A Bit Rough




People often talk about how Brockley used to be so rough back in the day. I was born in Brockley, grew up in Lewisham and often bristle at these comments (often by people who have moved into the area) and their very narrow ideas of what constitutes 'progress' or 'community' – but which essentially seem to boil down to less black and brown faces, or signs that we exist. I wrote this poem after passing through Brockley on the way home and feeling somehow alienated in a place I once knew so well. Everywhere changes, it's true, but the sense that it is 'better' because it adheres to one particular aesthetic feels exclusive and judgemental.

There was community, back then,
back when vegan was still ital,
and Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
was vital not a poster on the wall.

Yeah, there was community then.
There was Spit the Dog and
Chelsea Smilers who punched
too-wide grins into your dreams.

Football at the end of the street
where they filmed an episode of The Bill
– though we didn’t have a TV anyway,
except for a few days at Christmas.

There were Guides and Brownies
and park fetes with sandwiches
covered in cling film and potted plants
for sale – always spider plants.

Yeah there was community,
locs shops and nursery drops,
mixed-race kids with brown tufts
who didn’t know they weren’t new.

There was skipping and songs
‘I’ll come knock for you’.
The Boring Park, the too-big ship,
and the hill that went hoo-ha.

Cardboard boxes bumming down
Henry VIII’s old playground.
Poo sticks on fast-flowing water,
picking promising piles at the jumble.

1p sweets in paper bags
20 for a week’s pocket money
5 hidden under the other sweets
hoping the newsagent wouldn’t see.

There was no money, no cafes,
no flat-white lives, or fat white
slices of sourdough-only bread
– just juice on your neighbour’s table.

Pulling a face at sweaty slices of
plantain, eating proper at school
because it was a proper meal –
three course with the salad trolley.

Yeah the custard had a thick film
but the pink milkshake and
crumbly biscuit was six-year-old
heaven, and the caramel tart…

…sweet for days.

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