These fragments

That Knights, Liverpool photo is a picture that could only have been taken at a particular time. When you look at it you know what model of car will be parked in the streets outside. A couple of people have commented on it privately by email. One such is my friend J, who said this:

Your mum was beautiful, how clever of you to put such lovely photos of her up. I always feel that we are Russian dolls to those we love, that when she sees you she sees that little boy, inside the handsome 80s guy, inside the erudite writer. How important for her that you’ve allowed us all to see the fabulous sixties woman inside.

J credits me with a cleverness I don’t possess, though her interpretation is a persuasive one, and I am flaky enough to accept a compliment I don’t deserve. I like the picture, but there’s more to it than that. In contrast to John Osborne and his mother-hatred and her dead and alive holes (see elsewhere) the picture reminds me of something dear and enduring; I only have to project myself a few years into that baby’s future to be in the world outside the front door of that house in Stoke-on-Trent. The floral wallpaper belongs to number 2 Roseberry Street, which was the end terrace of a block of ten or twelve small houses with bathrooms that you got to by going through the kitchen and with a passage round the back of the yards. The street ran at a right angle off a steep hill, properly St Michaels Road, but know as Pitts Hill Bank (long enough to get a go-kart or a scooter up to top speed by the time you crashed it at the bottom); at the other end, Roseberry Street became a cul-de-sac where the houses were thirties semis. Beyond the end wall of the cul-de-sac was an escarpment with a disused railway track in the gully, the industrial remnants of the coal industry: trains used to carry coal from one colliery to another, and to steelworks, before I was born. That was our adventure playground, where one boy (I didn’t know him) took a nasty fall from a high ridge and died. Across the road from number 2 was the back yard of a cobblers; we used to stick our noses through the crack in the double gates to gaze in wonder at a mountain of discarded shoes which in turn buried a car. The shop itself occupied the lower front corner of Roseberry Street where it met Pitts Hill Bank. A bell rang when you opened the door, but that didn’t mean much to Mr Rowe, the cobbler; he was used to kids doing it for fun, you had to shout if you actually required service and then he’d only emerge if he felt like it, a fat man in a vest, mopping sweat from his brow using whatever was nearest, a leather inner, a bit of chamois leather, or just the back of his hand. The interior of the shop was no tidier than the yard, boxes piled to the ceiling on every wall. Customers would hold their hands out in front of themselves in a self-protective defensive gesture, to cushion the inevitable collapse, if a pair was needed from lower down one of these columns. Mrs Rowe was a woman you seldom saw, though you would sometimes hear her calling out from the back to Mr Rowe that his tea was ready. In the flesh she was slight, cheerful and old with a pinny on. They had a teenage son called Colin who used to specialize in terrifying the young kids round the passage at the back of our terraces, jumping out in the dark wearing a mask. He later joined the Socialist Workers’ Party. Sometimes, in the holidays, we’d go through into the back of Mr Rowe’s and up the stairs where the jumble of mess became ever more dense and yet where somehow there was a fire and still the place had not caught alight and burnt down. He’d make toast on the fire using a fork. And tell stories? No. And not say much. Across the road at the higher corner of the junction was a two-storey shanty town made of corrugated iron. I think it was a carpenter’s workshop. This had a rickety external staircase, a further extension of our adventure playground. We only went in there when it was closed, though, the snaggle-toothed brothers who owned it were sinister, a pair of child catchers. I look again at the picture of my mother. She is twenty. J is not wrong, she was glamourous, in any terms, and especially for those streets. Most of the women and other mums up and down were like Mrs Rowe.

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14 Responses to These fragments

  1. Daftburger says:

    Very nice Stephen! It sounds like a different world and it probably is/was. I too grew up in a similar terrace and now my first purchase, when I was 45, is a similar terrace and I’ve got no inclination to move anywhere else no matter what the pressure of capitalism and moving up the ladder. It feels like ‘home’.

    It’s the same with Stoke. I left at 18 and travelled half way round the world but it always called me back whatever the state of the place! It’s a shithole but it’s our shithole and has something, for me, nowhere else ever had. It’s nothing tangible, it’s just has the feel and familiarity of a mothers love.

  2. Ovookla says:

    When I’d got dressed up in one of my mum’s dresses and slip-slided along in a pair of her shoes, with one of her handbags over my arm I’d ‘ve gone and asked your Mum if I could have pushed her pram around the estate with my friend Gail. She’d probably have said yes. And when we bought you back we’d have looked in your house, to see her put her lipstick on and watch to see if she used the little Rizla packets of blotting tissues our big sisters used. And she’d have used the pointy end of a green plastic comb to keep her hair back-combed out.

    I didn’t know you got go-karts up North. I thought we Zutheners called them trolleys and everyone North called them bogies.
    Another urban myth evaporates under my very eyes…

  3. Geraldine says:

    That is a very evocative piece of writing: it transported me back to my own childhood which was not in a city but in the countryside. A child’s ability to turn the immediate landscape into an adventure playground is universal and the memories from those years are often the best and sharpest.

    I absolutely agree with J’s comment about “Russian dolls” – I look at my sons, who are both in their thirties, and I constantly see the children and teenagers they were. I look at my sisters and myself and see our parents. I used to think of it as peeling an onion, ring over ring, but the Russian doll image is much nicer!

  4. Stephen Foster says:

    Hello, you and Gail sond like the kind of girls who would have been my babysitters – ours, (Christine & Yvonne), used to bring their boyfriends round and buy our silence by letting us make sugar on toast and take it to bed. No, bogies are something else that little boys have a lot to do with : )

  5. Stephen Foster says:

    Hi Geraldine, the dolls are a distinctly different image, anyway, but this song below (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell) used to fascinate me when I was young, I think because I took it literally and when I looked at the school globe I saw an onion.

    The world is just a great big onion
    & pain & fear are the spices that make you cry
    Oh, & the only way to get rid of this great big onion
    Is to plant love seeds until it dies, uh huh

  6. Rory says:

    Sorry for this being off-topic to the post, but I just wanted to tell you how much I loved “She Stood There Laughing.” It was by far the best book about being a sportsfan since the book that I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about written by that Arse-fan. I’m so excited to have found your blog, but now I have to go back and read all that I’ve missed.

    Rory from the Middle of America

  7. Stephen Foster says:

    Hi Rory from the Middle of America, welcome to the blog and thanks very much for those kind words – I see you posted on About Books too. And She Laughed No More is better, I think…

    Have you got a link to yours?

    nb Nick who? 😉

  8. Rory says:

    I’ll hit up Amazon for “And She Laughed No More.”

    My books are only out on the Kindle, but here’s the one that’s about my last season coaching high school soccer http://www.tiny.cc/offthepost

    and here’s my novel about professional soccer in America http://www.tiny.cc/1nt1i

    P.S. It’s a bit bizarre that I’m chatting with the author of one of my favorite books.

  9. Stephen Foster says:

    Internet life is bizarre Rory, but mainly in a good way…

  10. Geraldine says:

    I don’t remember that song, I’ll have to try and find it! I’m off to London in the morning, hope things will have quietened down a bit. I do choose my moments to travel…

  11. Stephen Foster says:

    I only nipped in and out of the blog last night: have just read the analyses, those both look rather good, I really like the covers, esp of Off The Post.

    I don’t actually have a kindle, but I know a man who does…

  12. Rory says:

    I put the covers together myself (which is probably obvious). The Free Kicks one looks good when it’s large (I love the look of the guys in suites forming the wall and the goalie with the briefcase–it says almost as much about the MLS as any novel could!). Off the post was made from a picture grab taken from our highlight real that season (which I also put together) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1I3Tu4p-o8

    The kindle doesn’t seem to be taking off in the UK like it has in the US. If you haven’t put your books out there for the Kindle you really should one day. There seems to be a growing indie writer community around the kindle in the US, while you’re not indie I’d say your topics (especially the dog books) would be well recieved there.

    P.S. I ordered She Laughed No More last night! As someone who paid a little attention to Stoke (My namesake Rory Delap caught my interest, keep in mind that Rory is an EXTREMELY rare name in the US) I’m looking forward to reading about it from your point of view. On a side note, the MLS’s New England Revolution has a player named Barnes that throws the ball pretty far and the press here had taken to calling them their “Rory Player” as if that was a new position!

  13. Stephen Foster says:

    Rory Player : )

    That needs to be spread via the Oatcake…

  14. Rory says:

    Darrius Barnes, New England Revolution

    I can’t get the article to load but you can read the headline here:
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=darrius+barnes+rory+delap&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

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