I closed my front door, and started walking along the street, intending to do some local shopping. I heard a man’s voice, shouting something indecipherable, and, looking across the street, saw a couple of men on top of a ladder, doing some work on one of the roofs. I suddenly realised they were addressing me, so came to a halt, gazing in their direction. The man then repeated what he’d originally said to me: “Are we in England, mate?” I had no problems in hearing him, this time, but the meaning of his question still eluded me. I stared at him, shrugging my shoulders. “Is this England?” he then said, pointing in the direction of a group of young Asian women in brightly-coloured saris, who were chattering and laughing – “. . . ‘cos it don’t sound like it!” the man concluded. Finally getting his point, I shrugged again, made some anodyne comment like “Oh, you get used to it” and walked on.
I happen to live on quite an interesting street: St. Martin’s Street, in Peterborough. It’s a fairly innocuous-looking street, in a working-class area, with a lot of ageing terraced houses; what makes it interesting is the constantly-shifting nature of the populace. I was thinking about listing the nationalities concerned, but, as it would be a virtually endless list, it’s easier to simplify it as mainly immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe. I hasten to point out that – unlike the man on the roof – I have no problems with this at all, and find it an enlivening factor of living on the street. When you add to this mix of population such elements as drugs, alcohol and a lack of available employment, you get an atmosphere that many could see as “unsavoury”, but I find intriguing and invigorating. The introduction of bollards, halfway along the street, a few years ago, made a big, positive difference. Prior to the bollards, the street was plagued by the intrusion of cars, speeding along, using it as a short-cut. The introduction of the bollards transformed the street, turning it into virtually a pedestrian precinct – a place free for all to stroll and walk at their leisure.
Watching the passers-by, a few evenings ago, I started feeling nostalgic, at the ending of a glorious Summer; and my poem “Summer Twilight on The Street” is the result.
SUMMER TWILIGHT ON THE STREET:
White candyfloss drifts in pellucid blue sky.
Evening sunlight falls, as Summer ends,
on the street.
Gentle breeze flutters the white moustache
of an elderly sikh, cycling slowly,
magisterially, down the centre
of the street; fusing the stresses
and strains of this eventful season
into his calm visage.
Two Italian women argue volubly,
elegantly dressed, as if for
a Passagato Milanese. Sun flares
off the silver nose stud of an Asian
woman in a shimmering sari.
A grey-bearded man, in robes
and fez, paces thoughtfully.
A skinhead in shorts marches
urgently, carrier-bags bristling
with clinking, jostling cans.
Two stocky Oriental youths,
hyper with MSG, stride past
a Polish woman cleaning her car.
Her small blonde daughter
is on a tricycle, cycling
an endless orbit around the car.
Another Summer slips by; Summer on the street.
Front doors succumbing, Police shields glinting.
bare feet padding, young lovers kissing.
Endless evenings of blissful blue sky;
comings and goings, neighbours, passers-by.
Kids trudging to school, then merrily returning;
enervating heat, pallid skins burning.
Shouting, spitting, drinking, eating.
Life on the street; transitory, fleeting.
And so it goes on; new sights, new sounds.
The girl on the tricycle goes round and round.
Round and round she goes; round and round . . .