Saturday, December 17, 2016


She is a faded beauty, an old madame who makes her face up every morning, lipstick just that little too bold, that only serves to underline the slightly trembling lip. Potholes full of stagnant rain water, faded road markings, street kids begging at the car window, soggy posters tied to trees and stuck on dustbins, advertising everything from 'bedroom cures' to wealth and prosperity. Beautiful old buildings with long-dead owners' names still adorning them: A.D. Radowski 1910, Haddon and Sly est.1894, once purveyors of fine things now selling cheap wigs and cell phone chargers. Blocks of flats named Victory Place and Luxor House, now strung with ribbons of washing: babies' nappies, men's shirts, a child's school uniform. Hung high above the stinking sanitary lanes and the pavements where people sit and wait . . . and wait and sit, quiet, eyes fixed on nothing. Newspaper hoardings which announce the continual demise of our ancient dictator, that bond notes are here to say, that Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1. I remember my other life: Late-night Christmas shopping at Meikles, my mum ordering the Christmas ham from the butcher, listening for the time on the City Hall clock. And I wonder whatever happened to the Cat Lady, with her long grey hair and her long brown coat, who fed the strays outside the public toilets. Long gone now, too.

Bryony Rheam. 13 December 2016

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