Deep joy! I have finally been able to start work on my Covid-delayed Arts Council funded project A Feather In My Wallet. It should have happened last July but the pandemic truly scuppered all our plans. Even now, it is a bit patchy, and some of it has had to move online.
It is a project about finding stories in the little things we keep and was inspired by this story:
When the First World War began, my grandfather George was one of the first men to volunteer. He was wounded by shrapnel and discharged from the army in 1916. One day, as the war raged on, George took a tram ride in Liverpool. He was wearing civilian clothes. A woman left the tram. As she passed him by, she silently dropped a white feather, the sign of a coward, into his lap. George kept the feather in his wallet for the rest of his life.
I am working with image maker Anne Brierley, who is working like a war artist, drawing and painting the portraits of people I talk to. Future participants in the project will be terminal day patients at St Giles Hospice in Lichfield, a mental health group in Moseley and various community arts groups across the West Midlands. But we began this week on the street, talking to solitary men in city centre Birmingham, because our project aims to explore feelings of loneliness and social isolation (which makes it ironic that we were shut down because of lockdowns!!)
While Anne painted, I heard deeply human stories of multiple bereavement, eviction, the invisible hell of being homeless and the emotional pain of being a carer. One man told me he cares for his wife, who has ever-worsening dementia. ‘Some days I yearn for a conversation,’ he said.
But there was resilience too, plus wisdom, humour and enormous love. It was a privilege to be given such stories, and we all enjoyed the sharing after so many months of solitude.
These are some of Anne’s portraits from the day.