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  • Last weekend I hopped aboard a train to go visit my folks. That’s them in the picture, all looking squinty cos the sun’s shining in their eyes. (Honestly, my photography skills, need some drastic attention.) I don’t go see them as often as I should, and that’s partly because my time tends to get used up with work, (academic, professional or of the household chore variety,) or I get distracted by something else (this happens a lot – I have a very poor atten...) But another factor that gets under my skin, that gnaws at me from within, like an annoying little crawly gnawing thingy, another thing that doesn’t exactly stop me going to see my folks but does bother me if I find that a visit to the nearest town may be necessary, is that I know, and it could well happen, that I might bump into somebody I know.

    Now to give you a bit of background, my mum and dad live in the county of Cumbria in North West England, in a little village so small you could literally walk from one end to the other in less than five minutes. In a different village to this one, but not far away, is the slightly marginally bigger village that I grew up in. If any of you have ever been to the countryside in Cumbria, otherwise also known as the 'Lake District', you'll know it's beautiful up there. It's a great place for nature lovers and watercolour artists and explorers and hiking enthusiasts and picnic takers and fans of home-made jams/preserves. It's also a great place for kids to get lost and have adventures in during the summer (see Impossible Worlds). But have you heard that old saying – 'It's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't wanna live there?' Well, I have. I've heard that saying from my own lips, if nothing else. And I've said it many, many times.

    As far as the people that lived there, and in the towns nearby, are concerned, most of them in my experience possessed at least three or more of the below personality traits -

    creatively unambitious
    assumed that this tiny little corner/crack/portion of the world will never change, do not want it to change, and this is all there will ever be (this to me was the scariest trait of all.)

    I'm honestly not being mean. And I'm not exaggerating. And I'm being completely serious. The reason I speak with such vitriol here is because of the unshakable feeling that all the time I had to spend trying to fit in, trying to keep the real me buttoned up inside, talking instead about football and violence and drinking and the girls we found hot, (these conversations started from a surprisingly young age now that I think about it) so that I wouldn't just be talking to myself all the time, was pretty much entirely a complete waste of my life. There were plenty of times I tried to talk about other things, the things in my imagination, alternative beliefs, thoughts about sexuality, anti-capitalism, music that wasn't in the charts and couldn't be heard in the pubs and nightclubs, art, racism – but these conversations tended to be short lived. Best case scenario, I'd get ignored. Worst case scenario... well... I think that's a story for another time, but suffice to say, it ain't pretty. In the meantime, here are some examples of the kind of people I grew up with.

    Example 1:

    Not long after I first moved to Manchester, I dated a girl called Gaanashree. She has an Indian family that live partly in Singapore and partly in India, and she has a dark complexion. The reason I mention this is because, when she came with me to visit my parents one time, we walked through the streets of that Cumbrian town together, hand in hand, and she received the most hateful, malevolent looks I've ever had the misfortune of witnessing. I felt ashamed to have once been associated with those people.

    Example 2:

    There is a street in that Cumbrian town that the locals call 'The Gaza Strip'. This is where all the nightclubs are. They all play the same kind of music and repeat the same songs. There is a drunken brawl every night, sometimes stabbings, and there was even a time when random dancers were pierced with dirty needles, just for fun.

    Example 3:

    The town is known for in-breeding, child poverty, teenage mums, unemployment and hard drug use. A lot of money has been pumped into the town to try and make it a better place to live, but nothing seems to work, and various attempts to create employment opportunities have also been unsuccessful. There have been a few people I've known who have gone to schools there and come out with good grades, but a lot of people drop out early. It is a town that hope left a long time ago.

    To me, the towns were missing something really important. When we moved there at eleven years old, I was met with a culture so ingrained and so resigned to its own self-perpetuating mortification, that I actually started to wonder what was wrong with me that I wanted something else, something other than the grey and narrow horizons others seemed to share and thrive in. It was then that, though I had always steered towards creativity as a means to express myself before, that my desire to draw or write or read really flourished. I did it to escape, but not just to escape FROM the world, but to have something desirable to escape TO. I had huge drawer-fulls of paper, with paint or ink or pencil all over them. If I hadn't had that cathartic, artistic side of myself to see me through, I honestly don't know how I would have survived high school. I had very few friends, and even those few that I had I didn't really like very much. Again, I know that sounds mean, but it's true. It's only really after I moved to Manchester that I started to realise that I wasn't a horrible person, and that liberal attitudes and a love of artistic exploration weren't just found in individuals, but communities too. From age eleven to the time I left, nothing significant had changed in that town – but I had changed. I had built an inner world for myself, and I was stronger for it.

    Now there's a couple of things I want to make clear before I finish. I don't believe that the people in those Cumbrian town were ALL like that. There may well have been other people, people with a desire to find something outside those depressing environs that was worthwhile, but I'm not sure I've ever met them. If I have met them they probably kept their real selves buttoned up, just like I did. And I believe those towns were not without hope. Art has regenerated communities before, and it can again, but perhaps it takes some outside interest, or some brave individuals to get it started.

    Case in point, when last weekend I went up to visit my parents, we took a little trip round the countryside, just as we have done many times before. Only this time was different. This time there was an art trail going on – see You could visit various different villages and spots of interest out in the country and at each one find an artist exhibiting paintings, sketches, stained glass, photography and textiles. Admittedly there were no artists from the towns I grew up in, but they weren't far away either – perhaps this initiative could grow and spread – as art has a habit of doing. My favourite artwork, by a painter called Janice McGloine, is displayed above, below the photographs I'd taken of the same scene. You can find more of her pictures at It's not difficult to see why I admire her – she can take an ordinary scene and transform it into something impossible, something wonderful. She allows you to escape, whilst standing still.


    PS Thank you Mum and Dad, for always supporting my creative side. You'll never know how much that meant to me.
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