When I started clearing my drive of snow one day last winter there wasn’t much happening in my head or in my street. It was sunny, the snow was deeper than usual and it would probably take me an hour or so to clear the drive. I had no plans other than a family walk; ‘thinking time’ I thought.
I tend to think best when doing something unrelated, physical even.
Before I started, I’d tweeted the above picture. I’d suggested it might take a while to ‘dig her out’. Someone responded saying they wanted to see a snow angel and a snowman by the end of the day. I like challenges.
As I started clearing the snow, the only thing I had on my mind, other than remembering it was FA Cup weekend, was I might make a snowman but probably wouldn’t do the snow angel.
Six hours later the drive was clear, we’d been for a walk, I’d done a snow angel and built this.
Not exactly a snowman, it just morphed into a cross between Brian the snail and the Loch Ness Monster. It wasn’t in my back garden either; on the grass verge in front of my house, in public, for all to see and comment or have an opinion on.
The time it took to create was the most satisfying I’ve had in a while. Not because I created something, but because of what building it did. Seven cars driving by stopped to comment. One guy got out and we had a chat about living where we do. Two neighbours clearing their drives came across for a chat. My next door neighbour came out and we talked kids and jobs and what we thought of the new 20 mile an hour scheme.
A guy who I’d never met stopped for a chat. He’d come from Shadwell, a couple of miles away, and was heading to a friend’s house to watch the footy. He’d bought some bottles of beer on the way over and they were going to have fish and chips for dinner. We discussed where the cup giant killings might happen and wished each other well and off he went.
Alice, Leo and Sam
The next time I looked up, there were 3 figures in silhouette with the sun behind them. Others I’d not met before. Leonardo was two and a half. He was well wrapped up in a blue all-in-one. He spent over 45 minutes ‘helping’ me. He’d found the kitchen spatula that I’d sneaked out of the house to carve the thing’s face. Leo was happy and so was his mum. Alice had a nice smile, happy eyes and seemed glad to be outside. She’d just had another child three weeks ago who was back home with dad. If Leo was occupied and happy, so was she. They lived 10 or so doors down the street and had done for five years. Sam, the dog, was happy too and as long as he didn’t come near the thing, so was I. Leo never said a word while he scraped or dug holes in the thing but me and Alice made up for that. They stopped for nearly an hour. It was nice to talk. Leo cried when he had to go.
And when all the people had gone about their day and I’d gone in and sat down I thought that if I’d built the thing in my back garden then none of that conversation would have happened.
People are generally sociable and especially when something happens out of the normal, such as deep snow or someone creating a talking point. I had no plan to get up and meet the neighbours, talk to people I’d never met before or discover that John from Shadwell likes Hobgobblin beer or that Alice from down the street had her last child by Caesarean, or that few of the people I’d chatted with understood the 20mph zone on our street.
When all the snow had gone it dawned on me; there is a huge similarity with the thing I built in the street and something I’m doing at work called ‘Sociable Organisation’. It can be found with the tag #trulysocial It’s a discussion about what might make working in and with a large organisation more sociable and about how introducing networking and new social ways of communicating may help bring people together.
So what turned out to be a tongue in cheek challenge on twitter about a snow angel turned into much more.
I’ve since printed a copy of the photo I took of the thing and put it through the door for Leo. I hope that will make him smile.