Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Reverie 2: Other people's childhoods

I am interested in reverie – my own, Ian’s, other people’s. Although reverie seems more common in childhood, I don’t think its limited to youth, and I’m intrigued by the possibility that it might be something shared. For me, reverie is joyful, and being invited to spend a day contemplating it promised to be a treat.

We began in Kate’s car (it was cold outside). We talked about reverie, what it is, if it is possible to define it, who had experienced it, when, what it had been like. At the end, Ian said the last time he had had a conversation in a car like this was in his early twenties. That felt like an achievement in itself – to revisit the intensity of conversations when young that connect to big questions and emotions. I thought how my own connections to council estates were mostly through other people’s childhoods.

We walked up the street and past Ian’s old now demolished secondary school across the footbridge to the estate. He described how the fields and paths looked before the big road was built. And then we were there. A grassy estate, a walk punctuated with stories, technical facts, musings in the way of someone who knows the obdurate details of their own youth and its formative place. 

My mother lived from the ages of about 3 to 11 on one of the largest London council estates to be built between the wars in the UK, the Watling Estate. I grew up a couple of miles away, but she rarely mentioned that part of her childhood and we only went there once, drove around it in a perfunctory way, after I’d more or less insisted. I had the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that in her eyes it was a slightly shameful place to come from and this almost certainly played a part in my decision to do some of my PhD research on a council estate in a town outside Manchester where I had gone to live.

I spent a lot of my fieldwork hanging out with young people, and later wrote about their hallucinatory sense of place, some of it drug-induced, but much to do with what Kathleen C. Stewart calls fabulation – a kind of incessant narrativization of place.

Reverie comes into Ian’s feelings about the Middlefield Lane estate, my sense of my mother’s childhood, and my own fieldwork in Todmorden. Despite her reticent to speak about Watling, the few memories my mother has relayed from that part of her childhood do have a strong feeling of reverie – running across the fields that surrounded the estate which was still a building site, to meet her father from Burnt Oak tube station; fishing for tiddlers in the stream.  And my own semi-vicarious experiences on Ashenhurst doing fieldwork– a particular day when I realized I felt comfortable hanging out with my ‘participants’ for the first time. No one seemed to mind that I was videoing as we lounged around in the hallway of one of the young women’s houses, sun streaming in through the door so bright it made the detail of carpet weave stand out in a hyper-real way; youngsters knocking on, white fluffy clouds crossing a blue sky framed by roofs of yellow brick houses; a rare moment of mellow and calm. 

Amanda Ravetz, March 2014.

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