It’s my final post today and I’m back in Ironbridge prepping time-space budget surveys for this afternoon. I will be asking people on their way back to their cars if they would tell me where they’ve been during their visit, and how long it took them. I’ve been looking back over my posts from the last year – 18 snapshots illustrating how what I do in a space transforms my experience of it. For the people I’m surveying this week I imagine a car park probably just means a place to leave the car. For me it is a challenging environment where I have to find a location which is not in the way (of pedestrians and cars) but from which I can spot people who look like they may be leaving and get to them without scaring them off by running headlong across the car park waving a clipboard and yelling ‘wait’!
Looking back over my previous posts I can see it is my sixth post from Ironbridge, my field site, matching six posts from Birmingham where I live and have my office. There were also nine posts from other places where I’ve visited for work or holidays. Two posts came from conferences (in Orkney and Nottingham) while others came from trips to Sweden, Northumbria and Canterbury as well as trips home to my parents in Lincolnshire. This seems like a fairly accurate reflection of my year, although probably under-represents the amount of time I’ve spent sat at a desk! I guess on those days I managed to find things I perceived as being more interesting from my environment. While not a mis-representation it is intriguing that I didn’t want to keep showing pictures of a desktop computer. I wonder if this is something we all do when talking about our work – not necessarily trying to make it sound more ‘out there’ than it is exactly, but certainly downplaying the more mundane aspects. Perhaps boring is more truthful!
It’s my penultimate Human Seasons post and I expected to post some more pictures of my field site, with some comments about conducting tourism research in mid winter (hint – it’s very quiet!) But some things cannot be ignored. Last week I was walking along the Bristol Road in Birmingham and was rather surprised to see that, overnight, a large bus had apparently driven through a brick wall and parked itself amidst the debris of its passing. It was also partially covered with graffiti. As the days have gone on I have observed the bus moved (agents unknown) into different orientations within the space and additional graffiti appear on its sides.
Now a bit of background – the area where the bus is located is adjacent to a Youth Centre and skate park and has is a place where graffiti is permitted. I assumed the bus must be related to this project. But I can find no information about the bus. So for now it lives in my imagination as a sentient being itself that wakes at night to dance around its small plot – taking out the odd wall in the process!
The date may have rolled over onto another year but long term projects continue. I’ve posted before about the war memorials project I am working on (22 July 2016), something I tend to think about when I’m technically on holiday at my parents’ home in Lincolnshire. Over the New Year weekend I recorded 11 memorials and have somewhat optimistic plans to do another eight today. Previously I’ve thought about these places as commemorative spaces, perhaps falling into a trap of thinking of them as being ‘out of time’. Today though I am struck by how the experience of them is incredibly grounded in the here and now as I battle changing winter weather conditions. There has been fog (can’t find the memorials….), bright sunlight (can’t see the memorials) and heavy rain (just not going out…sorry!)
Arriving at my fieldsite this morning I was struck by the appealing view that can be seen from this bench in the corner of the carpark. Without the overgrown shrubbery this bench affords a clear view down the river towards the Iron Bridge but we’re out of the peak tourist season so the plants have been allowed to have their way for a while. It got me thinking about the structuring of tourist sightseeing – with benches placed in particular spots, or trees and plants cleared to make space for a key sightline.
What is also noticeable, in contrast, is the impossibility of recreating many of the images tourists will have seen prior to their visit. Before I first visited I thought the Museum of the Gorge was on a lake based on the images here: http://www.ironbridge.org.uk/our-attractions/museum-of-the-gorge/ Despite my best tries this is the closest I could get to recreating that image (without a boat!)
As a final thought I was struck by how ever changing places are, with momentary differences in temperature and light transforming the spaces we are in. As this morning’s grey clouds began to part and it began to get warmer a sudden mist appeared on the river. A view I’ve seen many times before was transformed momentarily into something entirely different.
Out of season space
The autumn is gradually passing into winter and the Iron Bridge, so thronged with tourists only a few weeks ago, is now the haunt of sole dog walkers and the odd PhD researcher. It is a time to consolidate and concentrate on other things – interviewing the people who work in tourism, analysing the content of the signage, and dreaming of next year when the tourists will return.
Light changes perception of space. We are now a few weeks past the Autumnal Equinox when we hang balanced between day and night. One would think that this would mean that darkness would be the more prevalent experience of the spaces we pass through, but as I have walked around both Ironbridge, where my research is focused, and Orkney where I’ve been attending a conference over the last few days, it has been the lightness of the low winter sun which has characterised everything. So below are some spaces lit by winter sunlight, especially at sunrise and sunset where the shadows seem to emphasise the light.
What does your workplace sound like? We’ve recently been struggling through having builders working in our office prompting the passive aggressive recordings of background noise to send to estates (recorded but unsent). Once the hammering had stopped for long enough for reflection to creep back in I began to think about how the qualities of sound affect one’s experience of space. It is widely acknowledged that senses other than sight are significant in embodied experience but I had not, until now, thought much about how to go about considering it. The experience of sounds in places is about much more than what can be electronically recorded. What is its colour and what is its shape? Does it have a personality – awkward, cacophonous, nervous or overwhelming?
So for this entry in the Human Seasons I will attempt to describe the quality of the sound of the space I am in rather than simply photograph it.
I am sitting in the office and I am alone. It is quiet but it is not silent. A chattering silence perhaps. The noises that reach my ears are gentle. The most constant of the sounds is the hum of the fan in my desktop computer, which blends seamlessly with the sound of the wind outside the windows, occasionally swollen by the swish of passing cars. While I can hear the cars I need my eyes to notice the pedestrians and cyclists who pass silently (to my ears at least) below. When I close my eyes and concentrate I can hear a faint, high pitched whine, perhaps from the lights. Against the background canvas of the quiet there are the small sounds which bubble up suddenly and then vanish almost immediately. The tapping of keys on the keyboard as I write. The distant voices of people somewhere else in the building. The echo of a door shutting somewhere out on the mezzanine. The footsteps of someone walking past. And I know if I wait a few minutes more the clock tower bell will begin to chime out the half hour. These are the sounds which make up my common, everyday, silence.
(Trying to) Work Space