Sensational Shirley of Sittingbourne

Today I had an appointment in a town that I have never been to before. I went with Robert, as my personal inbuilt navigational compass is somewhat precarious at best. If there is an opportunity to get lost somewhere, then there is a strong chance that I will take it! We took the train from my seaside town to a little further inland and stepped out of the station.

To me, stations are always placed in weird places in towns. Usually somewhere slightly on the outskirts that a step in the right direction will land you in the main part of the town, which is good. But a step in the wrong one will render you wandering residential streets with a vague and desperate feeling that you should have packed a tent.

So I braved it and asked a local. Just to get us started in a direction that would not require the use of a primus stove. And we found Shirley.

Shirley was coming past the station with her partner MeMe (pronounced me-me). I don’t know if this is the right spelling and apparently it was not even his actual name, but a pet name that she called him. Shirley then not only pointed us in the right direction but offered to take us to our destination. She pointed out the local Costa which she said was expensive and then some local cafes which she said were much more reasonable and did really good food. On route, she also pointed out some good second-hand shops, the bingo hall and the shopping centre. Shirley was a natural town ambassador.

I asked Shirley about her accent, which she said was American. Shirley was from Michigan and had been in the American Airforce, and after her last station in Germany, she decided to come to the UK, as she loved it very much. This was in 1971. She then became a UK citizen and got married and had children. Her husband had died some years ago, and then she had met MeMe. Her granddaughter was nine and has autism and dyslexia, but had finally managed to make a friend and has just begun learning to read. She was really proud of her.

When we arrived at our destination, me and Robert then thanked her profusely for her assistance and went into one of the cafes that she recommended. The women running the cafe were awesome, they were so incredibly friendly and helpful. We sat in the sun-dappled garden and on the wall was some incredible graffiti. This was throughout the town as well, some truly beautiful graffiti adorning side alleyways. I felt compelled to photograph some of it. It was an amazingly enriched day. On our way home we got the station just as our train was about to pull in. No rushing, just an utterly chilled.

Someone told me a story recently that was along the lines of this. A man left his town in search of a new place to live. Eventually, he came across another town. Before he entered he saw an old man sitting just outside it, so he asked him what this new town was like. The old man countered this question by asking what his old town was like. The man responded by telling him that people there were mean, no one cared about anything, it had not been a good place to live. The old man considered his response and told him that the new town he was about to enter was much the same as his old town was. The man thanked him profusely and went in search of another new place to call home. Shortly after the old man was asked the same question by another man in search of a new place to live ‘What was the new place like?’ Again the old man countered with the same response as before and the man answered that his old town was a happy one, people were generous with their time and he had felt love there. The old man paused and chose his words carefully, and told him that the new town was much the same as his old one had been.

Map Point. How much does my world represent what I feel?



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