The Mendicant Writer, Cosimo Galbraith, explores two divergent communities through the lives of five remarkable characters. In this fourth instalment he talks about community with Bruno, a quietly philosophical and mildly eccentric Science Professor, with a penchant for rummaging in city bins.
After drinking tea in a deserted video-shop with Gerry, I found myself dawdling home in the sleet. I kicked at the rubbish which spilled across the frozen pavement and found myself contemplating community and my contributors’ stories.
As I opened the door to my flat I was met by a gust of stale, freezing air and a vague, musty smell. I noticed something about The Big Society on one of the political fliers which nestled amongst my Christmas post.
Though I felt even more cynical about the initiative than before, I realised that my hatred of the concept had coaxed me from my armchair and into action, leading me to explore my own community. I had spent time with fishermen, crofters and video-shop proprietors.
As I began to unpack, I realised that I’d learned a few things along the way.
Norrie the Fisherman had taught me how to mend a creel. Nicolo the Crofter had brought me face-to-face with the first owner of my silky jumper across a field of sarcastic Alpacas.
Gerry, the ruddy, friendly, digestive-guzzling peddler of videos (and sarcasm) had shown me the exact calculations behind the mysterious ‘late fee’ which every video borrower dreads (it’s actually a very simple mathematical equation; I’d always thought that the video-lender invented the sum, based on their mood, horoscope predictions, feelings of happiness or misanthropy, and the annual rainfall).
But though my contributors had taught me many things, I still found myself feeling puzzled when I contemplated what community meant to me. I think Bruno, my next contributor, helped to clarify things.
Bruno’s name came up, purely by chance, when a friend phoned me to catch up. When Jeremy asked what I was up to, I mentioned that I was writing something about community.
It was immediately suggested that I meet a man called Bruno. Like the Harlequin in Heart of Darkness, Jeremy became intense and contemplative when he described Bruno, using words like ‘pragmatist’ and ‘visionary’.
I asked Jeremy for Bruno’s phone number because he intrigued me. When I texted, Bruno replied in strange, foreign sounding English, suggesting a time the following evening on a nearby street, with the faintly sinister comment, ‘good, because lots of bins.’
I didn’t know what to expect of Bruno. I imagined him as a sort of Mr Kurtz figure, using methods which were ‘unsound’ to improve his community. I felt slightly nervous as I walked towards the meeting place which he had suggested, but was met by a beckoning man with a broad smile, who clutched a heavy rucksack.
Handing me a pair of plastic gloves and making the gesture of a clothes peg above his nose, Bruno introduced me to the delights of delving through bins.
A slight, eccentric man in his late thirties, Bruno exists by day as a Science Professor, but enjoys spending his evenings rummaging through the bins of businesses and charity-shops for odds-and-ends.
He keeps the occasional ornament, but gives the majority of his finds to the small network of homeless and needy people who he has come to know across the city.
Bruno’s enormous beard, scuffed trainers and jerky movements attract some looks from passersby, but he is left largely undisturbed by residents because they understand the nature of his project and who it helps.
Bruno explained his thoughts about community very carefully and eloquently, between gulps from his flask.
To him, the misconception of many, particularly politicians, was that community was, and should still be, a bricks-and-mortar thing, where committees meet to decide the shape of community events and women sell cakes at bake sales.
Though this was still the case in some places, for Bruno community was a far broader thing, unique to human-beings and not to the place where they live.
Presumably drawing on his science background, in a way which I didn’t fully consider until later, Bruno mentioned how in Biology, groups of animals are sometimes referred to as ‘communities’. Sometimes they turn on one another; often they live together in harmony.
Sociologists and politicians can speculate for eternity about what variables will precipitate a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ outcome, but ultimately, when the talk is over, it will lie with people themselves to choose a path for their community themselves.