Thinking it over, part one.


The first of a couple of posts that's the beginnings of me getting my head around the project, and wondering what - if anything - to do with it next.

To recap, though much of this is covered in the first post, it was the disappearance of a bench from the pavement outside a house on Newmarket, Louth, that got me thinking. That bench had been there as long as I could remember (I've lived in and around Louth for the bulk of my years, and on Newmarket for a fair chunk of those) and it was only when it wasn't there that I gave it much thought.

We respond to difference, to novelty, to change. Things that are in the background - or that fade from prominence over time - may be taken for granted, may be devalued, might become ignored. The same happens with people too.

It's non-being there triggered a set of partial memories and associations that I'd had with the bench. Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing epochal. It had been on my walk to school and then into the town centre; this was a handy meet-up point, a place to tie shoelaces, somewhere to perch when making a quick phone call or replying to a text. A point to go no further than, if running ahead of Mum when a kid.

So the place was significant in that it was a locus for memories and associations, in the way that a piece of music snatched from the airwaves when changing stations, a faded Polaroid found as a bookmark, a stranger's perfume might.

So what would be provoked if I went to other benches? The benches themselves weren't that important over and above their benchitudiousness (that's a word, isn't it?). But without them all I'd be left with is a set of reminiscences about parts of town; specificity was required. Along the way I came across the term "personal geography" and that felt useful.

So, in the going round Louth I'd accrue a subjective memory map, making associations with specific but everyday locations. That sounded workable and also finite. After all, how many benches could a Lincolnshire market town have? And in the doing, I'd work out some stuff about the old home town any my relationship to it over time as well.

On top of that (and this is crucial, really) it's a straightforward, low-intensity idea. One that's easy to explain, if not quite so simple to justify. It would get me out and about, and it would self-generate. You go somewhere, you have a look around, take a couple of photographs, an try to capture something about what's there now and what you can reconstruct from your own memories of this place and your past.

I scribbled down a top-of-my-head list of bench sites. The first few were easy to plot out; I'd come across the naturally as they were on or near enough to routes I'd walk anyway. This being done wholly on foot seemed important; walking to, from and between benches is the only way to do it. All too often we go from A to B and don't think over-much about what we pass on the way. Soon enough, I had to make specific journeys, work out routes, plan ahead in terms of time to do the walks and write up the notes. All good discipline.

At first I worked on the assumption that I'd post once a week. However it quickly became apparent that this wasn't the right frequency. For a start, there were more benches than Id initially surmised. Six months or so seemed like a manageable amount of time to complete this, so twice a week became the norm. Posts go up on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Also, a format started to assert itself. A couple of pictures: one of the bench and one of a view from the bench in question. These are snaps taken on my phone, nothing more than that.

Some definitional issues started to arise; when is a bench not a bench? What counts and what doesn't? Do I redundantly report on each individual bit of street furniture? No; each location is enough to warrant a post, especially when it's clear that the bench is a unique placing. Multiple benches sited together for the same observable purpose; then they're counted together. Like I said, this is about place, not about metal and wood.

Further context comes from Cait Green's 2012 book The Streets of Louth. Some reference to local history seemed relevant, and Green's book is great for that. So Streets has been an invaluable reference tool. I've drawn on others (especially sites referencing local folklore and ghost stories) but to nothing like the same extent.

Also, these are notes. This is me organising myself on digital paper. The posts are subjective, sketchy in part, immediate. I write them fast and hope for the best. I'm trying to capture something for further attention at a point down the line. That point's getting close, as I'm almost out of subject matter.

Anyway, more of this next time out. And then I'm back on the benches from Friday 24th for the first of the last half-dozen or so of the bench-specific posts.

Eamonn Griffin

Field notes for a personal geography of a Lincolnshire market town. You can find me here on Twitter: @eamonngriffin and also here: www.eamonngriffinwriting.com
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