May 7, 2013 by talkaboutyork
When I walk out my front door and turn onto my street, trimmed with a tidy terrace of Victorian houses, I have about forty seconds of relative quiet. I might even hear the odd bird singing, perched in the few cherry blossom trees that decorate the small front gardens.
Quickly I reach the Japanese restaurant on the corner of the street that has a toilet overflow pipe sticking out of the wall. Someone has scrawled ‘Free Beer’ with an arrow pointing to the pipe. The kitchen vents flutter and the overpowering smell of oriental spices hits me, sweet and cloying.
As I breathe through my mouth to avoid the smell, a wall of sound assaults me. I have reached the main road. Cars and ambulances and bicycle bells and tour groups and delivery men and buses and the music from the gay pub all trundle out their noisy tunes. The pavements are dirty – smeared dog poo, the furry stain of weeks old vomit that a hen party goer has left as a reminder of their big night out, a spilled latte, the insides of a doner kebab dropped like a hansel and gretel breadcrumb trail. I place my feet gingerly.
As I reach the next corner, the waft of stale oil from the fish and chip shop greets me, a cloud of cigarette smoke swirls around my head as I pass the chippy man sweeping his shop step. I hold my breathe until I pass.
I keep walking. Crowds of people, tourists staring, students loitering, grannies nattering, joggers jogging, school groups walking like connected penguins all jostle to share the narrow pavement. I lose patience and step into the street, narrowly missing an oncoming bike.
I sigh. Frustration brimming. Where is my solitude? Where are my quiet fields? Where is my sense that I own the world as no-one else is up yet? Where is the clean, green of the countryside and lungfuls of fresh air I spent the last six years living in? Where is the bird song, the hopping hares, the squawking pheasants?
Then I turn the corner and see Bootham Bar, part of the ancient city walls. And on the opposite side of the street, the Art Gallery and the ancient Abbey walls and the quaint tea room. I see the higgledy piggeldy houses and pubs and shops, vying for attention, all with old secrets lurking inside them, just waiting to be discovered.
Soaring above them all are the twin spires of the Minster, standing proud and crisp against the blue sky. Its bells sound out, either a mournful dong lamenting the passing of another hour or an joyous clang calling worshippers inside.
I walk past and get lost in the cobbled alleyways. I recognise the shopkeepers and buskers. I feel like a local. I watch the tourists stand open mouthed at the swathes of history surrounding them. I feel the glorious weight of the past with every step I take.
Yes I have swapped the green freshness of the countryside for the griminess of city living, but in exchange I’ve been blessed with convenience, variety and the sheer privilege to walk were so many other ancient feet have walked before me.
This is where I live. York. I am very happy I do.
This post was prompted by Michelle Garrett at The American Resident, who has started a weekly “Where I live” series. This week’s theme is Contrasts.