We are in a forest clearing, away from the roar of the city, surrounded by dappled afternoon sunlight casting happy shadows onto the homestead. It is still under construction, we are building a new wall onto it ready to become a place for visitors to share the story of where they came from. We are making a map. Groups of people walk by, on their way to somewhere, or just wondering around, enjoying this enclave of nature. They stop at the homestead, curious by its panel decking and the smoke of a smouldering fire, lured by an invitation for tea and toast and a game of ping pong. They sit down on the deck and we talk about where they came from, how did we get here? And where are we now in fact?
I ask what they can remember about their childhood home and if they would like to share a drawing of it onto the walls of the homestead. It’s hard to remember, there were so many different homes, how to choose which one. Which one is the most significant? I ask, and what if anything do you remember? They pick up the chalk and begin to think, imagining their house as if they saw it from above, as if imagining the walls might bring back memories of what was inside them, what kinds of feelings or thoughts….
Many people came by, young and old, those who were born around the corner and those who were born around the world. As they came, and sat and drank and ate and drew, the wall became filled with the marks of those who are here now, the people of this city, who came from somewhere but are here now. This is our city of our memories, and all that came before is part of now. All the stories are mixed together. Countries, places and time all joined into one.
A man comes by for a cup of tea. He grew up in Spitalfields, the house was long and thin and there was a tin bath that they washed in, there was a balcony or something along the edge of the house, but he couldn’t remember how it looked exactly. Things have changed a lot since then, the house doesn’t exist anymore. He couldn’t remember much about the place other than that there was a tin bath, and next to it a roaring fire place where they would make the water hot, and a chair by the bath on a tiled floor where his mum would wash him. There was a cat who would sit on the heating almost like the cat was the heating itself.
As more people came to the homestead, their memory houses became connected to others; they became neighbours. The city began to grow.
Next door was a vague memory, mostly the stairs, there was a shop and a house above a shop. As a young boy he remembers only running between the house and the shop. Up and down the stairs. Between the shop and the house. That was in Cyprus, but I lived nearby too, in a house in South London, where a giant plant with roots that came out like furry tentacles and leaves that were like crazy parasols loomed over my head. I was scared to go into that part of the room. I looked out of the window and could see that what had emerged was a giant field of grass and a boat that a little boy had drawn up out of his imagination. Out of his blue front door was a big smelly truck that was parked under a big tree. Many people started to move in the lady from Beijing in her square and yellow apartment, the man in Kathmandu and the boy in Taiwan. He lived next door to Megan, whose sister had gems hidden in the kitchen with the strawberries, and behind her house was the ocean sparkling, where you could walk under the palm tree outside an apartment block in Stepney Green….
And so it went on that the map turned into a chaotic mangle of places from New Zealand to Reunion Island via Istanbul, and it was as if you would walk around the whole world as if it was one village.
There were a lot of children who came to join the map making, sharing their creative talents and their interesting perceptions of space. There was a man who had lived just round the corner from this park as a child and moved away long ago but came back to the park to reminisce. He could not remember how his house looked, but he remembered coming to this park as a child with his mates. In those days it was all dodgy and overgrown, they would called it the “cemo”. “Lets go down to the cemo…”. They would climb over the fence and throw apples at each other, there were many apple trees in those days, and break off sticks and play Robin Hood.
For some it was hard to recall memories, both to imagine through drawing but also perhaps too personal to expose. Others found the drawing easy because their parents still lived in that same childhood home. Some could not remember because they can never had just one home, that they had always been moving around. But now, for all, London was home, a place that one girl told me that she felt “free”.
People gathered around the fire toasting marshmallows, tea became wine and the silence became the haunting sound of a cello. And gradually as the night came in, people started to leave, to go back to where they stay, walking back through the dark woods, catching glimpses of the bright lights and glass towers of the city through the trees.