I once lived on a housing estate, disparaged by Ex as “Brookside”. This was my first house after leaving him and after the divorce money coming through. When I first saw it it wasn’t even there, just a drawing on a plan and a lot of metal barriers, holes in mud and men, hod-carrying and shouting. I peered through the lozenges in the wire and wondered what it would be like, in my own place.
The houses got finished and we all moved in at once – my next-door-neighbour on the same day, even. Removal vans everywhere. Mud still everywhere, imprinted with workmen’s’ boot-soles; the landscaping newly-planted, a few twiggy shrubs that might or might not develop into laurel, hydrangea or photinia later. The garden a narrow rectangle of stony, unturfed brown, all the topsoil scraped off to make proper gardens for the four and five-bedroomed houses over the road. Three cast concrete slabs for a patio. Chain-link fences on either side. Later, first one neighbour then another would replace the chain-link with six-foot panels, cutting out all but a three inch strip of sunlight in the middle of the day. The panels made excellent perching-places away from the neighbourhood cat population and were soon laced with bird-shit. The path going round the back, intended for the taking out of bins or an escape route in case of fire, quickly had a padlocked gate put on it by the neighbours at the end, and filled up with discarded inflatable swimming pools, garden waste, plastic tubs – anything people hadn’t got room for in their garden sheds.
In the early hours of one morning, I couldn’t sleep. It was hot so I’d left the upper windows ajar. And into the darkness, suddenly, came sirens and flashing lights. Torches. Commands. Joking. Shouting. I looked out. Uniforms. A lorry surrounded by police cars. I could hear their radios, and the lights flashing round in circles, like lighthouses.
The shouting went on. The policemen seemed to be making no effort to keep their voices down. I suppose if you are a policeman, keeping your voice down in a residential area could be a sign of weakness. If you’re in charge you make a lot of noise, don’t you? You stride around and laugh and make jokes regardless of who might be sick, who might be anxious or who might be trying to sleep behind those dark, anonymous window-panes. You leave the short-wave radio on in your patrol car and the door hanging open. Roger this, Roger that. Over? I could hear them but I couldn’t see them. They were too far down and my bedroom window at the wrong angle.
Eventually, they went. One of the neighbours said they had chased a lorry-load of illegals down off the motorway and happened to have caught up with them in our road.
In the roadway, overlooked, a child’s blue shoe. The tiny, soft-soled kind they have when they take their first steps. The buckle broken.