Portsmouth’s First Colour Walk Continues a Revolutionary Tradition

Portsmouth’s first Colour Walk brought together individuals of all political affiliations in a fun, community-centred atmosphere and continues a long history of rebellious walking in the UK and beyond. Rosy Bremer, part of our #ReclaimTheNews community team, reports.

For the approximately six million years that humans and our ancestors have been on two feet, walking has been a popular pastime of ours.  Sometimes we were just wandering in search of food, moving away from hominid neighbours from hell, or just seeing how other continents compared to Africa.  For some, walking is a sacred or religious act; most major faiths practise pilgrimages to significant sites, while spiritual atheists have Glastonbury Tor and the Goths have Whitby.

As a species, we have often walked as the rebellious, defiant and just: the Jarrow march, Gandhi’s salt marches in India and Voices For Creative Non-violence’s Ground The Drones peace walks have all drawn attention to injustices affecting large amounts of people with little power.  The British Workers’ Sport Federation (the fitness wing of the Communist Party) forced the issue of public rights of way with its Kinder Scout mass trespass in the 1930s and the women peace activists who crossed the border dividing North and South Korea in 2015 blazed a trail with the potential to help Moon Jae-in change the course of world history.

However, walking doesn’t require grand geo-political ambitions to be of benefit.  Groups like the Ramblers have long recognised the benefits of walking: boosting the immune system, reducing stress and even improving sleep patterns.  In 2010 England’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said, ‘If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity [like walking], it would be regarded as a “wonder drug” or a “miracle cure”.’

Sir Liam probably wasn’t wearing a turquoise straw hat, a green silk diamante tunic and blue cotton kameez trousers when he said that. However, Hilary Reed, organiser of Portsmouth’s first Colour Walk, wore exactly that to stroll around Palmerston Road with other brightly-dressed people on a sunny Sunday afternoon in May.

Hilary, a community activist who used to run a sailing school, told me, ‘I have always liked clothes and fabrics and I’m well-known for my peculiar sense of style; I used to wear a lot of running gear in neon colours before it was fashionable and once I went to pick the kids up from school wearing a wet-suit.’

Hilary was inspired by the Colour Walk that regularly takes place in Spitalfields and other places in London.  According to the Spitalfields Colour Walk’s Facebook page, it is ‘an informal gathering of creative people getting dressed or dressing up to inspire and be inspired’.

The Colour Walk in Portsmouth is the one of only a small number in the UK to take place outside London, and may well be the only one to have a resident singer. Becki Short Portsmouth-based singing teacher and 1940’s entertainer led the Colour Walkers around Southsea in a mobile sing-a-long. Somewhere Over The Rainbow was particularly popular and got everyone swaying and crooning outside Bar 69.

In the UK we seem to spend much of our lives in grey: school uniforms, corporate work-wear or smart functions.  In Europe, only Britain and Ireland insist on monochrome school uniforms.  I was raised by an artist who disapproves of grey and of uniforms; she once sent my brother to school in red short with orange tights underneath and red clogs, while I wore dresses made and smocked by hand.  Unsurprising then that I sometimes go to work in a pair of fish patterned leggings bought for 10p at a Labour Party jumble sale.

‘I’ve got those’, a nine year old boy told me after been staring at my legs in fascination when I wore them, ‘They’re pyjamas and they glow in the dark!’

As life moves ever faster, becoming more complicated and electronic as it goes, we seem less bound by shared beliefs, values and culture, so establishing inter-generational solidarity over a pair of PJs seems a great solution.

In Wanderlust, her book on the history of walking, Rebecca Solnit writes about ‘The mind at three miles an hour’.  I would say the twenty or so gaudy people on the Colour Walk ambled considerably slower than three miles an hour, giving us time to chat and to get to know each other, all under the shade of an eighty year old’s loud, purple parasol.

In a city too often divided by political colours, it was therapeutic to walk amongst the reds, blues, yellows, greens, purples and oranges: all mixed up like a moving garden.  Random acts of quirkiness are hard to come by these days, particularly for all ages and abilities, but the Colour Walk is set to continue at eight weekly intervals with the tantalising prospect of pop-up walks occurring at arbitrary times and locations.

The next one will be on Sunday 15th July at 2pm, starting from South Parade Pier.  If you ask me nicely I might even wear my glow in the dark sleepgear.

You can find out more about the July Colour Walk over on Facebook and if you can’t wait to hear Becky Short sing, check out the video below for a sing-along of Roll Out the Barrel in your living room.

Photo credit: Rosy Bremer.

Two minor amendments were made to this article on 22nd June at the author’s request.

This story is part of our ongoing series from our #ReclaimTheNews team, a group of local residents trained in investigative journalism in partnership with The Centre for Investigative Journalism. The group now forms S&C’s Community Reporting team. Expect more stories from them in the coming weeks and help spread the word by sharing their articles with your friends and networks – just click on the social media buttons below.