Making a fuss

Suffragetter at Barnaby Parade - part of Barnaby Festival 2018, Macclesfield
Getting into the swing…..Suffragettes at Barnaby Parade

The idea of making a fuss is an anathema to me. And I’m certainly not a parade or protest kind of person – making a fuss in public, in a crowd. I don’t think so.

It was a surprise even to me, then, to find myself gathering in a car park with a mixed bunch of nearly 100 suffragettes, some in full Edwardian, and some, like me, in a random selection of violet, green and white. This wasn’t a protest march, it was a cheery community parade for Macclesfield’s regular Barnaby Festival, but nonetheless I was uneasy as I greeted friends, adjusted costumes and waited to set off. This really isn’t my kind of thing, and I might have made my excuses if something hadn’t happened the day before to strengthen my resolve.

Miller's Dale, coming up to Cressbrook, Derbyshire
Miller’s Dale, coming up to Cressbrook, Derbyshire

Escaping the festival frazzle, the green quiet of a walk from Litton, in the Peak District, was a moment to push my mind into a more expansive space where history has clicked forward century by century, and nature rolls on in the patterns of new life, old life, compost.

The ramsons are over but you still get a faint whiff of their rotting garlicky smell in the woods, and the champion and ox eye daisy are rampant this year. A mandarin duck dips in and out of the leafy shallows with her impossibly tiny chicks and the craggy limestone battlements stand where they’ve stood for millennia.

Garlicky woods and ancient artefacts - and not so ancient ones too. Cressbrook Dale, Derbshire.
Garlicky woods and ancient artefacts – and not so ancient ones too. Cressbrook Dale, Derbshire.

And then, one of those moments of enchantment – the well dressing at Cressbrook.

Prompted by signs, we eventually found the dressed well tucked away in a little common space next to a community garden and accessed by footpaths. They’d themed it ‘Women hold Up Half the World’ in memory of a member of the community.

The notes that accompanied the dressing enjoined us to consider that “Women have given, and continue to give, as much as men, and their potential, contribution and voices need to be recognised if nations and communities are to flourish”. It encouraged us to think about how we can further that potential today, recognising that while some of us work under a relatively clear blue sky, many hold up the sky in much, much tougher circumstances, and yet they do so, and yet they continue.

“Women Hold Up Half the Sky” Cressbrook Well Dressing, Derbyshire, 2018

Coming 100 years after some women finally received the vote, and especially when there’s still so much to do, a bit of public parading suddenly seemed like a small thing.

And having done it, I learned something else too. Walking shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers; singing a traditional suffragette song; shouting out “No. More. Unequal Pay!” just out of sync with the others and thinking about how far we’ve come, I found myself welling up. Not once, but several times. Awkward. But something about standing together, walking in the footsteps of brave and angry women, shouting out for change, was a profound and moving experience, even when it was a bit of fun.

So, I think I get it. Marching, protesting. Even if I’m well aware that dressing up in an unusual colour scheme and waving a banner is a considerable gloss on what the suffragettes felt they had to do. I’m noticing that recently people are marching again on a scale they haven’t done for some time in the UK. For the NHS, against Trump, against austerity, and even in Macclesfield later this month there’ll be our first Pride event. Of course the effectiveness of protests can be endlessly debated, and they achieve many different things varying from community fun to vicious confrontations, and everything in between. But one person’s nuisance is another person’s justice, and sometimes you have to stand with other people in order to be heard. A crowd will never be an easy place for me to be, but sometimes, I do see, you have to be prepared to make a fuss.

Suffragette banner
“Same Stuff, Different Century” Suffragette banner ready for action

Here’s the walk at Litton if you want to give it a go. The Well Dressing at Cressbrook took place in June.

Walking and life or business coaching are partners made in heaven. Walking helps you think. Coaching helps you think. Natural Thinking brings the two together to help people sort stuff out and make things happen. Plus, summer is a great time to review and reassess where you’re going and what you want to do. Want to give it a try? Check it out here

The Story of the Walk

wild garlic near Bakewell in Derbyshire
Meandering through wild garlic near Bakewell in Derbyshire

All my walks have their own story. The route, the weather, the mud, the café, the companions, the cows (or hopefully not..), the copulating frogs, the wild garlic, the wood anemones, the lamb carcass 6 foot up in a tree (I know, ugh. I’m not sure what this says about our Cheshire buzzards). You know the kind of thing.

But there’s another story that is woven in with this one – the stuff I bring in my head. And with this stuff, I notice a pattern, a rough gathering together into a beginning, middle and end that echoes the unfolding of the walk.

The River Wye from Monsal Head
The river Wye from near Monsal Head. Each season tells a different story…

After I set off but before I get going, there’s a sense of meeting myself in that place. Are my feet comfy in these shoes, am I tired, grumpy or does my back ache? What have I got to do this week, who’s annoying me, what tricky interactions have I got to manage? Why can’t I get enthused about gardening these days and why am I avoiding painting and decorating the bathroom?

As the walk goes on there’s a kind of settling. My body gets used to the pace, I warm up, I adjust my shoes and get my hair out of my face. Many thoughts fall away and I’m absorbed in finding the way and a steady, gently paced examination of the things that have remained. Inner thoughts and outer experience are woven together, holding each other in a comfortable relationship. There may be special revelations, or maybe not. Often it’s about noticing the line of molehills in a field or a weird cloud formation as much as realising that I could approach a problem with my work in a different way.

As the walk draws to a close, thoughts turn to food, fireside, ice cream (delete according to season) or the drive home. Or what’s got to happen next. There’s a kind of line drawn under the space, maybe with a colon pointing to what’s next:

muddy path near Wincle, Macclesfield
Alas, the story of my walking often includes a chapter on mud…although carefully avoided for my coaching clients!

This is not to say that I come away from a walk with all the answers to my questions, but that the mishmash of worries, ideas, interests and just plain chaff is settled into a framework that allows me to hold it all there for a while while I think about what to do with it.

One of the things that I do as a coach is to create a space and a structure for my clients to examine their own thoughts and decide what’s important. Answers or advice are less important than creating a constructive, fruitful space full of the potential for brilliant thinking.

It’s my experience that a walk has many of these characteristics too, albeit in an informal way. This is the raison d’être for Natural Thinking, my coaching business. Working with a coach provides a respectful companion with a listening ear and a sheaf of techniques to enhance your thinking, and bringing this together with being outside is what I do.

wood anemones near Lyme Park, Cheshire
Wood anemones in flower, near Lyme Park in Cheshire

But the joy of walking is that it’s available for free to those who are inclined and able to get out in some way. A walk is a natural coach.

I bet those of you who walk regularly – and I know many of you do – have noticed this or something like it. I’d love to hear about your experiences if you’d like to share them.