The illustration that accompanies this piece is by a good friend Julia Stone, who created it as a companion to the Shadows and Reflections article I wrote for Caught by the River. It is a lovely series of posts, as the different contributors to the website reflect on the year that has passed, and having made my own contribution it also means that I do not want to go over the same ground here. What I would like to do in what will most likely be the final Under a Grey Sky entry of 2012 is reflect a little on this place, which began almost a year ago in those muted and melancholic days between Christmas and the New Year.
When I began Under a Grey Sky I had a loose idea of what I wanted to create. I knew that I wanted it to be somewhere that explored the nature of “place”, the adventures that can be had beyond the front door whether in the city, town or country, on the fens or in the high mountains, in the woods or on the water. I did not want to write it alone, and it has been the biggest source of pleasure during this first year of Under a Grey Sky that so many people have chosen to contribute their words and their pictures, and the list that you will find on this page shows the range of interests and locations of those who have been part of the project so far.
For myself, the constant awareness that anything I might be doing once my feet hit the footpath or the pavement could be suitable material continued to encourage me to think more about my surroundings and the places I might be walking through. On one wander, in the south of Berlin during a conversation with friends, we discussed the importance of observation, of taking time to lift your eyes and ask questions as a means of exploring and understanding our surroundings. Just the fact that I knew I might sit down later at my desk to write up an experience forced me to look closer and to ask those questions, even if they would sometimes make their way into the pieces unanswered. Others obviously felt the same, and I find it wonderful that the range of questions that have been asked on these pages reflect the variety of places and people covered. How, for example, to we encourage access for all to wild places whilst at the same time protecting and maintaining the character that makes them so attractive in the first place? How do we remember and memorialise the past without turning our cities into museums? What is interesting about this place because, after all, every place is interesting in its own way?
Most of all, if I was to give an ultimate motive or reason to be for Under a Grey Sky it would be this question in particular: How do we encourage others to look more closely and think more deeply about the places they live in, they visit, and they love? If we do this, in our city neighbourhoods as well as our national parks, we will by extension be thinking about preservation and sustainability, of gentrification and the pace of change, of development and progress… and whatever conclusions we might then draw, at least our reactions will be more thoughtful, nuanced and considered.
So what comes next, as we head towards those grey skied post-Christmas days once more and thoughts turn to another year? I hope that Under a Grey Sky will continue to collect together its mixed bag of words and pictures that we have enjoyed over the first twelve months. And if there are any readers that have not yet, but wish to join the lovely list of contributors then please do get in touch. There should be no barrier to sharing experiences of the places we love and which interest us.
In any case, we will take a break here and return in the New Year, and I would like to sign off 2012 with the song below. At some point on the 1st January, when the fireworks have died away and the city has staggered to their beds, hopefully there will be the moment for this tune, to raise a glass to the year that has passed and look forward to many more grey skies in the future.
Words: Paul Scraton
Illustration: Julia Stone
Hi Paul. Thanks for this final post for 2012. You should be well pleased with under a grey sky. Strange you should mention the days between Christmas and New Year … I guess it’s something to do with closing out the past year and anticipating the next but that mix of reflection and future-gaze seems to unleash creative ideas. It certainly did with the blog. You’ve realised your intentions … and more besides. It’s an eclectic collection of fine commentaries often capturing the unusual. Contrasts and contradictions in place and identity, the struggles for and disputes over collective memory and the hopes for shared futures are stark here in Belfast as they are in so many places around the globe. Yet the diversity of posts, not least your own, celebrate difference. So here’s to 2013 and more fine writing!