I was recently reminded of the links between commuting and a sense of place in another context. At the weekend, I spoke to a friend about his regular commute by bicycle from Watlington, Oxfordshire, to Lewknor and from there by coach on into London.
He told an amusing anecdote concerning an unfortunate and rather strange experience from the preceding week. This entailed an unusually late disembarkation from the coach at Lewknor, whereupon a 3-mile journey cross-country on foot ensued, complete with the authorities in hot pursuit. A number of extraneous factors had played against him in this context including the untimely misplacing of his mobile phone earlier in the day, the happenstance lack of his usual bike to ride, his choice of footwear and its relative unsuitability for an unexpected midnight ramble, as well as the bizarre case of mistaken identity that led to the arrival of a police helicopter and patrol car on the scene.
So, how does this connect to the Sense of Place project? This surreal comedy of errors further highlighted to me our ever-present reliance on material culture and on the technologies of everyday life. It also underlined the fact that even the places that we pass on a daily basis are capable of becoming rapidly alien to us in the right (or in this case, wrong) circumstances. In short, my friend was in the wrong place at very much the wrong time, became embroiled in a person hunt that was inherently linked to that neighbourhood albeit not in any real sense to him, and he simply didn’t have the requisite equipment to ease his eventual, if somewhat dishevelled, return to the safety of home. A phone with which to call a taxi, a bike to speed his return, or a less ridiculous pair of shoes might each have helped in some small way. Suffice to say he now understands that winklepickers and muddy rural terrain don’t mix (and just as a curatorial aside, perhaps some patten’s might have been more effective, or maybe even some mudboards)!