My friend Ian says that I take the most mundane photographs of anyone he knows. I’m proud to say: the more mundane, the better. I’m really into local building and architecture, and how people live, work and play in their everyday lives — background social practices1. I find humour in my own preconceptions about the way that the societies work, with that bit of surprise that things can be done differently. With Jennifer generously allowing me to stay in her home, my visit to Pockington, Cottingham (the area about the University of Hull) and Kingston-upon-Hull (Hull itself) was full of these little mundane delights.
Small memories include:
- Jennifer drove by Pockington post office in the morning, and sent Cameron into the back to pick up a package. The town is small enough that he could go to the back, without security guards or barb wire protecting the Royal Mail.
- The drive in front of the circle has some other cars parked in it, and Jennifer deftly squeezed her car with about 2 inches on either side of it. I’m a relatively confident driver, but I would have been scared of scraping off some paint, and Diana wouldn’t have even attempted it. Jennifer’s got an amazing grasp of the size of her car. She proved this again later, doing a U-turn/three-point turn in a one-lane street from a parking space with cars parked on both sides, to go the other direction.
- When we went grocery shopping at Tesco, we couldn’t find canned chicken stock so that I could make soup. (On the other hand, in Finland, Minna had doubts about finding chicken stock in her supermarket, but then found one litre packages of it in the “specialty food” section, as a new featured item). I guess soup-makers are classified as only those who start from whole chickens, and those who like it completely ready-made.
- Out at a pub for a quick lunch with a professor before a class, he had a beer — 20 minutes before he was to start a class. (The teetotalling culture from IBM still lives in memory, although it was lifted when Lou Gerstner became CEO.)
I got to see a bit of the local scenery while doing errand runs.
- Brian took me into town (Hull) while he stopped by a optician to pick up some contact lenses. We stopped by a bank branch in the centre of town — I think it only had two tellers. He did point out a few sights. The Beverley Gate was famous for being a key site in in the beginning of the English Civil War in 1642, but was demolished, so that lack of presence hardly stands up to it historicity. We viewed the ferry docks that are now rarely used, as land travel passes over the Humber Bridge, which held the world record as the longest single span suspension bridge for 17 years.
- Jennifer needed a key cut, and discovered that the local man that does that in Pocklington closes for all of Tuesdays. (Many store owners close on Tuesday afternoons). We drove into Hull to stop at a store that I’ll nominate as best knock-off of a Home Depot that I’ve ever seen — down to the orange signs. They don’t cut keys. We tried another hardware supply store, that also doesn’t cut keys, and were given directions by a woman with such a thick Yorkshire accent that I couldn’t make out what she was saying. She had directed us to a mall, but we never did find it.
- In Pockington, there are several neighbourhood “family butchers”. I assume that they don’t mean men with cleavers who make house calls!
Naturally, each university has its own quirks.
- The Business School at the University of Hull has just moved into a newly renovated complex of buildings — a real showcase. The parking lots are on the back side, so employees naturally want to come in through the back door. The back door, however, was not really intended as an entrance, so there’s no pull or knob, and the door always has an impromptu stopper in it to allow people to enter.
- The computers at the business school have security on the network locked down so tightly, that the physical address of the network card of my laptop had to be manually entered so that I could get access. (Network access is authored by software address at every other network in the world I’ve seen — and I’ve seen quite a few!)
Over time — maybe with too much study of “theory of practice”, I’ve tried to learn to not judge why things are done one way in one locale when they’re done another way in some other locale. People are (generally) smart, so there must be an explanation — although delving into how practices come about can really sometimes get convoluted.
1This philosophy is associated with phenomenology, including thinkers such as Heidegger: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes this idea in context: ” Phenomenology … leads into analyses of conditions of the possibility of intentionality, conditions involving motor skills and habits, background social practices, and often language, with its special place in human affairs”.Â