In this interview, Dee Williams puts into words so succinctly the things I believe, that I wanted to share it with you here.
Two things in particular resonate with me.
First, she says – when asked for advice right at the end – that you only have one little shot, so just go for it. At fifty-six years old now, my consciousness of that truth is getting sharper by the day. I don’t want to die without having lived as I dreamed life could be.
Second, she speaks about class issues – a little boy on hearing that she lives in a friend’s back yard: “Oh! You’re homeless!” And she speaks of her initial jolt to get started arising from a trip to Guatemala, comparing daily life for the friends she met there with the expectations of middle-class America.
Well, one among many features that attract me to Hastings is the poverty. I am sufficiently inadequate in terms of mainstream skills and priorities that I have a very low income. I feel comfortable with other people who are “poor” too. I put that in inverted commas because I do not feel poor and have never been impeded in living as I choose, largely because I was raised by a determined and resourceful woman who taught me how to take care of myself and those I love. But waste, excess, complacency and snobbery revolt me; I prefer the company of simple and humble folk; the salt of the earth. They do not look down on me.
Last week I went to buy wool at a shop in a small town inland – a wealthy place, somewhere I could not possibly afford a home. I got chatting with the lady serving in the shop, and she asked me where I live, so I told her, “Hastings”. With some distaste she told me how Hastings has changed for the worse in the time she’s known it. I replied that one of the things I like about Hastings is it resists change – corporate interest has a hard time moulding Hastings into any kind of shape; it just goes back to being what it always was.
Wishing to clarify, she explained that it all started to go wrong back in the 1960s when the London Overspill people came – this was poor people re-housed from East London (the poorer quarter of London) when they knocked down their homes in slum clearance. She said they had brought down the quality of life, and now there has developed in Hastings what she could only describe as an Underclass. She said this a couple of times, with emphasis, winding up by saying she prefers not to go to Hastings nowadays.
I’ve come across this before. When I used to preach round the Methodist Circuit some years back, a vestry steward in one of the Bexhill chapels mentioned in passing that she would be afraid to go to Hastings shopping or visiting, because it is such a rough and dangerous place.
I have lived in Hastings most of my adult live, never been afraid, not felt the need to lock my home (in past days before I lived in shared accommodation), always been comfortable and at peace here.
And even if I could afford to live in a wealthy place, it would distress me to do so. There is very little I can offer people who are struggling, but I can at least not abandon them; live alongside them and be proud to count them among my friends.
I found in Dee Williams’ interview a profound humility and intelligence that rejoice my heart. It’s twenty-seven minutes long, so you’ll need a cup of tea!