Above: Escapees from the local comprehensive.
Alan Bennett (that most professional of northerners) used to write of women scrubbing the front doorstep, and of upright pianos in ‘the front parlour’ as a badge of respectability and temperance. But Winchester being what it is, only grand pianos adorn the windows of Chilbolton Avenue and surrounds.
In a similar vein, down here the charity shops display more ‘Pierre Cardin’ than they do Primark. M&S Blue Harbour is about as posh as it gets in Age Concern, Sheffield, but here on Parchment Street one can fill ones boots with Ted Baker, Paul Smith et al. I’m wondering whether it’s profitable to fill a van full of Wintonian cast-off’s and head north for re-sale purposes.
A literary advisor-friend insisted that I find the grimy part of my adopted town. So I ask one of the bewildering number of estate agents where this might be.
“Stanmore” came the reply from Amy (around 23, freshly-graduated and commuting from Basingstoke). So, armed only with some sturdy boots and a northern ‘kick-ass’ attitude, I took the number ‘1’ bus. Upon alighting in Stanmore, there appears to be a distinct absence of an ‘underclass’. There must be one here somewhere. Or have they been run out of town and told to move-on, a bit like Steinbeck’s ‘Joad’ family? I have searched in vain so far to find a facially-tattooed 25 year old called Ryan, swigging Carlsberg Special Brew whist walking a Pitbull on a length of orange nylon cord, six welfare-dependent kids in his wake. It’s not that I want to associate with Ryan. It’s just strange that I can’t find him, let-alone his daughters.
And then, in what Samuel Jackson’s character (in Pulp Fiction) once called a ‘moment of clarity’, I realise……… I AM the underclass. It’s a slightly painful awakening. I’M the one paying a fortune to live in around six square metres. I’M the economic migrant……………………for goodness sake, let me eat cake.
I’m the one who cannot park my car underneath my apartment block, because the parking rights have long-since been sold to the business next door. This has resulted in a new ritual – move my car from Tower St car park before 8 a.m. (from which moment the real movers and shakers of the local economy need access). Drive it to Barfield Park and Ride. Pay £3 to the machine. Take the bus back through Chesil, and straight-past the very same car park from which I had exited thirty minutes previously, then onto my place of work.
When you watch Attenborough’s bulletins from Africa, everything seems so logical. Lions kill Wildebeest because they need to eat. Gorillas groom each other presumably for reasons of personal hygiene. Hippos find water because, well because they are Hippos – (it’s all in the name). But surely even Attenborough would struggle to explain why humans drive a car a mile to the east, in order to catch a bus to the west.