I used to call it the ghetto. It’s a mix of social housing, those bought out and modernised and those with identical front doors and garden gates, making sure everyone knows who’s on their arse and who has risen above it after years of graft. It’s a reproduction of a blueprint that makes up vast swathes of the city landscape. There’s no money here. People get by.
Kids still play kirby here, extra points for lobbing the ball over a moving car. On Fridays, the street is dotted with purple bins. Walking one end to the other requires slalom skills to avoid the debris and dog crap.
There’s a blossom tree, about 50 doors down, right in the middle. It battles against the Spring showers and dusts pink petals over the pavement every spring, they’re prettiest when it rains. Light and dark. The best kind of litter.
The puppy with the big chocolate button eyes, caged in the front yard. Now a 2-year-old dancing around its own muck, still in the same front yard he’s outgrown. He used to whine for you to stroke him whenever you passed by the gate. Now he barks, consistently until you’re out of sight.
When he comes over, he parks at the side of the house. No doubt wanting to avoid embarrassment should anyone recognise his car. My parents park across the street, in front of the privately-owned house, with the double extension, high gates, and security floodlights that illuminate our bedrooms at night. My dads gleaming white, 4×4 more at home on the opposite side of the road.
The top-end, or bottom end depending on how long you’ve lived here, is a shit show. The back of the betting shop, chippy, and pharmacy. An alleyway consistently fly-tipped with broken beds, sofas, and ripped bin bags. The sunbed shop, beauty salon, and mini market, under the art deco style canopy, smell like hair stray, burned skin, ale. The extra-large council bin outside always smells like grease.
The kids who hang around the shops mimic adults. They’ve already grown up in many ways. Hardened to life. Head to toe in the latest North Face. Mini bags slung across their bodies, smoking, spitting, swearing. They’re about 8, maybe 9 at most. Full of pent up aggression. Stealing from the mini-market because they know they can get away with it. Barred for a couple of days until the other, local cashier comes on and lets them away with it again. It’s only a can of Coke, or a packet of crisps. Barring them lasts a day or two.
Behind the chippy and the betting shop is the very last house in the street. It’s been bought by two developers in the time I’ve lived here. The first one renovated it by hand. From wedding the 30ft long driveway, to replastering and fitting new windows throughout, he did it on his own. I’d stop and say hi sometimes, tell him the transformation was looking great.
It went on the market at the same time kids jemmied the new PVC door open. They smashed the windows, started a fire in the living room. Pulled the plaster off the walls, exposing the electrics. Eventually the top floor window fell out, framing the weeds that grew again in the front garden. I often wonder what the developer felt like, seeing his hard work destroyed and vandalised, just as he was set to sell and move on.
Kids leave bikes in the front gardens. Lost baby shoes and dummies are propped on the fence posts in the hope of a reunion. Primary age kids walk and cycle alone to school on the next block.
On the opposite side, about 20 houses up lives a lady and my cat. My cat had a litter of kittens at home and once she had nurtured them, my cat bogged off down the road to charm the Whiskas out of my neighbour.
I know all of this because the neighbour kindly knocked on my door and told me she had adopted my cat, renamed her Sasha, and moved her into a very comfortable bed from John Lewis. Occasionally I catch the cat, who I refuse to call Sasha, pissing in my back garden.
I moved here because the house is close enough for us to all walk to and from school every day, It’s also a short walk for my eldest daughter to see her dad regularly too. When I moved in I was 9 months pregnant and the house was in a sorry state. Unable to see my feet and stand any longer than 30 minutes, I relied heavily on my parents to help make the shell a home.
For the first few weeks, we all slept in our own beds, but in one room. It felt like incubation as my body completed the last of the preparations before my son was born. I didn’t want to move out of that room, having the girls close was a huge comfort when it felt like everything around us was in disarray.
Another gift from this house in the ghetto was a life long, real friendship. I may have only been here for 5 years, but my friendship with Kate, just 50 odd doors down has spanned 25 years. Never knowing that when we met in senior school, we’d be mums, neighbors, and Friday night kitchen disco dancing queens, all this time later. She’s a blessing, her kids are amazing and I’m so lucky to have her and her mum next door but one.
Speaking of blessings. Denise lives two doors up. She’s a nursery nurse at the children’s hospital nursery. Caring for and educating the children of health care professionals. Denise has a family of her own. Her partner of more than 25 years lives in a house in the next road. They have their own space but share a life together. Denise always knocks on my door with Christmas, birthday and Easter treats for the kids. For absolutely no reason other than she is the kindest soul.
The sun comes up in the mornings and illuminates a pyramid gable end of the house out the back. A satellite dish the only blot on the golden bricks. I look forward to this and in the summer months I can time it along with when the bin truck comes on Fridays to collect the purple bins dotted along the street. It’s home.