john davies
notes from a small curate

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004
    Parish Walks #2 - Bounded by green avenues
    As the draw had it, today's start point was very close to the last walk's start point: the parish's easterly point, at the junction between Croxteth Hall Lane and Oak Lane. Unsure where I should go from there, not wanting to retread old tracks just yet, I drew again to locate the end of the walk - and this time it was virtually as far west as it's possible to go within these bounds: where Liverpool's ring road Queens Drive is dissected by Townsend Avenue. Apposite, then: another Rogation walk - along the south-eastern boundary which is Muirhead Avenue.

    In the fortnight since my last walk The Dog and Gun pub has been closed-down, boarded-up, sealed off. There will be no Euro 2004 delights in store there. On the end wall, a plaque erected by regulars in fond memory of two who died some years ago. How, or why, it does not say. Were they hunters? Or hunted? Or maybe just unfortunate enough to step into the lane without looking, at the end of an afternoon's drinking session.

    There are points along Oak Lane, heading towards Muirhead Avenue, where it is possible to lose from your view all hint of human habitation. It is green and wide here, as it will be all the way along this route, the estates set-back for privacy and Muirhead Avenue's more distant, denser housing obscured by its rows of mature trees. It is, however, possible to track crime from here, if you know the roads. A police helicopter sweeps across the horizon in a line which I know I shall be following later - evidently a car on Queen's Drive in its sights. As the land dips by the entrance to Croxteth Country Park I lose it from view and cannot trace the chase, whether the car has turned out towards open country along the East Lancs Road, or opted for a face-off in Bootle's docklands.

    Muirhead Avenue is a long rise from the fancy new estate where my old college, North-East Liverpool Tech, used to be (day release 1978-79 - Certificate in Fabrication and Welding, and pulling motorbike tricks in the car park at breaktimes). It's the same all the way up - to the left, the public face: pubs and shops, surgeries and day centres, to the right (where I walk, hugging our parish) rows of original Norris Green estate houses, mostly tidy, all with front gardens no-one was using, except as driveways.

    I'm more aware of children on this walk, having read the Green Alliance / Demos report A Child's Place: Why Environment Matters to Children. They say that children see the environment as social space, judge it in terms of danger, and are losing their connection with it because their access to it is so constrained. It is a half-term afternoon but on Muirhead Avenue I passed no children until the shops came into view, mostly being tightly held by parents or older siblings as they waited to cross the busy road. Teens, however, were out and thriving: a playful couple with a giggling friend, a girl being transported across the dual carriageway on a young man's shoulders, shrieking in delight (or fear). In the bus stop a blonde in a bright red tracksuit waved her hands about expressively; I realised she was signing to her friend - silent conversation at high-speed.

    Shops on Muirhead Avenue (all busy): Lindy-Lou Hair and Beauty Salon, Robbie Muscart Top Quality Butchers, Charmed Hair and Beauty, Fruit Salad, Post Office, Drinks Cabin, Heatwave 2000, the bookies.

    Up the rise which takes the road across what was once Liverpool railway's outer loop line and is now a cycle track, crossing more busy arterial roads. Broad Lane - the lane is broad which leads to West Derby Village, the posh bit of the area dominated by the tower of St Mary's where people want to get married cos it looks nice; Lorenzo Drive, not posh, but the base for celebrated local bakers Sayers, now part of a multinational conglomerate but still emitting gorgeous odours into the Norris Green air.

    It is wonderful and green along here, a great environment were it not for the vicious traffic slicing through. I notice that each tree carries a small plastic green tag with a unique number on it: LCC 447868, LCC 447869 ... for what purpose I'm unsure, but I'm given to think - for the purpose of caring for these trees. The trimmed grass verges express this too: the city council does care for the place - as best it can. And the houses tell the same tale - when it was built (not that long ago) it was for honourable-enough reasons: get the people out of the inner-city slums into tidy homes with decent gardens front and back, where it's green and spacious.

    Plenty more nice homes along Queen's Drive. But the traffic is even more vicious here. I watch a woman bring perhaps thirty vehicles to a halt at a crossing, and wonder how she's feeling - vulnerable, maybe, facing up all that aggression, revving, jostling, scowling; or perhaps she's glowing in the temporary power she has seized at the touch of a push-button. Another man opts to cross without any electronic assistance. Laden with tatty carrier bags, slightly dishevelled-looking, he's in no particular hurry. I sense he's done this so often it's worn him into carelessness: go on then, run me down if you want, dare you.

    The road back home is dominated by two great monuments to the preponderance of the Roman Catholic Church in the area: at the junction with Townsend Lane the tremendously high campanile of St Matthew's, and down Utting Avenue East the massive redbrick slab which is St Teresa's. Inbetween is Broadway where the discomfiting absence of people along the route gives way to much activity. The many shops are the honeypot and here are children again - crossing carefully with Dad, being wheeled along by Mum, playing and skipping and scootering along the busy sweeping pavements of Norris Green's only decent shopping area.

    Underneath the railway bridge is a Broadway nightclub which last week I observed, bemused, was named VALE TIN. I spent a long time pondering that title - was it to do with location (the land is a vale of sorts, just there), or with some local industry I didn't know about, or with a very localised form of music, recalling the sixties Scaffold classic of two miles from here, Thank U very much for the Aintree Iron? Until I realised that waste and decay were the reason the sign said VALE TIN. Three letters had fallen off - the club is called VALENTINOS.

    At a bus stop, an ad for hair colourant features a glamorous girl and the line, "Be a radiant brunette", in front of which one chubby bedenimed thirtysomething, drawing on her cig, is telling her friend: "Bein' hones' wit yer Maureen I don' care worree says..."

    Things sober up halfway down Utting Avenue East. This has been a walk around the green outside of the estate. Inside it looks very different: a vast area wrecked by bad planning, dereliction abounding, ghost streets where not long ago children played. A sign says, Coming soon to NORRIS GREEN: A modern development of 90 homes for rent and 107 homes for sale. Rebuilding communities together. It takes a lot to shake the cynicism in the face of so much past betrayal - lately, the city council got careless.

    As I near home the East Lancs hills emerge from the drizzle in the distance, but they are a long way away. Inbetween, scrub land, industrial estates, brownfields... The first walk ended walking westwards, in a reverie about approaching the Mersey. This one ends facing east and contemplating something harsh: Utting Avenue East, like all these vast straits out of the city, is a road which leads its people to nowhere in particular.