Familiarity breeds selective cognition: trying to see what’s under your nose.

For a few days last week I was doing the ‘school run’ for my two older grandchildren.  This entailed collecting them and driving them to school for 09.05, picking the younger one up at 11.35 and the older one at 15.20.

It’s important to be punctual.  Doors are locked after a very short window of opportunity at ‘delivery’ time, necessitating a visit to the school office if you’re late with consequent official reports for repeated lateness.  Needless to say this not only goes on the child’s record but, more importantly, has a negative effect on young and impressionable minds …. kids don’t like it.

I have always been a stickler for punctuality but this regime means I’m paranoid to make sure that I’m on time.  It’s 1½ miles as the crow flies but when I’m doing it the school run entails driving more than twice that distance from my house to theirs through the centre of Pontypool with very unpredictable traffic.  Some days it can take half an hour, other days only 15 minutes.

One of the problems is that the local authority in its wisdom (or lack of it) decided to turn the local secondary school serving the surrounding community into a Welsh language school with a large catchment area necessitating bussing all the pupils in every day.  There is only one road up to the hill-top community and the result is a fleet of old buses dismissed from scheduled services and now belching and grinding up and down the steep, winding, narrow road in convoy.  A more inaccessible location for a school with a wide catchment area is difficult to imagine.  Get behind the convoy and I’m late for the school run.

I don’t like the idea of children being taken to school by car but in this case the distance between their house and the primary school is such that, aged 3 and 5, they are just too young and walking isn’t a choice.  There is a convenient scheduled bus route but the convoy to the secondary school means that the timings of scheduled services are disrupted and can’t be relied on.

Soooo….. what’s all this rambling in aid of?  How does it relate to the title of the blog?  Simple.  To avoid being late to pick up the kids to take them home I make sure that I can be there 5 minutes early even if traffic is bad which means that some days I have 20 minutes to kill.  Mostly I sit in the car and listen to the radio but one day the sun was shining and the sky blue so I decided to take the camera for a short walk.

The footpath from the main part of the community to the school goes through the grounds of the old church.  Most of the community, a modern housing estate, is not particularly photogenic but the church and its grounds would not look out of place anywhere in rural Britain, not even in the Sarf East.  There are even wooden sculptures here and there, good examples of unpretentious public art. As I ambled along the path through the churchyard with the camera I became acutely aware that I was doing something regarded as abnormal.

It was clear that the parents, mostly young mothers, walking along the path to the school were looking at me with both puzzlement and suspicion.  They obviously wondered why anyone should want to walk around their patch taking photos.  I guess it’s true of most of us that we are so familiar with the place we live that it ceases to have any particular interest for us which makes us want to photograph it.  We don’t see the view which hangs together as a good composition even in good light and with blue sky.  It’s somebody else’s patch which sparks the imagination not our own patch.  Walking through the churchyard on a sunny day the church and its setting were very photogenic.  But not if you live in the community and walk it every day.  C’mon, anyone who walks around with a camera is a bit suss!!!!

It may be different if you live in a tourist honey pot where trippers, tourists, come in all the time to gawp and snap.  In St Ives or the Isle of Skye you expect to see voyeurs with cameras.  But not in a hilltop housing estate in the Valleys.  I guess I was simply regarded as weird rather than dangerous partly because I was known as one of the grandparent substituting on the school run but also because I was pointing the camera at buildings and landscapes not at people.

I suppose behind the suspicion is the inability to see what is interesting in our own locality.  Buildings, townscapes, landscapes, colours, details.  The challenge is to try to look at the everyday with fresh eyes.  Then we might better appreciate where we live and understand why others sometimes want to point a camera at it.

The path through the churchyard

Freshened up weather cock

The crow lands having helped out by measuring the distance

One of the wood carvings along the path - passed by most with scarcely a glance


This entry was posted in Art, Pontypool, Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Familiarity breeds selective cognition: trying to see what’s under your nose.

  1. dai hankey says:

    Appreciate the photos and grateful for the help with the school run Pops.

    Very observant thoughts regarding missing the view in front of your face. Truth is too many people walk with their eyes to the floor and whatever the reason (fear, shame, burdens of life etc.), they miss so much. It would make such a difference if people in the valleys could simply lift their eyes to the hills and see from where their help might come from – the God who created the beauty before them! (Psalm 121)

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