“There are no apples here. The apples are over there.”
Today, as I walked to Trumpington Community Orchard, I felt the discomfort of a rock in my shoe. I took my shoe off, shook it out and put it back on. But when I tried walking, I found that the rock was still there and it made walking uncomfortable. So, I stopped, took my shoe off again, then took my sock off, shook it out and prepared to walk on. The rock was still there though.
I limped on and reached the orchard. Magically, as I passed through the gate, the discomfort of the rock disappeared. Was this a sign of some wonderful power inherent in this place? No such luck. A few steps later and the rock was back. I sat down at one of the picnic tables in the centre of the orchard space and gave the offending shoe a closer examination. Upon inspection, I discovered that a small and pointed stone had wedged itself into the sole of my sneaker, protruding through into the insole. I set about trying to get the sliver of granite out, but it was firmly stuck. Eventually, after much wiggling, I managed to dislodge it, but it took a long time. All in all, it was quite an involved process. At this point, I hear you ask: what’s all this got to do with apples? Fair question. This is quite a random start to a blog post, but I’ll try to tease some sense of this anecdote, eventually.
Trumpington Community Orchard is a very small place in the village of Trumpington, on the edge of Cambridge. About a month ago and got a thorough introduction to the history, and present, of the place by speaking to Susanna, one of the figures on the organising committee of the orchard. She told me that the space had pretty much been a waste ground until about five years ago. Then, after a long campaign, the local council granted permission, and a small amount of funding, for the orchard to be created.
Having been given the green light, a group of volunteers got to work on the sizeable task of clearing the site of the assorted junk that had accumulated there. In giving this account of the early days of the orchard, Susanna told me that the space had been quite a contentious local issue for some time. Apparently, a group of Eastern European migrants had set up camp there, much to the displeasure of residents in the local area, before being moved on. It had also been used as a dumping ground. So, the creation of the orchard was geared towards creating a positive place for the local community.
The local community adjacent to the orchard is an interesting mixture. There is a large conurbation of quite old semi-detached houses, but as you look over the tree-tops that flank the orchard you can see the bright, clean bricks of a new housing estate, part of the rapid expansion of Cambridge. The expansion of the city also includes a park and ride service that travels along the side of the orchard. This presents quite an odd picture. A sort of road, or railroad, comprised of concrete slabs makes a track for buses to roll along, taking people to and from the city. According to Susanna, this scheme has been controversial, too, with locals viewing the park and ride as the exclusive preserve of people who commute to London. During the day, the feeling is that the park and ride is dead, wasting money. Its only useful for the morning rush and at the end of the working day as people come home from the big smoke.
But what does all this have to do with apples? Again, fair question. The thing is, Trumpington is a young orchard. The apple trees that have been planted are tiny. But that’s not all. Earlier this year, the apples were stolen off the trees. Susanna didn’t have any idea of who might have done it, or why, but the simple fact of the matter is that, this year, there are no apples here. Sitting at the bench this morning as I investigated the stone in my shoe, I thought about this and, as I mused, I noticed a large apple tree in an allotment outside the orchard, which was heavily laden with apples. The cruel irony. The apples are over there.
There is quite a big allotment space next to the orchard and it presents an interesting contrast. Whereas the tiny apples trees are devoid of fruit, the allotments seem to be brimming with productivity. Perhaps a way of thinking about this contrast is that the allotments are managed by devoted owners who exercise quite tight control and protection over them. The orchard, supported as it is by a tiny group of volunteers, has less protection. It is vulnerable to anyone who wants to come in, whether it is to steal apples, drink beer and drop the cans amongst the trees or set up an illegal campsite.
This vulnerability expresses something of a paradox in a community space like Trumpington: the people who set it up wanted to do something good, to have an open space that is accessible to all, but in that accessibility, there will always be people who do things that the organising committee don’t like. So, what’s the answer? Tighter control? I don’t think so. But the openness of the space might be viewed as an inherent vulnerability.
This morning, as I nursed my wounded shoe, I looked at the sharp splinter that had harmed it and thought about the harm that had been done to the apple trees. As I was testing the sharp point of the stone against my finger, a couple of young lads came into the orchard with bikes. My defensive instincts were alerted – a couple of hooligans up to no good? They seemed to feel my suspect gaze as they walked past and settled down to have a smoke, but after a while I decided to go and join them. We chatted for a short while about the orchard and why they come there. They said that they liked the quiet of the place. They told me a bit about the area, what they were studying and asked a few questions of me: what kind of art would I be doing?
I told them that I wanted to make some work about what local people, like them, would like to do with a space like Trumpington Community Orchard. They nodded and suggested that they might pay me a visit later in the week. I hope they do.
I’m not sure what work will materialise from this residency, but here are some initial thoughts: Trumpington isn’t a commercial orchard and, as such, isn’t part of the economic ramifications of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, but it is a cultural site where some post-Brexit politics might play out. How do we feel about outsiders? How do we feel about people who come into a place and don’t use it how we want them to? How do we feel about stones in our shoes? Is the stone doing violence upon the shoe? Or did the shoe trample upon it in the first place?