john davies
notes from a small curate

    Tuesday, August 10, 2004
    Parish Walks #5 - Tropical storms over Scarisbrick
    It's been a tropical day - thunderous rainstorms and now golden evening sun. Outside Norris Green Library (opposite Broadway) teenagers meander, attending to their mobile phones whilst colliding with street furniture and each other.

    The library is another symbol of the corporation's best intentions for the area when built. Opened in 1937, named after Henry A. Cole, chair of the city's Libraries, Museums and Arts Committee, neat and (Pevsner says) neo-Georgian, it's still well used. Two markers of where Norris Green lies on the city's cultural map:

    (a) the library's best-known ex-member of staff is Jean Alexander, local-born actress, world-famous for her role as Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street. For the first five years of her working life she was a library assistant here;

    (b) In celebration of the Capital of Culture 2008 success, one of the events which the council are promoting on 20/08 this year, is a fines amnesty at Norris Green Library: "Return any overdue items (books, videos, CD's, DVD's etc) ... on 20/08 and you will be exempted from any existing or historic fines."

    As we cross the multiple junction at Utting-Townshend Avenue there is more human traffic than vehicular, very different from the daytime where the volume of both is significantly higher. The teenagers around us are not dressed for rain, and in our clerical-casuals neither are we, as dark clouds gather above.

    This will be a short walk and somewhat self-conscious because two vicars walking here this time of night are conspicuous. Scarisbrick Road follows the old loop line from the rusty old metal bridge on Utting Avenue to the identical one which crosses the East Lancs Road. Immediately all is pebbledash; small and generally unadorned houses on unfurnished streets which contrast with the leafy frontages of Utting Avenue East. This is one of those roads the council did on the cheap. But there's spirit - people out in numbers at their front walls, chatting, calling wayward children home. A boy of maybe seven scales a lamppost; teenage boys on bikes pass us staring; a man drives his Network Rail van away from the pavement, perhaps off to begin his night shift: quite a few railway workers live around here.

    At Philbeach Road, which cuts beneath the old railway towards the night-time glow of Asda, the familiar evening sound of a motorbike engine whirring around the closes. As it increases in volume I expect to see a quad bike driven by a father with a young lad onboard (a common sight) but instead a regular scooter approaches, sensibly-clad guy onboard.

    Further up Scarisbrick Road the houses are red-brick and slightly more substantial. One or two grades up from the dank terraces of Anfield or Everton from which their first occupants came, there are tiny tokens of higher aspirations in these houses' designs - a jagged 'crescent', more rugged than the one we've just passed on Utting Avenue, little diamond patterns in the brickwork above doorways. One house looks like a mini country villa, covered in creeping ivy with a small garden rich in summer flora.

    While a mum and daughter unload shopping from their Polo we step onto the edge of the East Lancs, the A580, built for 3 million by 2,000 navvies and officially opened by King George V in 1934, to speed connections between the manufacturing areas on the Liverpool - Manchester axis. The Daily Express called it the 'new wonder road', others 'the super highway'. Locals called it dangerous, which it still is, eclipsing all the other fast roads in the area for its horrors as motorists accelerate out of the bottleneck of Walton Village into the East Lancs' three lanes, motorway-bound two miles hence at Croxteth (M57-M62-M6).

    Across the way, Barratt houses are going up on what was once the site of Littlewoods, one of the city's great commercial empires. Big money once moved from here two miles back through Walton Vilage to Goodsion Park - the Moores family empire fed the city's soccer School of Science. And as one of the city's large employers, the money also went back down Scarisbrick Road and into Norris Green's shops. The empire collapsed, today the once-great football club teeters on the edge of administration and we ponder how money will move from that site once the new occupants arrive - probably between shopping areas, bluechip bases and industrial estates along the arterial roads which branch eastwards from the East Lancs Road.

    We turn to see a now-blackening sky and on the horizon the high roof of Broadway's Mecca Bingo hall, with higher mobile phone masts behind it. Into the loops of the Scarisbrick estate where another young boy is scaling another lamppost and in a line across the road three girls practice a dance routine. Mark knows them and they give us a special show, tell us their 'stage names' and ask us questions about previous vicars they know about: familiar, in early years, with local lore.

    As we walk on towards Leamington School the rain begins to fall. The estates seem built around the schools - no other amenities on the insides, the houses circle these places of learning, Leamington, Ranworth, Broad Square, Monksdown, Wellesbourne. They have changed character and in some cases position, over the years, but remain the focal points of these otherwise entirely residential areas. Reflecting on this, and on the observation that the most visible occupants of this area's roads are of junior school age, it is tempting to think these estates were made particularly for the children.

    The rain now too torrential to linger, I take a quick snap of the insignia above the entrance to the Territorial Army centre on Townshend-Parthenon, and further along the Job Centre. Three soaked teens huddle under a tree outside the open doors of the Green Peppers Country Club and peering inside, in passing, I see (left to right): a bar with three customers seated, a massive screen showing European football, a snooker table (centre-room) against which leans a bicycle, small tables lining the edge of the room, one person sitting in that area, his features lit up by the pixels reflecting the footballers' bright red kit.

    We are by now dripping and it is dark. It is now not a night to be out, though as we part and I make my way home I notice a glow, roadside, near the Green Peppers Country Club. It is an ice-cream van, and around it a crowd of perhaps fifteen young children.