A Sense of Place – Memories in the Rubble


Imagine, if you can, a place where everyone is friendly, happy and approachable, everyone knows each other and no man is looked at with the eyes of suspicion if he says “Hello” to a child. Three cars parked on the street look almost alien.

The houses are set out in five simple rows of twenty dwellings, each row evenly spaced resembling parading soldiers. The view itself is drab and dreary but the lives behind this façade are far from dull. Every house is physically identical except for the little touches of individuality stamped on them by house-proud women – pretty curtains or flowers in pots in the little backyards. The houses are plain but warmth and life emanates from each one giving the whole estate an inviting glow.

Every morning twenty doors open almost simultaneously and out of each one steps the man of the house clad in flat cap and heavy boots. They fall into place as if marching into battle. The women stay at home and get the kids off to school then undertake the daily chores before ensuring a hot meal is on the table when their provider and protector returns home.

Every hour throughout the day a low hum that ascends into a deafening roar attempts, unsuccessfully, to interfere with neighbourly chats or afternoon naps had by mums and babies who have long been accustomed to the racket of the pit train. It rumbles past, barely twenty feet from the closest dwelling, carrying its precious load of freshly mined coal that glints like glass in the sun.

A woman stands in her backyard chatting to the lady next door, they talk about Saturday nights down at the bingo, the only night when they are released from their duties and are allowed to be women, not just mums. During the whole conversation her curled bottom lip manages to keep hold of the cigarette that seems to be a physical extension of her. No matter how much she chats, moves or shouts at the kids it refuses to release its bond. An endless curl of smoke claws its way forever upwards as if attempting to reach the fresher air above.

In the street, snotty nosed children run round entertaining themselves with the only toy known to them, their imagination! No electricity or batteries are needed for their amusement (with the exception of ‘Simple Simon’ whose creativity with a piece of copper wire and a battery should one day secure him a decent career as a sparky). Squeals of excitement can be heard as an old brass button is found in the rubble of the derelict houses on the next block, the victorious treasure hunter believing it to be solid gold.

These once loved homes now provide an elaborate playground. Fun is found in the secret hiding places created by fallen rubble and broken glass which has long since been evicted from rotten, ancient frames. Roof slates decorate the place where a bright yellow swing set once stood, creating deadly missiles for the neighbourhood children’s rough but fun games. Buildings now stand bald, naked and vulnerable to the weather. The walls that were once lovingly covered with bright, inviting wallpaper are now a magical kaleidoscope of colours and patterns created by seeping, dripping rain water.

This was the early 1980’s in a pit village called Thrybergh. My happiest memories were born here amongst the rubble and cigarette smoke. The rumble of the pit train was my bedtime lullaby.  It was a happy, warm, secure place to be.

When I was seven years old giant yellow machines with iron fists beat the houses to a mountain of rubble, all that remains today is an empty scrap of land that betrays the memories of the place it used to be.