Tuesday, 14 August 2007

In The Neighbourhood

I live in the city, not a village. There are no elegant spinsters cycling sedately to evensong, no cheeky cherubs playing hopscotch in the street. I live on what is practically a motorway. It discourages humanity. We don’t even have a Spar.

My new, temporary neighbourhood is experiencing a large influx of new inhabitants, which is causing some resentment. The established locals pass through the buy to let developments as they walk from the estate on their way to town, and consequently the comments, and shovings, seem to be increasing.

Recently, the newest buy to let block was ‘dressed’ for sale, with primary coloured bins placed outside, presumably empted of flowers. At night, I saw four scallies on bikes heading off into the sunset carrying one bin apiece on the back of their bikes.

Perhaps I am doing them down. Perhaps they said: ‘…I say Tarquin; you know those bins we bought from Heals that we keep on the patio? Well those would make a perfect match - let’s offer to buy one, pre-owned, and ready distressed?’
But that’s not what happened, is it?

A local shop opened up. Gratefully, I called in for my Sunday paper, telling the owner how good it is to finally have some useful amenities - like his shop. He grunts, and ignores me. I think – well, that’s me back at Smiths. The miserable news agent stares at the wall. His Thai bride stands outside in the rain with her feet in a bowl of warm water. He sells vegetarian food, you know.

One local pub offers ‘accommodation’ more as a threat than a promise. Another pub was just put up for sale. Its windows were smashed every Sunday, and during Karaoke Tuesdays, the same rugged matron belts out ‘I Will Survive’ with tears rolling down her face. Friday afternoon they have an Elvis impersonator. A few houses down, the pub exquisitely decorated with Edwardian tiling is still boarded up.

There is a beautiful church, which manages to maintain stained glass windows and pretty flower beds. This area was formerly a Georgian slum, and salvaged gravestones exhibit the engraved names of god-fearing labourers, dead at thirty five and all called John, or infants killed at six months by weaning (one family mourned successive babies named Ann). The bells ring out every Sunday, summoning a congregation consisting mostly of sumptuously dressed African families, who don’t seem to live in the new flats, or the estate up the road.

It’s not as if hordes of incomers and blow-ins have edged out the locals. There weren’t any locals. There were no flats around my way; for years it was bleak, and desolate, with busy main roads, some small industry and warehouses, but no housing. Many years ago the Georgian hovels were demolished to make way for roads, a stadium, and car parks; it’s only recently that homes were built again. In time it will be lovely - or rather, lively - round here, with bars, and restaurants, and people mixing. As it is now, there’s a sense of different tribes suspiciously passing by, rubbing each other up the wrong way, but never really meeting.

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