Guest Blog for Creative Nottingham: Urban magic on your doorstep.

It’s a Friday lunchtime in the office and the weekend beckons, despite the temperatures not shifting much beyond minus 73 degrees C. An email pings through the letter box and your first impulse is to press the delete button as fast as you can to prevent you from being drawn into another circular route of endless hyperlinks, cross references and doubling back on yourself.

But this time you don’t delete it but read it. Why? I don’t know but that may not be the right question right now. It’s about a venture called Street Wisdom who describe themselves as a “new, non-profit venture that offers an enjoyable, powerful and free way of using the streets to learn something new. “ That sounds intriguing.

“There is no charge” the email continues. Even better methinks.

At Street Wisdom you don’t pay fees, you pay attention.” OK. I think I can just about manage that on a Friday afternoon.

“All you need is to turn up with a question you’d like some fresh answers to. It could be a business-related question, a personal one. Or both.” OK… now hang on, there are enough questions racing around my head at the moment to fill a race track, I wouldn’t know which one to back to getting the fastest answer.

“Come by yourself, tell your friends to sign up or even enrol your whole team – this is a great way for business colleagues to hit the refresh button.” Well, being one who always like to hit the refresh button (most frequently in the Cross Keys in the Lace Market, it has to be said) I decide to take the plunge and join the venture and their promise of Street Wisdom on the steps at the front of Nottingham’s town hall in the Old Market Square.

Pretty soon afterwards, we’ve met one of their Street Leaders who registers me up for the process and we join a group of four other intrepid searchers for the street wisdom.

They’re as good as their word: all you need to bring with you is a question that you’d like some fresh answers to. You can keep it secret if you want, but it’s good to have something in mind. Nothing as big as ‘when am I going to win the Lottery?’ or as small as ‘left or right lion?’ – but something that matters to you, right here, right now.

So what happens next? That’s not a bad question. Our Street Leaders got us started by helping us ‘tune into’ the street over four shorts walks: each walk we could make alone or with friends, and each walk had an instruction to guide you:

“Look for what you’re drawn to”
“Slow right down.”
“Notice the patterns.”
“See the beauty in everything.”

Now, in the cold light of day after the venture, this might seem a particularly uninspiring set of tasks to undertake: but in the increasingly warm light of the Nottingham afternoon, the walks and the focus given by the instructions generated for all of us on the walks a quite astounding set of responses.

I found myself being drawn to the fountains on the other side of the square, feeling quite wistful about the lack of water features in the city and the distance we were from the coastline.

The instruction to Slow Right Down had me stopped dead still in my tracks for over fifteen minutes which enabled me to see how fast everyone rushes around the city: always with intent and a job to do or a place to go or a person to visit. Staying much longer under this instruction would have seen me draining away through the concrete, I was relaxing that rapidly.

It was on the third walk – Notice the Patterns – that I really started to feel the effects of the process. Normally I brush off patterns or pay no attention to them at all: but given 10 minutes just to look at them made me hugely aware of just how patterned and ordered our city scape is: it was intoxicating to see patterns in every nook and cranny and in every small piece of iron railing, shop window and bus stop. Had this been after a Friday evening at the Cross Keys, one might have explained this with 15 pints of IPA: but no, this was Friday lunchtime and I was still technically at work.

The fourth walk – See the Beauty in everything – was the peak of the afternoon. It meant that it was impossible to go anywhere with stopping to marvel at everything. I found myself marvelling at all of modern technology when I overheard a couple of tourists extol loudly the wonder that was Skype, which had allowed them to talk to a long lost aunt in Australia that very morning.

After the four short walks, you’re encouraged to go off on a journey by yourself: your own street quest.   You do this with your own question at the back of your mind and later on meet up with the rest of the group to share your experiences and improved wisdom. I can’t tell you whether the question I had posed was answered other than to say that your first question may not be the right question; but I can tell you that all six of us were swept away by the experience and promised to go divining for more Nottingham in the weeks to come.

“It’s urban magic on your doorstep” says the email and for once in your life, the reality lives up to the promise.

More on Street Wisdom here.

And more on Creative Nottingham here.

A Waiting Story: The Last Supper or How to Clear a McDonald’s.

Me and the mates were getting a bit tired with the delay in the service of the so called fast food restaurant. What normally takes seconds had taken over a minute and it was clear to us all that the problem lay with the numbers of customers who were queuing in every conceivable space possible: around the block, up into the toilets, down the street to the canal and through the kitchens themselves, snaking around the managers office, the staff mess and the outdoor abattoir.

We realised quickly that we needed to stake our claim on some space in the upstairs seating area so gravitated en masse to a large table by the window. We were quickly successful in scaring off the residents: whether this was because there were so many of us or because John started to cluck like a chicken, I wasn’t sure.

But very quickly 12 of us were sat on and around the faux wood seats and bright yellow leather look alike benches and waited patiently for Mary to bring us our order. To say we waited patiently is, in Matthew’s case, being economical with the truth. He has a very short span of attention and if his desires aren’t gratified within moments of expressing them, he can get very tetchy indeed. He’ll bang the table with his plastic tray, try to blow tunes on the plastic straws and kick any neighbouring plastic seats away from him. Fast food restaurants were in theory made for Matthew but they can never be fast enough for his quick witted and lightening sharp temper. Before long, tens of seconds at most, our patch was showing the results of Matthew’s impoverished patience.

It had the desired effect though: several customers looked at him in alarm, hurried down their already Hurried Meal (why do they call them Happy Meals?) and shepherded their children away from us as fast as their little legs would take them.

Luke thought this was hilarious. But then again he always thinks everything is hilarious: just look at him with a quizzical look in your eyebrows and he’ll start his donkey braying noises. Initially his audience might join in but after a while – perhaps minutes on a good day – their smiles will freeze as the braying gets into their coats, under their skin and into their bones.

That’s the time they back off from Luke and sure enough, today was no exception. The elderly got unsteadily off their seats and hobbled for the exit, a couple of them crossing themselves for good luck. John made matters worse by trying to apologise to the remaining customers. This made Matthew bang the tables louder, Luke added to his farm yard impressions by digging out the sound of cows being slaughtered in the back yard and John started to anoint unfortunate customers with left over plastic cups of Coca Cola.

Mary returned at this point but by this time I’d had enough and decided to execute the coup de grace. I lent over and kissed Mark fairly and squarely on the forehead which of course prompted the management to descend on us with their batons and their tazers.  We had cleared McDonalds of those annoying queues but unfortunately had managed to get ourselves booted out into the street in the process.

We probably won’t be going there ever again if the manager gets his way.