Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Sundering of Elmhill Estate (1987-1991)

In 1987 a concrete works opened up beside the motorway. Mews, Rise, and Avenue were bulldozed to make way for a lorry park. Three years later a supermarket built itself upon the levelled, torn down, rubble of a derelict estate next door and then flattened Street, Lane, and Manor to lay out yet another car park. By the end of 1992 only Elmhill Drive remained, sandwiched between two slip roads and level tarmac lakes; the last remainder of a once upon a time community.
Not that anyone with their house demolished complained. To be fair most of the estate was boarded up anyway and had been as long as I could remember it. Life between a busy main road and motorway was no picnic and since loud late night house parties, the tinkling of jilted lovers smashing windows, and strolling sectarian mobs were de rigeur it was a community one could well do without quite frankly.
The concrete and supermarket men paid a comparative fortune for every crumbling home they cleared and everyone was able to afford to move to a swanky new build estate in Glengormley. A working families semi-detached paradise with proper back gardens, car ports, and leisure centre adjacent.
My Dad was gutted when the concrete men stopped buying houses, only one street away, we were so close to escape. When the same thing happened with the supermarket on the other side he started writing them begging letters saying if they bought our house he would go as far as to tear down the bastard himself, save them a few quid on labour. He even went so far as to pull down the chimney, sent it to them in the post, prove he meant business. It was an awkward and dangerous endeavour taking a heavy chimney of a leaking terraced roof, but by hard work and sheer will my dad and 'uncles' managed it. It was an expensive gesture as well because the postage and packing on a chimney stack in the mail took up all and some of his dole money for that week. The supermarket didn't bite and it came back unopened, return to sender, return postage not paid, so Dad got hit for double whack.
For the next seven years I lived there, in a house with a blue tarpaulin for a chimney in a street that wasn't even worth the knocking down. Grim times in an attic bedroom especially when it rained through the tarp, which living in Ireland was pretty constant. I was up most nights emptying out buckets and saucepans down the bath plughole. Miserable existence for a young lad. On the bright side but, ITV showed 'Baywatch' and 'Gladiators' back to back on a Saturday and we had a VHS tape recorder so on balance I still managed to enjoy my teenage years.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Return to Elmhill Drive

After my alarming yet unilluminating reunion with Hazlitt I soldiered on to the family seat of 5 Elmhill Drive. Elmhill Estate had been quite a fortress in it's early eighties hey day. The kerbstones ran red, white, and blue and Union Jacks and Orange Lodge flags fluttered from every house, like a never-ending royal jubilee. The Elmhill streets of Drive, Road, Avenue, Manor, Mews, Street, and Court, Elmless and not what they claimed to be, once housed a vibrant community of working class Belfast protestants. Well, as vibrant as you can get in only four colours.
Screaming lads, myself included, skirmished in eighteen odd a side football played the whole length of the street. Hoofing and tackling in a dirty denim scrum all for a newsagents cheap plastic football in a gauntlet of cars, parked and moving.
In the summer grown ups drank in their front, terraced, gardens; three foot of concrete from door to waist high iron railings, rusting below the paint. Roaring and cackling, loving with threats, front windows opened full to hear their turned up stereos in the back rooms. Patsy Cline, Pink Floyd, Bucks Fizz, and the radio mingled with the violent shouts of our game endless til teatime while the wee girls watched us wee lads and whispered.
The nearby motorway droned sluggish, occasionally the railway tracks rattled and a strained ear could pick out the muted blare of navigating ships horns. At night the motorway quickened and overhead was the soft whirr of helicopter blades seeking out bad men among us.

I'm probably taking some poetic licence there admittedly, but then I was only six at the time so all I've got are memories filtered through childish senses to go on, so what else can you do?

However, the eighties were a long time ago, and only one street now still stood from the high days of Elmhill. Elmhill Drive.