My Life’s Essentials

Champion of women’s sport and drummer in the band Sports Team, Al Greenwood captures her favourite items on Polaroid

By Al Greenwood

The performative capacity of the Polaroid image is not lost on me. The immediacy of the embodiment of an image appeals to the same child-like wonder that draws me to collectibles and shiny Pokémon cards. There is something idiosyncratic about the resultant aesthetic, unmatched by any digital filter. The proliferation of content in the world I inhabit online is saturated with such filters and edits to distance the image from its physical counterpart. These refashioned motifs are predominantly depicting individuals, and uploaded to online platforms in order to project a cultivated essence of identity. Ultimately this process is underpinned by the stories we tell ourselves and others of our lives. And in a rambling circularity, that’s what this project came to unveil for me.

When tasked with photographing my “essential items”, I found it to be a real challenge. These items are largely sentimental and personal, and my photography skill that I quickly learnt, is limited to say the least. The portfolio is therefore one of character; of mixed artistic merit but sometimes beautiful interplay between light and subject, for which I can claim no personal credit.

Like many people, I found exercise to be a crucial source of structure and stability throughout the global tumult of the last year. I was lucky enough to spend lockdown with a dear friend who plays semi-professional football. Her coach would send her workout plans and nutritional guidance throughout the lockdown and as a facet of this we began a ritual of “weights at 8”, following videos on YouTube posted by Hasfit. The YouTube channel is littered with ridiculous inspirational quotes and our morning routine started out as very self-aware and tongue-in-cheek practice to the gleeful mockery of the rest of the household but, gradually, and perhaps inevitably, we grew to love our mornings with Coach Kozak. I have kept up the routine of morning weights when I’m not on the road and would encourage anyone to try it. I love the feeling of tangibly and physically improving my own strength, and working to the material limits of its capability.

Another luxury afforded to me by the experience of lockdown was time to volunteer. I have long held a belief in the power of sport to affect positive change beyond its immediate context, and in the world of football I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of organisations proving this to be true. My housemate (pictured) works for the charity Street Soccer and facilitated my working with the team. Street Soccer started out as a charity in Scotland, using football as a vehicle to offer structure and stability to homeless people in a judgement-free, commitment-free space. The charity has expanded to London and also works with young people, offering access to football, safe spaces, and facilitating relationships with none-authority adult figures. I was able to support setting up the girls’ programme in south London, which was a thoroughly joyful experience. I have never felt more optimistic about our future generation than following our first session with those young people. The basic level of mutual respect and openness with which the girls approach relationships with one another and identity politics is inspiring, and gave me much to reflect on in my own life.

 

This necklace was gifted to me by a very dear friend Tongey – my dad’s childhood friend who runs a pawnbrokers in Stockport. It was through going to Manchester United games with my dad’s group of friends that I came to recognise the significance and beauty of football far beyond the enjoyment I had experienced as a fan and player. The rituals of match day and community shared by the group of middle-aged men offers camaraderie, but also a support network – particularly rare amongst adult men. I don’t take the necklace off, and for me it offers a constant reminder of that network of people – and of home.

We formed the band out of a love of playing live. At first there were points where some members of the band couldn’t yet play their instruments, and songs consisted of a chorus part on repeat, yet we would still insist on putting on gigs for £1 and dragging our friends down. It’s surreal the extent to which the band has developed since those early days – from practising in university bedrooms to touring the world and spending weeks living out of a van, but somehow the group dynamic has remained unaltered. We bicker constantly, and tease one another mercilessly, yet remain a group of mates, and more than that, something of a dysfunctional family, for whom the decrepit, rusty van has become home.

Living in shared accomodation in central London, it hasn’t been easy over the years to write drum parts or rehearse to any real extent. That was transformed by getting this Roland electric kit. Much like running, playing the drums is an embodied and meditative activity which can be experienced much like mindfulness. The electric kit has become a complete staple item for me in enabling me to play whenever I like, and offering an important means to conquer stress over the last year.

I grew up in a house of music and piles of vinyl. And though at a period in my life I was obsessive about my record collection, I must confess that in recent years I am far more likely to shuffle “liked” songs on Spotify than invest the seconds in physically browsing through vinyl and selecting a complete work to be played in the order it was intended. Yet much like Polaroid images, there is undeniable allure of the analogue. The LP pictured is one that my mum had when we were growing up and used to play at weekends, singing around the house. She overcame a lot in her life and achieved incredible things (soon to be awarded an MBE), yet her disposition towards joy and prioritisation of “fun” is something I aspire to emulate in my own life.

The body’s capacity to heal itself is a perpetual source of wonder to me. My most recent reminder of this came following an unfortunate incident with a faulty Airbnb shower which led to third-degree burns across my shoulder and some rather uncomfortable drumming. The Palmer’s Cocoa Butter depicted here became an obsessive daily accessory. Yet within a week, to my utter amazement, the rather grotesque blister had mellowed into fresh skin. I find great comfort in the mystery of this (clearly unmysterious) biological phenomenon, and a prompt to ensure I am taking appropriate care. Given my amateur and ill-advised approach to running, this is another arena that has offered cause for reflection. My reluctance to take rest days in my early running career led to a number of injuries and niggles that I eventually realised were best treated through prevention. I now invest equal energy in recovery as I do working.

Pea soup is my favourite lunch. It is incredibly simple and cheap – and dependably comforting. When we got our first record deal as a band, we quit our jobs and moved out of London to all share the room we rehearsed in. It was in the house of one of the boys’ parents. It was very isolated and we cooked and ate communally each day, venturing down to the same pub most evenings. In retrospect it was an incredibly intense and surreal lifestyle but nostalgia has blanketed every memory from this period in a golden hue, and I cherish the experience. Pea soup, or “pea slop” as it became better known was a staple and will forever remind me of those simple and silly days.

Outside of my primary work playing the drums and touring with the band Sports Team, sport has always played an important part in my life. Through the experience of lockdown and re-evaluating my own sense of self, I came to recognise the power sport and movement can offer. Yet so often this is inaccessible for women, or worse, inextricable from toxic preconceptions of womens’ bodies. From childhood, girls are socialised to not take up space or move their bodies freely. I have become a passionate champion of the power of movement and motivated to expand access to sport and movement for all women. This year I teamed up with two close friends who share this passion for movement and have backgrounds in the world of music. We set up “In Motion”, and had the brilliant experience of running a campaign for adidas. As a result of that, we got to attend a Euros match. One of my favourite elements of running “In Motion” has been the conversations with women I’ve met from all ages who share stories with me, describing ways they have experienced the power of movement in their own life.

I imagine I will never grow out of the compulsion to kick a ball when in close proximity to one. Some of my earliest memories are of playing football with my grandma at her house in Stockport. She was a formidable woman but increasingly frail towards the end of her life, and spent her days in a single chair in her living room smoking cigarettes and watching cowboys and Indians films on Channel 5. The only time I recall seeing her on her feet was to play football with me. She passed away while I was still too young to have meaningfully known her as an individual. Yet I find great beauty in the capacity of these snapshots of memory – perhaps experienced only through anecdotes – to sculpt a character in my mind’s eye. I think humans instinctively seek forms of spirituality that make sense in their own worlds, and in mine, in some perverse way, football offers this.

Photography by Al Greenwood

Editorial Design and Art Direction Root

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