So, I went for acupuncture the other day. And got chatting, as you do when there are needles in your back and legs and they’re going to be there for another twenty minutes or so. Besides, my acupuncturist Lindsey is well worth talking to. We swap book and film tips, and – in this case – observations about something that we’ve both become aware of in recent months…
I’ve got friends who paint, and who create prints and cards. And in addition to the usual round of art and craft shows that they get to exhibit at, something new has come up. Some enterprising person has taken it on herself to organise such events at venues and times they wouldn’t normally happen. In a pub of an evening. At a social club at a weekend. And they’ve carefully chosen a complementary gathering of some of the best makers in the area. As well as people who produce jewellery, bags, ceramics and so on, there’s a woman who makes exquisitely good food and does a pop-up restaurant that happens once a month or so. So, while you’re browsing and shopping you can eat some great food. And, there’ll be people to do Indian Head Massage, read Tarot cards for you, and play music while it’s all happening.
What’s interesting is how cohesive these events are. I’ve been to a few and made some new friends. In the process, I’ve discovered a community that I didn’t know existed. And Lindsey was telling me how it started…
There’s a school in these parts. One that’s got a bit of a reputation for doing things differently, or at any rate had for a decade or so with one headteacher in charge. People wanted their children to attend the school not just because it got good academic results. What mattered more was the ethos of the place. It was a school that had what’s called a child-centred approach. It’s a term I wonder about, as I do when I come across ‘flavour-grown vegetables’ in a supermarket. What other criteria would you use for vegetables than their taste? Who should be the focus of activities at a school if not the children? And I remind myself I live in a world where shops are pleased by the fact that they offer 3 or 4 sorts of apple when someone I know inherited a 3-volume encyclopedia illustrated with full colour plates of hundred of different kind of apple.
In this school, there were no doors. That is, there were holes in the wall for children to pass through freely, and they were not blocked. Toys and resources were shared between classes, and children would go from one class to another, mingling with children of other ages, playing as they did, to find what they were looking for, or enjoy something unexpected. Everyone agreed that there was something special about the place, and that explains why such a diverse group of parents wanted their children to benefit from it. There’d be the kids of middle class people in caring professions with a hippyish disposition. Sons and daughters of people in the local Asian communities. Children from the neighbourhood who’d heard what a great place it was and agged their parents into securing them a place there and not elsewhere.
Lindsey told me that the kids who’d been through that school when that particular head was there are now between their mid twenties and mid thirties. She’s heard that at least one of them is involved in human rights work. Others are doing something creative. A lot of them seem to be content, whatever it is they’re doing. And one of them is the woman who is behind the craft events that have popped up in the area, and which are gathering momentum with every new show.
All of this is further confirmation of something I came across a while back, and intuively seems right. The notion being that the most effective way to change your life for the better is to be around people who are likewise living in that way. Studies I’ve come across indicate that peer groups are just as much an influence on children as parenting, which will be a disappointment for those who love having their family histories probed and can’t get enough of dubious ancestors. Working with homeless people was confirmation that peer pressure can influence people…negatively more often than not in that sector, though I am aware of projects where the reverse is true. Really, who needs to spend thousands on personal development courses and paraphernalia when the simplest solution to a happier life seems to be to hang around with people already leading one?