In praise of the ordinary: a day trip to Eltham Palace

Photo: Tom Hayward

We walk slowly around the beautifully restored gardens of Eltham Palace in south London. Unexpectedly the sun shines. ‘Let’s go slowly’, says Dahlia, ‘I need all the vitamin D that I can get’. The sight of us arriving in the entrance lobby had excited great curiosity. ‘Are you all social workers?’ asked a man with an expensive camera hanging around his neck. ‘How much is this costing?’

You could say that this is nothing special. Just a day trip, a day out, a hark back to the old works beano. But somehow this early August day has morphed into a gentle uncovering, an un-hiding of people: the placing back into the public gaze of so many who we just don’t get to see. The very act becomes political: as if we are reclaiming the right to ordinarily inhabit public space, to stitch ourselves back carefully into the fabric of community.

The trip to Eltham is part of a suite of Meet Me activities called Meet Me on the Move. For the last year, we have been going out and about on different journeys across the city.

The coach steps magically transform themselves into a stair lift

To museums and galleries, to parks and open spaces. There are fifty of us on this expedition: (formerly) isolated older people, artists, volunteers, befrienders, project staff; fifty people curious and interested about each other’s lives. 

Perhaps as we grow older it becomes more complicated to stay ordinary, to be recognized, valued and celebrated for the beauty of our ordinariness. There is so much more planning and careful preparation needed to achieve moments that decades earlier wouldn’t have merited a second thought. The micromanagement of journey planning, risk assessment, of ensuring that there are available and adequate resources in place presents huge and often daunting tasks.

This is a renegotiation of the possible. This morning on the radio I snatched the fragment of someone saying: ‘Real progress is about making things that are completely unrealistic, realistic.’

Maybe at any age or stage of our lives we want the opportunity to be with people we know, and people who we are getting to know, against different backdrops, in front of different horizons and then for brief moments in time the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

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