You know you’re in trouble when you see them stoning the fire engines.
You know it’s worse when the firemen get shot.
It had been a mistake to try to cut across Peaseholme, but the ring road resurfacing had been causing huge tailbacks all week, and the radio traffic news reporter was hyping the problem in her usual pant-wettingly over-excitable way. Stupidly, I got fooled into making a last minute turnoff three roundabouts too early, with a view to cutting over the far corner of what is one of the direst housing estates in the country… Which felt a little disconcerting, maybe, at this time of night, but ten to twelve minutes would see me back on the right side of the tracks. Or so I thought…
And why the fuck Radio Hampton wasn’t reporting the real story of the evening I’ll never know…
It was unusually quiet around the Triple Towers, and further on the bouncers outside the Lord Nelson were looking bored and perplexed. The answer came just beyond Junkie Park: I crossed the mini roundabout and all of a sudden I was stuck behind a Greatways lorry trying a desperate U turn, while up ahead the firefighters tried to save the community centre under a hail of lager cans, hubcaps and stones. A white van pulled up hard behind me. Then my mobile rang.
‘Hello?’ I lifted it to my ear while still staring at the fire ahead.
‘It’s Mum. I’m just checking that you got home OK.’
‘Ah. Well… Look, I’ll call you back…’
The flames had a good hold and there was little to be done, especially as the firefighters had retired, at least two visors shattered by air rifle pellets. A paramedic, we learned later, was treated by his colleagues for concussion, alongside six elderly ladies from the Old Time Dancing Society who had suffered smoke inhalation. The right wing, ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em’ editorials were going to have a field day. And just for once we would all agree with them.
When the van behind had managed to reverse, I had the space to get out. The Citroen was at full lock and I’d just bumped over the kerb when a half brick hit my roof and I panicked. Twisting my neck I could see them, a crowd of silhouettes advancing with the flames behind. Small silhouettes: the tallest was maybe five foot seven, they were young teenagers, kids. But when they turned their heads, even if just for an instant, you could see the rage and excitement flickering in their distorted faces. They had found the ultimate bully boy thrill. I hit the accelerator.
I hit a lamp post.
I didn’t let it stop me.
And, amazingly, within minutes I was driving down perfectly normal streets, dodging perfectly normal cyclists, moped-riders and pedestrians who had no idea what was happening only a mile or two away. With dents in my roof, my left wing, and my confidence.
And so the one successful attempt to foster a community in Peaseholme fizzled out beneath the firefighters’ foam. The papers were enraged for a day, then lost interest. Councillors wrung their hands for twenty seconds on TV. An old age pensioner remained in hospital for a week, then died.
On the day of her death my work sent me back onto the estate.