This piece came out of an assignment for my creative writing class. I thought at the time that I would probably use it as a blog. And so I am using it, albeit in modified form. Our assignment was to choose a familiar route and describe it in such a way that it conveyed a sense of place. As I wrote, the parallels between my short journey to work and the work itself seemed to merge.
My route to work takes about five minutes at most. I leave my 300-year-old cottage in Aylesbury’s Old Town and cross Castle Street to the Mound. That’s my first bit of history. There is no castle nor ever has been but a version of the name remains. Home represents a past that has been adapted to the present but which still influences how we live today.We have low ceilings and windy stairs both of which set limits on what we do with the house. In my clinical work I constantly meet with the ways in which my patients have adapted their present to their past. Their internal structures set limits on what they have been able to build emotionally and intellectually. From home – which is, as Winnicott points out where were we start from – I go across the road, past the next landmarks to the next stage of my journey. I cross what is known locally as the Mound, an open space enjoyed by many. The drinkers with their cans, the teenagers “just chillin’ “, the couples all but making love in the summer, the drug addicts at the top corner who leave their gear in the bushes for the local wildlife to find. (We have some of the happiest foxes for miles.) It’s sometimes very hard to know where to look – or not!
Without making the story overly allegorical, there is a link here to my work. How do people use their open spaces? Can they relax with a book? Or sit on the grass chatting with friends? Or is there a need to blot out the present with drugs, sex or drink? Anything to numb the pain of Being. These more squalid aspects are juxtaposed with an attractive border of a variety of flowers and shrubs. This again seems to mirror so much of what I see in my counselling and have seen over the years in my nursing. Something alive and thriving sitting next to something deathly and squalid.
My short walk continues along a cobbled path which if I’m cycling I fondly imagine is the Paris-Roubaix ride, famous for its cobbled sections (known as the Hell of the North and challenging to ride). It doesn’t take long working as a counsellor to find out how quickly smooth tarmac gives way to bumps, lumps and cobbles. As I continue I can see in front of me the nursery that began as a church. Childcare obviously pays better than God. Sometimes I see the children having their playtime, their noses pushed through the railings. (Another useful image for my work which so often moves through time. We begin with the remembered – or forgotten past – and on to childhood memories and recollections. Of parents who were sufficiently or insufficiently present or absent. Of being popular or unpopular at school.)
After the Hell of the North life gets easier. It’s tarmac all the way down to the main road. I turn left at the bottom past another terrace of new houses built, I guess, in the late 1990’s. I see today that one them has just been Let. (I hadn’t realised it was for Let in the first place.) I don’t much like these properties. They are soulless. “Little boxes made of ticky tacky.” I go left up the hill, passing a mixture of old and new Aylesbury. The first new development is a block of “Luxurious New One and Two Bedroom Apartments.” situated in what was an office block. I was amazed when the work began. I couldn’t see how this building could possibly house people. I still don’t. But they will sell quickly enough. As so often, I’m ambivalent about this development. I’m pleased that homes are being made available but wonder about the kind of life that they will engender. I doubt there is room for children in these flats. Having family and friends to stay in a one bedroom flat might prove a challenge. As so often the environment shapes much of the life that goes on in it.
I carry on up the hill to work, passing Morrison’s on my right with its very convenient car park. I always tell my patients to leave their cars here. (I hope they at least buy a can of beans. Just as a token “Thank You”. Maybe I should offer the store a donation. But I doubt they need it.) As I go up, I pass our local OCD lady with her rituals. She takes a certain number of steps then stops. She crosses yellow lines carefully, not treading on them. She often spends time looking for her keys which she has dropped down a drain. Several times a week. (A generous friend once spent 20 minutes trying to retrieve her keys before realising that she had not lost them at all. This was part of her OCD. He didn’t volunteer again.)
I carry on the few hundred yards more, passing offices, one or two grand houses, solicitors, and an engineering company. Then I’m at work. I key in my passcode and go into the Quaker Meeting house where I have my counselling room, where I repeat emotionally the physical journey I’ve just made. What has changed in my patient’s world since we last met? What memories did our last session evoke? What new developments have received planing permission?