john davies
notes from a small curate

    Monday, October 04, 2004
    Parish Walks #7 - The Shopping Trolley Trail
    I still haven't worked out a strategy for negotiating the worse-than-labyrinthine Norris Green estate on foot. The layout is so elusive that even lifelong residents still get disorientated, let alone freshers like me. But out of the hat today was the square with our church on it, and I knew the moment was right to head across Carr Lane for a wander around the maze.

    This was also an opportune moment to drop in on Vinny, a local historian based in the Carr Lane housing office who has spent some regeneration money very wisely, producing a book called A Brief History of Norris Green, also in cd form. Vinny's concern, like most other local folk: the growing unravelling of a sense of community, especially among the young. Vinny's vision, as he writes in his preface: "If this history can spark off an interest in younger readers then the whole project will have been worth while." Vinny's cd: free to anyone who asks for one.

    Two cups of tea in the office kitchen and a good long chat later, I tucked the cd gladly into my pocket and set off reaffirmed in my own project, to try to bring to light at least a little of what has been hidden for too long - the stories of the thousands for whom Norris Green / Croxteth is home, the truth about the place.

    Not that the truth is always very palatable. For the rural labourers who tended the damp and boggy land when St Swithin's was established in 1425, as for today's fourth-generation unemployed living on a gerry-built estate, now crumbling, times have often been tough. Today's walk took me into the unpalatable.

    I think this is the route I took: Carr Lane, Hazelslack Rd, the sweep of Swallowhurst Crescent to Colesborne Road, Clanfield Road, Elkstone Road, Dencourt Road, across Stalisfield Avenue to Kingsdown Road, loop through Berkeswell Road, onto Monksdown Road, and all the way around the cycle of Norris Green Crescent / Glassonby Crescent, returning Monksdown - Frinstead - Braithwaite - Swallowhurst - Colesborne - Winhowe - Sandway - Carsington and out of the place, across Utting Avenue East, home.

    I say I think this is the route I took because I went map-less, by instinct, testing my meagre but growing sense of the area. And also because, in these half-derelict acres, sometimes road signs are missing - sometimes the corner houses they were secured to, are missing. My one marker was a shopping trolley, abandoned at the one-time junction of Monksdown and Glassonby, now a wasteland. If I return there again and the trolley is gone, I will be lost. Seems fitting - only markers of impermanence guide me around this place of deep disruption.

    When I saw the trolley for the second time I knew I'd completed a circuit, and that I could spin out via a link road onto the next cycle of crumbling concrete, corrugated windows and Boot Estate blight.

    These things made an impression on me en-route:

    People going about their business, from houses with neat gardens, pushing prams, carrying shopping, clearing rubbish, tidying up, in the face of the terrible dereliction around them.

    An old man emerging from a well-kept house, the only one still occupied in a row of four, slowly shaking his head at the bright blue slogans newly-painted on the pavement outside, identifying PINHEAD as the author.

    Fresh council signs on lampposts everywhere: NO TIPPING ... while the whole place feels like a municipal tip.

    A pair of trainers laced together, hanging from a telephone line way above Colesborne Road. Sign of humiliation for whoever owns them, reminded of their theft and gleeful disposal every time they pass underneath; sign of great skill or perseverence by the youngsters who dispatched them there - doubtless the same youngsters who have been using a lamppost further down the road as a high hoopla - three bike tyres languish at its base, one hangs awkwardly from its broken headpiece.

    I am especially impressed by this sign: MONKSDOWN COMMUNITY INFANT SCHOOL - WHERE EVERY CHILD IS SPECIAL. This is brave and prophetic language in a square where older children rampage each night and residents (who have told me this) live in fear. I know that it is founded on the good practice and great commitment of the staff, and the pupils, there.

    And lastly, what grabs me is this house, which I think may have been on Braithwaite Crescent. Number Ten. As soon as I saw it, in my head I juxtaposed it with a more famous Number Ten. The irony, the disparity, the sinfulness, the shame in that contrast...