I don’t follow the news very much; a little on the radio, and a little online. Some days I think I should be more connected, other days, less. Yesterday morning I had a quick browse on the Internet. The top story was about a leader on the other side of the Atlantic, seemingly intent on dividing his people. He curls his lip, snarls, points aggressively, swears, threatens his citizens. How did this happen? I flip my laptop screen down. My heart hurts. I’ve got to get out, interact, know that the world isn’t all bad. On my kitchen table is a pamphlet for the “Twelfth Colony of Artists Exhibition.” It’s nearby. I’m going.
The Colonies is a series of six modest streets, running like potato drills off London Road. Apparently, the name came from the design of the homes – which are built in rows, one small flat upon the other, like a colony of bees. Bunting festoons the streets today, and front doors lie wide open, welcoming anyone who pleases to come in and look around. The small gardens are blousy and full at this time of year. Apples hang heavily from low boughs, the honeysuckle is about to turn, acers are at their deepest red, matching the berries on the mountain ash, and there are late roses, cosmos, and sunflowers. It is a city-haven. Today it is a city-heaven. Music comes from the yard of an old warehouse in Rossie Place, running along the bottom of the Colonies, where familes are drinking tea, coffee and Colonies craft beer. Children dance. It is an incredible show of gentle togetherness.
In all, at least thirty houses are taking part – as well a few latecomers, not featured in the brochure. Initially, I wander up and down the streets, just taking it all in. I am amazed by the openness and honesty and sense of trust within this community: the madness of flinging their doors open and bringing the people to their art. I’m a little embarrassed to wander into these houses, even if invited. Eventually I pluck up the courage and go into one, and then another, and another, until I’ve lost count, lost my bearings, lost my place in the brochure. It is astounding. The householders are talented, and generous, and sharing. Like colonies of ants, we tramp through their artistic bee colonies. I see hand blown glass in colours of autumn heather. I see stunning chalky portraits – the artist is there and I admire her self-portrait. I love the pen, ink, and watercolour drawings of local landmarks, intricate details of favourite cafés picked out. There are prints and photographs, wildflower watercolours, sound installations, raku pottery, fine porcelain see-through ceramics, huge oil canvases of landscapes swamping the rooms in which they are hung, felting, delicate jewellery with vintage jade, screen-prints, pen drawings of reclining nudes. The array is astounding. How on earth have these people all found themselves here, I wonder? I think of the old saying, ‘water finds its own level’. Is it as simple as that?
My heart doesn’t hurt any more. I’m almost done and I look in on a few of the gardens as I make my way home: photographs displayed under a gazebo, a tea and cake stall for Oxfam, and one house is its own work of art with an umbrella installation draped over it. A wink to the dry day, perhaps? I spot a few of the Colonies cats, local celebrities now, as they’ve been featured by one of the artists. To end my day, I go to the nearby Artisan Pub, watch a short film and read about the history of the area. I learn that the strength of community togetherness in the Colonies is something that has built over time with neighbourliness and care and attention and sharing. And adversity. I had found the antidote to the snarling ‘world leader’ on my very doorstep.