Louise and I hold hands. Picture by Lou Brodie
What do you think about, when I say “holding hands”? Is it pig-tailed girls swinging their arms and giggling, best friends. Or lovers with their palms glued together, or running their fingers over one another’s hands just to make sure they’re real?
I think of love. Whether it’s a consolatory hand-hold to tell a sad friend that I’m listening, or skipping hysterically down a street after way, way too much prosecco, or walking down the street smiling happily at my boyfriend, I only hold hands with people I love. Oh, not my parents though. My family loves each other dearly, but from a distance.
Apparently the UK is jolly rare in thinking of hand-holding in such a limited fashion. While idly combing the internet for more things to do in my beloved Camberwell, I came across a work in progress by Louise Brodie, called Palm To Palm – The Art of Holding Hands:
Would you hold hands with me? Not because you love me, or because you must take care of me, or because I’m in distress. Would you hold hands with me just because I asked you to?
Join Louise as she invites you to take part in her daily challenge – To hold someone’s hand for 30 minutes. Louise is doing this everyday in 2012 and for a few nights at the Ovalhouse she will attempted to create a theatrical journey that explores her discovery of Britain’s touch-deprived culture.
As one of life’s perennial button-pressers, stray-hair fiddlers and responder to calls for participants, I couldn’t resist. I messaged Lou on Twitter and we arranged to meet up in the park near my flat on Saturday morning.
When I started to really think of it though, I got slightly nervous. Half an hour can zoom by – a really good episode of Modern Family plus ad breaks – but it can also drag – the truly abysmal 2 Broke Girls I watched after The Apprentice. And what did I really think about it? I kiss people I’ve not met before hello, I shake their hands. But then I move back into my space, and they into theirs. I don’t hold their hand.
We met up and Lou was delightful. A relaxed Glaswegian with Titian hair and freckles, she and I looked like variations on a theme. She asked me where I would like to go. As one of the world’s least decisive people, I settled on “There. No, there!” before finally suggesting we sit by the Myatt’s Fields summer house. There is a nice bench.
Lou set her phone timer (really) so she didn’t have to keep checking the time, and we held hands. And – it was completely normal. There was no rush of sparks or emotion flowing between us just because we were holding hands. It was just something I quickly got used to, but I initiated conversation to distract from it. I asked her about hand holding.
Like me, Louise turns 30 this year. “What do you do if the usual signs that you’ve made it by 30 don’t apply to you?” she asked. This was her answer – sharing time with the people she loved, or worked with, or new people altogether. The work-in-progress, a commission by Ovalhouse Theatre, came into mind about two months after she had started.
It was also interesting to hear how hand-holding is viewed around the world. Boys in India apparently walk around hand-in-hand like they’re in Enid Blyton. A South American girl who took part in the WIP didn’t bat an eyelid, but an old British school friend, who had contacted Louise out of the blue specifically to take part in the project, couldn’t go through with it.
We talked about the other people she had met through the project: the overwhelming majority of women taking part. A mum who held hands while looking out for her toddler son. A nice liberal chap in Clapham, the only male ‘stranger’ so far. The only time she had held hands in silence was with a woman who wanted to meditate, in the end, they meditated on the hand-holding.
And eventually I confessed to why I wanted to hold hands. As I told friends later that night, while my first instincts had been “Ooh! Local! Taking part! Theatre!”, when I thought about it later I realised that a lot of it was selfish. When I was a teenager, feminine clothes didn’t really fit me. I was tomboyish. I had no female role models. My boyfriend was shorter than me, had long blond hair and we would get mistaken for a gay couple. I was tall, so I always had to be “the man”, or a character part. I spent so much of my teenage years feeling that I wasn’t allowed to be “a woman”. I didn’t like people making decisions about who I was on my behalf, particularly at a time when I had absolutely no idea myself.
I said I was being selfish, using this as a sort of resolution for my gender issues. “I’m being selfish asking people to give up their time each day,” said Louise cheerfully. We agreed to glory in our mutual selfishness. The sun shone. The alarm went off. Lou went to Battersea to run a workshop, and I went to get a coffee and roll around in the grass, feeling a bit more free.