I live in the Borough of Greenwich in Plumstead, which is about a 15 minute-walk from Woolwich. It’s an unsung part of London, with acres of open space, woodland, amazing views, steep hills, stunning sunsets and affordable housing.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be part of a preview audience for A High Street Odyssey, a new show from the amazing Inspector Sands. This innovative, hilarious and warm ‘invisible’ promenade show (with headphones for the audience and stunning, highly technical sound play) is touring UK high streets this summer. It was developed and previewed in Woolwich and will be returning there on 28th and 29th June for the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival – go see! It’s free, but you need to book and it’s ace!
If you stroll down Woolwich’s main shopping streets, you’ll see a pretty much classic example of an urban British town centre – people shopping, harassed office workers having a quick fag, kids pointing at the cakes in the baker’s window, tough guys in vests walking their Staffies, mothers and nannies corralling herds of children, a man helping a lady pick up the onions that have escaped from her string bag, people running for a bus, buskers trying out a new song, a church choir praising creation, elderly ladies pushing their canvas shopping trollies in front of them, teenage boys pretending they’re not looking at girls, couples bickering about the amount of time they spend shopping, couples having a canoodle, toddlers distraught at having let go of their free McDonald’s balloon, a queue at the traditional ice cream stand, parents taking snapshots of their terrified three-year-old riding on a mini big wheel, market traders yelping unintelligibly about fruit or maybe vegetables, religious people tenderly pressing leaflets into your hand, more religious people tenderly expressing concern for your immortal soul, gleeful schoolgirls dashing out of Primark with glints in their eyes and bulges under their coats…
During the preview of the play, people on the high street who weren’t part of the audience were so interested in what was going on; asking what was happening, wondering whether it would be on TV, wanting to join in, wanting to be part of it, loving the weirdness and unexpectedness and gentleness of it. Human reactions from human beings. Who feel safe and comfortable and at home in their neighbourhood and on their bustling high street.
And then sometimes the bustle stops.
The first time I saw Woolwich stop was the day after the 2011 riots.
The second time I saw it stop was yesterday, after the indescribably horrendous murder of the soldier from the barracks.
What can you do?
Carry on shopping. Carry on wanting a cake. Carry on being willing to stop and help people. Carry on running for that bus. Carry on yelping about fruit or maybe vegetables. Carry on caring about strangers’ souls. Carry on picking up onions. Carry on being curious about what’s going on. Carry on shoplifting. Carry on eating traditional ice cream. Carry on doing plays in the streets. Carry on riding miniature Ferris wheels. Carry on having a sneaky fag. Carry on bickering. Carry on canoodling. Carry on. Carry on living. Carry on living in Woolwich.