and confused glances.
I spoke to some really wonderful people in the Four Seasons as the day progressed. I found that older people were much more likely to speak to me. I wondered if this is simply a time thing. A lot of people are on their lunch breaks or only have a few hours to get what they need, whereas older, retired people have more time. Also I wonder if when you get to certain age, there’s a kind of confidence that comes with it, a confidence of experience, ‘yes I’ve had a life’, ‘yes I have something to say’. A lot of people really don’t feel as though they have a story to tell but when you get older maybe that begins to change. I had a wonderful chat with Susanne who told me very personal moments from her life. How her husband made himself known by joining her and her mum at the pub without asking, how she thought he was a ‘cheeky sod’. She told me how her best friend, who she hadn’t spoken to for years phoned her up one day and she thought it was wonderful, but that when she stopped calling she didn’t know her friend had died of lung cancer. She told me hilarious stories of what she and her granddaughter get up to and the hilarious phrases she’s copied from Susanne like ‘My Nora Batty’s are falling down’. When Susanne sat down I thought she seemed reluctant, unsure of me but by the end we were laughing together like old friends.