Running the Streets

The photograph that accompanies this post is of the old railway crossing in Copnor, where a bridge now stands. Apart from large scale slum / post war clearances and rebuilds, many of the changes to city streets are piecemeal. A junction realigned, an old factory knocked down, a local shop converted into a house.

My grandmother used to run a general store in Porchester Road, North End. I was born after it was closed, shop counter ripped out and the front space turned into a living room. It has a flat fronted rather than bay window. I wonder how many other flat front houses have the same origin, and how many are the result of bomb damage or general redesign.

All these small changes. All these small changes that combine, that slowly aggregate into something more significant. That turn the places we know so well into somewhere so different, where disparate memories and snapshots of a specific point in time mesh into something else.

Every town has its ghosts. They are different for each of us.

The poem that follows is about this. I read it at the T’Articulation event on Friday, (where I was reminded that it had won a local writing competition the other year).

But it’s also about us. We all have our own ghosts, our own pasts. In my case, it’s something that has driven my writing, from my days of teenage and early 20s angst, to today when I am more sanguine and the aches of regret don’t weigh down anything like as heavily as they used to. Coming out of the other side of clinical depression a good few years ago has helped, as has taking the conscious decision to try and live life rather than just exist, along with celebrating the successes, the moments of joy, the stuff in my life that makes me feel happy. I’ve written before about how live football, music and theatre injects me with energy and life.

My kids do the same. I am so proud of what they are achieving, the life trajectories they are on.

Anyway, enough of talking about myself and my life today. Except to say that if you happen to be reading this and are struggling, seek help, talk to someone. I was in a very dark place, but stumbled out of it. You can too.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I read this poem on Friday night at a T’Articulation event. T’Articulation are a local group of writers who have events every couple of months in Portsmouth. Events are free to attend, and attract a really good mix of established and new writers and performers. If you have something to say, come and have a go.

One of the other readers’ pieces was a prose item about many of the street name changes in Portsea over the last fifty years. I found it really interesting, old roads that don’t exist any more, old names that hint of lost industries and occupations, of myth and legends from way back in this city’s history, in our communal past. So much that is gone, but still here, in archives, photographs, and fading memory.

And so with us, and the histories we construct, subconsciously or otherwise.

A final point before you, finally, get to the poem (I hope you think it’s worth it!). This is one of a sequence of running poems that I’ll be self publishing at some point. I used to run marathons, but gave up following a series of injuries. I’ve started running again. A 10K in October or November beckons. Nothing is fixed for ever.

Portsea Island Street Running

From Tangier to Dover via Chesterfield,
I map my run in the names of its roads 
Folkestone, Lichfield by way of Algiers,
an extra circuit around Baffins Pond,
across Copnor Bridge towards North End.
Cyprus, Malta, Inverness,
Emsworth, Drayton, Portchester,

past the house where my grandparents lived.
These tight-knit rows of terraces;
the new builds where bombs once fell,
the corner shops that are no more,
the factories that became housing estates,
the pubs converted into memories,
small alterations that change the world.

Preston, Aylesbury back to Glencoe,
where Tennyson and Byron meet Ernest and Ethel,
Shearer, Shakespeare, St Mary and St Piran,
my parents’ schools, the home that we first made,
the pavements once walked hand-in-hand.
Trying to make sense as the sunrise slides,
I catch my breath in a frost-loved park,
footprints left on crystallised grass;
what paths of hope we still could make
from these streets that were once laid out
on the shrouds of medieval fields,
strips of earth into tar-blacked seams
to stitch this island back together,
our quilt of history in tiles and brick.

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