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Jon Adams creates flag-fields in Chatham / 25 July 2010

Chatham Lines. Image © Jon Adams

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Sunday started misty, the view out over the river was unclear and somewhat like our ‘heads’ due to the excitement of the night before... True the karaoke stopped on time... then came the ‘louder’ music, which was evidently stopped by the hotel by literally pulling the power supply at just gone 12:07am.

Up, packed and down to a not unreasonable breakfast, we were on the road by 9:30am to find fuel and water for the day. Not having been on the lines for at least 40 years I didn’t know what to expect. After a convoluted drive through Chatham again (What a place for strange one ways and easily getting lost) we drove past the dockyard and found our way (thanks sat-nav) through Brompton and to the Navy Monument that sits above the town. The weather was distinctly looking dodgy so fingers crossed we set to work.

What luck!  No need to worry about the ground hardness and long grass as some work on paths in the last few weeks had resulted in a ploughed up zone next to the path for a few hundred yards – and as soft as the beach. We unpacked the boxes of ‘Flags’ (3000+) and immediately engaged in chatting to passing dog walkers, ramblers and cyclists. 

The first couple knowing and sharing the complete history of the lines and docks having worked there till it closed like my Granddad. This was my ‘discovering place’ and before I had even planted a flag had discovered something new (the ploughing had brought ‘clay pipes, oyster shells and china’ from Victorian cast offs to the surface. So I started marking these finds too.) It was fitting with the memorial next as people commented on the link between the flags and remembrances. I wished that my family from Gillingham, Gran and Granddad were still here and able to see this and what I was doing. It seemed appropriate in so many ways and like ‘home’ – strange feeling but I can’t be getting ‘soft’!

Soon a ‘line’ developed and grew alongside the path pointing south for a couple of hundred yards and we started to cross this with other lines at angles. The weather started to change for the better, conversations developed and local artists Michelle and Jane arrived to join in. Soon I had to revert to a head covering as the sun came out. A few more flags made, we concentrated on placing them all out before the press arrived. We had other welcome visitors and we soon agreed over a most welcome picnic that ‘sat navs’ and Chatham don’t mix....

A few strange sights while we ate including a man intent on retrieving and carrying not one but two whole dead trees, several fires broke out nearby complete with firemen (where we lost our press photographer for a while as he went to investigate) and a guy who insisted on calling me ‘boyo’ talking about the ‘war’ and had I asked permission from the council?

We all started to harvest the ‘flag field’ at just gone 5pm and soon the space was bare again. As soon as the car was packed it started to rain (the police also turned up and parked where the flags were 5 minutes before. As we weren’t sure if they were looking for litterers, arsonists or tree stealers, we left not wishing to explain any of the options!)

Despite a small jam on the M25 we made good time heading home, pleased with the successes and exhausted by the last 4 days. Once home a quick look at the pictures (Needed to make a ‘Film’ showcase for the Big Screens showing in September - October) and then Facebook proved that some others had made and planted flags too and so Open Weekend came to a close ....
now what for next year’s – anyone fancy making and planting 500,000 flags somewhere?

For Chatham: Many thanks to Karen, Clare, Jane, Michelle, Felicity, Chris, Russell and partner, the guy with the trees for entertaining us, all the passersby and I guess the firemen for not letting the fire reach the flags (as I write I am staring at 4 boxes of flags and maybe it would have saved picking them and storing them?)

‘Dysarticulate Field of flags’ is an ‘Inspire Marked’ project and Part of ‘Discovering Places’. It was part of ‘The order of things 17’ a Creative Campus Initiative project at the University of Portsmouth, and took place over ‘Open Weekend 2010’.

Keywords: dyslexia,visual arts