Surrounding me on all sides were mounds of brick and mortar where houses had once stood. These rolling valleys of debris encased either side of me and stood out in sharp contrast against the pale sky. This was all that was left of the neighbourhood where I had spent the first thirteen of years of my life. It was once a teaming row of terraced houses, a labyrinth of streets, a community which I had been part of. It had been a rough but vibrant place to live. It was every cliché that my teenage brain could think of and I missed it like I never thought was possible.
As I slowly picked my way across the rubble that littered my path a few street lamps shook to life, lighting up the uneven road. It was a sign that it was growing darker and the horizon was splayed with pinks and purple as the last vestige of sunlight lit up the evening sky. It gave the scene an almost spectral quality that it lacked in the harsh rays of day and added a hint of beauty to what was otherwise a derelict scene. In the distance a lone light sparkled; a beacon in this wasteland and I slowly but surely made my way towards the welcoming glimmer.
As I neared I could see the house where I had grown up in but it was unlike the one that was ingrained in to my consciousness. Where once it had sat snugly in the middle of a terrace it now stood alone, the other houses ripped from its side and laid to waste at its feet. A carcass left to rot, forgotten and abandoned by the vultures that had slowly picked away the meat from the bone. I could not reconcile this broken down house to the one in which I had lived and the once familiar street was now obliterated from sight.
I knocked tentatively at the door. A hollow sound echoed through the house and I waited patiently. I heard a door opening and heavy footsteps booming down the narrow hallway. The door suddenly flew open. There stood my Father, a large man filling the doorway, grey hairs sprinkled his dark hair, his face was ruddy, his nose broken and a beer belly finished the overall assemblage. He was not one for standing on ceremonies and said gruffly, “Well are you coming in or what?”
“Of course I am,” I said equally gruffly but we both knew we were genuinely glad to see each other. I followed him towards the living room. Nothing had changed inside. It was still the warm cosy house of my childhood. The furniture stood in the same place, the fire burned brightly and the same family photographs looked down at me from the walls. It was difficult to comprehend that my neighbourhood was not outside. It was as if I had stepped in to a never-never world where time stood still.
“Cup of tea?” He shouted as I heard him filling up the kettle in the kitchen.
“Yes alright, Dad!” I shouted back and settled myself in to an arm chair by the fire.
“Have you had anything to eat?” He asked his voice still loud and raucous.
“Yeah, I'm alright, Dad!” Formalities settled he returned to the living room with two mugs of tea and we settled down to the usual exchange.
“How's your Mum?” Dad and Mum had divorced two years ago. They were like chalk and cheese how they'd managed to have five kids never ceased to amaze me.
“Fine. How are you?” I asked.
“Not bad.” And, then he leaned forward and I knew this was where the conversation would stop and I would sit and listen. My Dad seemed to have two moods, he was either complaining or bad tempered but more often than not both. I looked at him apprehensively wondering which one it would be tonight.
He took a sip of tea, made himself comfortable in his chair, puffed out his chest and began. “You know what those Bastards did today?” Not waiting for an answer he said, “I was in the kitchen and I heard this loud bang. I looked out the window and there was a bull dozer outside the backyard door! Only about to knock the house down with me inside!”
“They weren't!” I said flabbergasted. I loved my Dad's continuing saga on his ongoing battle with the Council but worried about him in the middle of all this carnage.
“Well,” he said, “I was out of this kitchen and on that back yard wall before they could even blink... I said to them if your going to knock this house down it will be with me in it!” He looked towards me for reassurance and I said quickly.
“Good on y'Dad!” He smiled smugly to himself and then resumed his face growing redder by the minute. I half felt sorry for the poor workman facing my Dad in all his fury but this feeling did not last for long.
“You know what they said to me? They said, Oh sorry mate we thought you'd left! As if! Left, I said, over my dead body. Not until they give me what I'm asking for! Twenty years I've lived in this house, bought it with me own money, added a bathroom, done all sorts to this place and they knock up a compulsory purchase order and offer me £500! £500! £3000 or nothing and they're still robbing me!”
“I know they are Dad.” I looked around at my surroundings and I felt a lump in my throat at the meagre house that he was defending so rigorously. I knew it wasn't just the money with my Dad. This house represented everything that he had lost. His wife, his family, if they took this away without a fight I think he would never forgive himself. He never thought my Mum would leave but she had. I had watched as one by one each neighbour had left, some had tried to fight the Council but all had given up eventually. All except for my Dad and I was proud of him for that.
The next day in school a lad who used to live in our street said to me, “Have you seen this?” He held up a copy of the local paper. On the front page was a picture of my Dad with the headlines reading, ‘Angry Bill Fights Back!' I read the article quickly, ‘Council back down to resident's campaign and agree to compensate Mr. Smith fully. Mr. Smith was quoted as saying, ‘I've lived in this house for twenty years and I wasn't going to be offered a paltry sum by the likes of them. It was a matter of principle!' He's won, I thought, at last! But then I realised that this meant my old home would be knocked down just like all the others. With a bit of beaurcratic paper my neighbourhood was gone. No more fiery conversations round the fire. No more fights to listen to. I felt as if a chapter of my life had at last been written and it was time to move on but could my Dad I thought. This I did not know.