Saturday, April 22, 2006

City scenes

Like most weekends since Christmas, Warhorse the Scooter had to go in to have repairs done on her wheels. I go to Foley's in Fenton, where my father and all our biking forefathers before him have gone, since the beginning of time.

She was going to take a while, so I set off with time to waste. On the bus up to Hanley, vast swathes of old terraces have been demolished, leaving behind toothy stubs of people's memories and exposed Victorian back yards. The big signs (by developers who have finally managed to spell Wedgwood correctly) say the land will be turned into deluxe canalside apartments, but these plans have been around for ages and nobody's quite sure that it will happen or whether anyone wants to live in them anyway.

"Can you ring in about half an hour duck, the lads have just gone off for some snappin''". So I carried on walking. This phrase reminded me of the terrapins that live in Hanley Forest Park lake. They must have been liberated in the post Mutant Hero Turtle era and seem to have survived several winters quite happily, eating ducklings and whatever else they can. Small boys in the area call them "terrypeens" and they are a famous attraction, though hated by the fishermen.

Beyond the lake, the new skating park is packed. Arguably the only good thing the local authority has ever done for the city, everyone under 18 in Stoke is now a skater. Next to it, a half finished adventure playground has been invaded by a family. The parents sit quite happily on a bench watching their tiny charges frolic on equipment still coated in plastic. Towering all around them is a site fence, a segment of which they or someone else has knocked down, with yellow signs saying 'Danger: do not enter'. The skaters have obviously given people a taste for risk. Hopefully they won't sue the council if the youngsters drop onto the gravel on their heads.

I hang around Hanley, managing to get two good lattes on chocolate brown comfy sofas. Five years ago this would have been impossible. For the first one I read the Sun and get very alarmed by its horrifying view of Britain and pornographic descriptions of child pornography. For the second I escape to Baghdad, with Chikitita's moving blog. She could teach the Sun journalists a thing or two about, well, everything.

Checking in at Foley's, Warhorse isn't going to be ready until Monday. Doesn't matter how long I hang around waiting, it isn't to be. I set off home, not able to face another bus. Between towns, I realise that nobody else is walking other than teenagers and ethnic minorities. Groups of women in veils and pairs of men who everyone assumes are asylum seekers but may well be bussed off to various low paid jobs in the early mornings of the week. The rest of Stoke drives cars, it's a kind of segregation. Buses are for old people and those who are trying to navigate a distance too far to walk. So if you can't afford to run a car or pay multiple fares to get across the towns, you're stuck in whatever part of the city you happen to have landed in.

Reaching Burslem, there are shops with flats above that look far too small for human habitation. The only reason they haven't been cleared yet is that nobody has ever got round to it, but I hope they won't. They are relics from a town in which rich and poor lived side by side, or the very rich lived as far as Cobridge or up the hill in Newcastle, and they came together to produce pottery and go to church.

Cars being the first ambition of everyone in Stoke, the second is bigger cars. Most people own their houses, which don't go up in value very much, so you might as well buy a better car. Since, by my measurements, the terraces I pass are as wide as a Metro, this means many people own cars which are longer than their houses are wide. They must be very proud.

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