Quick introduction by Maddy Costa: This post was written by Emma Geraghty, a writer and singer-songwriter, who attended the Derelict festival in Preston as part of a writing team I led there. It’s not specifically relevant to NTiYN, except that the Conti in Preston is one of the project’s six venues, but it’s such a lovely piece of writing – specifically, in its rejection of commercially-driven narratives that declare one city ‘successful’ and another ‘failed’ – that I wanted to include it here, too.
by Emma Geraghty
Sunshine and high winds. Wherever you are feels like a holiday, but it’s Preston in the early evening, and I have time to kill. So I walk. Down the high street. People are dressed for the summer, an inherently British thing in this weather, and I pass shops and cafes and roadworks. It reminds me of Bolton, of Salford, of every city town in the North, the ones people overlook as they look over the country. Because they’re not Manchester or Birmingham or Newcastle. They are Primark and betting shops and homelessness and dodgy pubs and council estates. All of the things that city-sized cities have, but get brushed under a carpet of commercialisation and extra-wide high streets.
A seagull cries overhead.
“Oh my god love you are BEAUTIFUL.”
“Spare any change, pet?”
I sit on a bench on a square, I’m not sure which one, partially blinded by the sun, rolling a cigarette. There’s a courthouse, the Dean’s Court House, and a man shutting down some funfair rides. He pulls large waterproof covers over the seats, drags concrete blocks to surround them, leaves, returns with a metal fence, leaves, returns with a metal fence, leaves, returns, repeats, until the rides are surrounded. The muscles stand out on his arms. I think he sees me watching, so I smile, and he smiles.
“Here, sweetheart, got a light?”
“Cheers darlin’, have a good day now.”
The light on the buildings, on the pavement, is wonderful. Photography lighting. A man walks past, singing loudly to himself in a foreign tongue and pointing at something. He’s Asian or Muslim or Middle Eastern or… He’s smiling. The man on the next bench shouts “Allah Allah Allah” at the singing man. He is English or British or white or… The singing man doesn’t notice. The man on the bench lapses into silence.
I stub out my cigarette and walk. Shops are shutting. People are getting ready for their Saturday night. Equator. I buy a coffee and a fruit juice and sit. And write.
Preston was voted into the top ten unhealthiest high streets in Britain, according to a BBC survey. Qualifying features were betting shops, pawnbrokers, and takeaways, among others. It’s all rubbish. It’s a small working-class high street. That’s all. The healthiest high streets were mostly in southern areas of affluence, and there’s the difference. Money. It always is, in one way or another.
One of the things I pride myself on, being from the North, is that we are friendly. We have friendly accents. Even when we swear, it doesn’t sound as bad. We use terms of endearment constantly and naturally. Mate, love, pet, duck, darling, sweetheart. This place is a conversation piece. You can talk to anyone. Just passing the time of day is enough. Just lending a lighter is enough. Just sharing a smile is enough.
I will finish my juice and roll a cigarette and pack up my pen, purse, notebook, phone, and leave. I will turn left, cross the road, go over the carpark, turn right, go into the building, and see something. Derelict. This place is anything but derelict.