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Magpie Diaries - Restless Cities

It is a great pleasure to have an original idea only to find out afterwards that you were not the first. I enjoy this process immensely. It affirms that a story can be told in infinite ways and that your route will still be worthwhile. I see it as further proof of the thumbprint law of creativity; we each have our own.

I thought about this while reflecting on the book Restless Cities and considering how it relates to Truth to Material. By reading it I discovered that I belong to a community of enthusiasts who practice what is termed psychogeography. The effect of a geographical location on the emotion and behaviour of individuals. Truth to Material is created from my cherished occupation of urban walking and creating things based on this experience.

In the preface to the collections of essays in Restless Cities, Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart inform the reader that, for an observer of the urban environment, detail is everything. They believe it is necessary to ‘Inhabit the inside and outside of the city’ and abandon yourself to them to ‘trace trajectories that are at once geographical, historical and psychological.

The people I met over a period of five years to make Truth to Material are absolutely the route to the psychology of the city. They include its poets, musicians and alternative thinkers. It also includes people who were not kind to me, and even one I fell in love with. Of course I won’t say who!?

I don't feature in the film. I weave my music into the fabric of their stories as a response to them and the environment. It wouldn’t have mattered how good my tunes were, I had to have a reason to sing, and they gave me that inspiration. In this sense, any historical reference is a personal rather than academic one.

My Geographical homage is light. While I personally honour the structural and even economic and political enquiries of the artists before me, I am different to them. My research was formed unofficially and intimately by going out to events and taking my camera along. I was invited into peoples homes and trusted to talk to by hundreds of people, some of whom appeared on my show for Brum Radio that was based on the same theme. The story emanates from my fascination with people.

Restless Cities is a collection of essays that compares and explores aspects of the metropolitan city since the nineteenth century. It is a selection of work associated with the philosopher Henry Lefebvre and his theory and practice of ‘rhythmanalysis.’ Lefebvre believed that to ‘grasp and analyse rhythms’ of the street is an observation of the exterior that enables ‘analytic intellect to function.’ In other words, you can gain a deeper understanding of a place, and possibly yourself, by walking around it.

It includes the essay Inhabiting by Geoff Dyer, who says that Nietzsche was grateful to any circumstance that caused him to ‘break chains of enduring habit.’ Leaving London to return to my hometown of Birmingham in 2015 was that break for me. My relationship in London and with the city itself had ended. I even had to rehome my beloved cat Gracie.

My losses were more easily overcome however, when I was given the opportunity to romanticise the alluring options of coincidences in a new relationship to my home town. There were previous routes I hadn’t walked in years, but I soon tired of them due to their sameness and deterioration. Life in the world of chance offered me a solution to my disorientation and a greater freedom for my imagination. Strolling and collecting images is much more than a pastime for me, it is an integral act of liberation. A testimony to my right to roam.

The film and music could have been ready for release in 2020, but the global change in circumstance endured by us all caused a havoc of interference in my personal life again. I lost many of my sources of income and was forced to let go of established and developing friendships and relationships, and my dad died. To save myself from mental anguish, I applied to a London university that the writer Nick Papadimitriou, who has a keen interest in topography, had recommended. I was accepted and began the course during lockdown and moved back to London to complete it as soon as I could. Truth to Material was paused.

Before leaving Birmingham that time though, I had the good fortune to have met the musician and promoter Johnny Kowalski. He encouraged me to bring the project back to life and worked closely with me on the music. I had also made a new friend who introduced me to other cultural activities. She invited me to the Black Lives Matter rally in Centenary Square and this led to my capturing the final part of chapter one of the film.

I have now returned to Birmingham under happier circumstances in 2023 and have completed an edit of Truth to Material that I am ok with. I became aware of the Birmingham Film Festival and spoke to the CEO Dean to ask if he thought it was worth me entering it. He said that of course I should because it’s about ‘people and their stories.’ Exactly!

The film has now been selected for the festival and nominated for awards in the categories for Best Festival Film overall, Best Documentary and The Audience Award. A concrete recommendation for telling your own story your way? I hope so. You can find out how and why you did it in retrospect.

Restless Cities, Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart ( London Verso, 2010)

Art work by Paul O Shea

Truth to Material, Birmingham Film Festival, screening on November 20th ,Millennium Point, Birmingham, B4 7XG 2023, Book a Ticket

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