Random Acts of Kindness, 21/02/23

Today I was involved in a project called Random Acts of Kindness at Nottingham University Hospitals. I got the bus up Maid Marian Way, past the Playhouse and up to The Ropewalk Medical Centre, near the top bit of The Park I always used to walk through when I was in uni.

The building is lovely – a little less hectic than the other hospitals and straight away there’s a feeling about the place of an element of community – it feels like people know each other.

I was there to sit in the café and chat to staff members who wanted to ask for a poem for one of their colleagues, as a way of spreading little celebrations, moments of joy.

I was a bit tucked away round the back, so set up and thought I’d have a fair bit of time to warm up, practice a few of my own before getting stuck in, but pretty soon I had my first ‘customers’, two women who worked at the hospital who wanted poems written from colleagues of theirs, one of whom was great at always getting on with stuff with a smile, and another who had been affected by the earthquakes in Turkey.

I asked them to give me half an hour and got to writing.

I’ve done this once before, as part of the Poetry Takeaway Van, in Mansfield City Centre last year, and it’s one of the most enjoyable ways of writing I’ve ever found. It’s directly for other people. It never has to exist beyond that simple exchange, and yet it feels like the exchange will ripple; they’ll give it to the people they’ve asked for it for, they might share it with other people too. And as well as writing, we have a chat, we talk, and the time flies.

Later in the afternoon, I ended up chatting for a while to an older German woman who was born in Berlin during the Second World War, and talked about how peaceful she remembered the city being growing up after the war, how much time and space people had for each other, what a shame it is that that seems to be deteriorating across the world now.

The writing is easier too. There’s no sense of trying to be brilliant or to find exactly what I need to say; it’s in the service of someone else – how best can I catch a quick picture of this person someone has asked me to celebrate? And I don’t know, it feels like that’s what writing is about for me. It’s not about brilliance or individual transcendence, at its best it’s about community. I forget that a lot of the time. Writing directly for other people reminds me, and it just flows.

At the end of the day, I chatted for a good while to Andy the security guard, who was an artist himself, an illustrator, tattoo designer, caricaturist, storyteller, from a line of artists and poets. No-one ever thinks it of me though, he said. We chatted about his four year old son, how strong he is, and how massively into dinosaurs he is.

It was a brilliant end to a lovely afternoon.

This is the poem we came up with for Andy’s son:

4 years on, for Archie

The first time I held you, it was a miracle.

Unbelievable, I felt empowered, powerful

as I looked at you there, my boy, in my arms.

4 years on, you’re the brightest spark.

Know all your dinosaurs, A – Z,

pronouncing Parasaurolophus perfectly,

Ankylosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Carnotaurus, Yinlong,

your cleverness shocks me all day long.

4 years on, my love is as huge as your strength.

That dropkick you landed knocked the breath out me chest!

So I want to tell you what my dad said:

Be just. Be good. Where you can, protect.

Be a friendly dinosaur.

That’s the way Yorkes are bred.

And above all else, my miraculous lad,

know you’ve got me always,

your friendly dinosaur dad.


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