Coronation Street is no more. Not the show itself but the original set, which was dismantled last year – bulldozers ripped through the Rovers Return and Jack and Vera’s pad sharper than Hilda’s Ogden’s tongue. Gone also has the quotidian mundanity so exciting back in the day; when Corrie’s own Raquel Welch, Pat Phoenix went through men like fags and we were regaled by the regality of the ever-so-well-spoken Annie Walker. It is gone, but only to reappear in its new form; it reminds me of the China Miéville short story ‘Reports of Certain Events in London’ about, ‘autonomous streets which phase in and out of existence, living complex and mysterious lives of their own, and even having romances and violent feuds amongst their alley selves.’ Although, categorised as ‘weird’, it is not such a stretch of the imagination to see streets humanised in that way.
It is a good thing that memories last longer than the street you were brought up on; even if the street looks the same, the people won’t. Today, notions of progress seem to be regressive. It used to be they put poor people in the sky, but capitalism is nothing if not ironic and contradictory. Now, it’s a stack ‘em high and sell them ever-so-expensively so they can be the icons of capitalism, even though they’re owned by Russian oligarchs and Saudi oil barons. Meanwhile, large estates, such as the Red Road flats in Glasgow built in the mid-20th century, are demolished, making way for more low-rise housing which is far more communal. However, as you can imagine, much more investment is going to the new mega high-rise developments, so the rich can literally always look down on us.
In Heap Street by Hannah Linden, a childhood street is evoked with all its bustle and hustle and the chaos of tight-knit community with the odd dropped stitch. ‘That old pile of bricks — that hecklin’,/ rope-jumpin’, rubble-ridin’ huntin’/ ground of Myra lookalikes. Bogey-man/ fearin’. Racist. Integratin’. That word, ‘integratin’ really sticks out in the sense that, as Hannah shows below, it is often the working class who are more integrationist by circumstance of habitat, and yet are often portrayed as being the first port of racism. And for kids, the street is their first adventure playground with endless possibilities for mischief. ‘I dare yer to climb the Slippy-Man’s stairs – he’s gutted before/ his house is: a Dracula bed-box up there, a hole where the stairs/ were. Nine-year old Irene tellin’ tales that’ll haunt yer.’ This is a wonderfully evocative poem, reminiscent of Mona Arshi’s ‘On Ellington Road’ and Julia Webb’s ‘Redcastle Furze’. And for Hannah, Heap Street may be ‘a hole in the town’, but it has that human element that makes it so resonant of our own respective ‘holes’.
From Hannah: I grew up in the North of England in an area that was demolished as part of the ‘slum’ clearances. People who lived there were all ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, many related by blood but many were called ‘our’ because they looked out for each other, in what could be a sometimes dangerous place (it was only seven miles from where the Moors murder victims were buried and we had copycats who would try to lure us into their cars). There had been many influxes of people over the years, for example, the Irish in the 1800s/early 1900s; people fleeing Europe in WW2; people from the Caribbean in the 1950s. The tensions and the resolutions were often played out in children’s games, played on streets where a car was rare, even in 1970 when everything changed abruptly. Uprooted working class communities (that had supported each other since the houses were built to house several generations of cotton mill workers) were scattered into enormous council estates or other parts of town where they were strangers. Although many of these ‘slum’ areas were redeveloped, much of the area where I grew up (and where my ancestors had lived for nearly 300 years) remains, fifty years later, a few blocks of grass, linked by a couple of roads. The paving stones that I played marbles on, with their unique cracks and odd-set angles, are still visible, so I can work out exactly where my front door used to be.
Hannah Linden has been published in print and digital journals, most recently in Magma, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, Lighthouse and Under the Radar. Her poem exploring the impact of parental suicide was chosen as part of the recently released ‘84 anthology’ (Verve Press), published to raise awareness about the high number of male suicides in the UK. Her collaborative work with Gram Joel Davies won the Cheltenham Festival Compound Poetry Competition in 2015; and Hannah was Highly Commended in the Prole Laureate Competition the same year; and longlisted for The Rialto Nature Poetry Competition 2018. She is working towards her first collection. Twitter @hannahl1n
You can hear Hannah reading Heap Street, here
That old pile of bricks — that hecklin’,
rope-jumpin’, rubble-ridin’ huntin’
ground of Myra lookalikes. Bogey-man
fearin’. Racist. Integratin’. Cobbled beds
for ma-abandoned kids she left
to teach him: that fast-learnin’ bowsie
begged round til her mates rescued ‘m.
Shop-corner livin’ room, tabbed for ya
later, cock. Beg supper at Annie’s: her oven-ready
heart open with lost homeland and kinsfolk.
Worry-less, I’ll race yer. Y’owd Mis’ Git’s a tosser!
We’re jumpin’ his back toilet-sheds, feet flyin’, chins
chipped on his duck-greased roof-launchin’-pad. Mopped
up by Mary, her cou-cou for Frank, far from their island: faithful,
friendless, catch his rainbow-sky smile-shine. Our leaky back pockets,
pinked with skipped bus fares and sunshine. Fear-less,
I dare yer to climb the Slippy-Man’s stairs – he’s gutted before
his house is: a Dracula bed-box up there, a hole where the stairs
were. Nine-year old Irene tellin’ tales that’ll haunt yer. The hole
in her thigh-flesh where the headmaster’s stud martyred her. Street-
credded I follow ‘er, jump when she tells me to, run
when she yells The creepo’s a pervie: his cock fallin’ –
seeker lads stopped counting somewhere ten through to
twenty, riled we didn’t wait ’til they were ready
to seek us. Post-police-photos, clueless, we find weeds
in cracked pavings and broken back-wall peep-holes. Pry
secrets from wallpaper, peeled back to reveal all. Jenny always
late abed, opened her curtains, nearly got a gob-full of the wreckin’
ball bigger than she could handle. We’re nearly the last now –
Mum and Dad holdin’ on by the thread of their unravellin’
foundation stones. All that kept us unknitted, fabric shredded,
burnt down, grassed over, abandoned, never recycled
Heap Street — a hole in the town.
bowsie: (Irish noun) scumbag, messer, divel, mean and obstreperous
cou cou: similar to grits, part of the national dish of Barbados.
Y’owd Mis’ Git’s a tosser!: The old miserable git is a ….
tabbed for ya/ later, cock: In these areas, a neighbour bought in a few loaves, pints of milk etc. to help out mothers who couldn’t get to the shops.
There’d be a board where they’d chalk up what you owed. Cock is used as a common term of endearment, like ‘love’.