Tuesday 9 July 2013

Marvellous Armley

If you want to know what the nineteen seventies looked like, come to Armley. Doing a favour for a neighbour yesterday I was whisked back to that heady decade when said elderly, jowly neighbour appeared at the door without a shirt. “Come in lad” he beckoned… “so long as you’re not a Paki” he may as well have added. Bernard Manning was almost certainly beaming up on him from his cosy little place down below..

Yes, I live in Little England – and not the nice, leafy suburb bit. My neighbourhood, while not being quite at sink estate level (though there are plenty in walking distance) is a microcosm of Tony Blair’s multicultural dream - dream for him, nightmare for the rest of us. My friendly, bare-bellied neighbour explained to me the current state of play. According to Manning’s protégé it is this:

We have the Sikhs and Hindus who run the local businesses. The Polish have taken over the shops in Town Street, from which flows an unlimited supply of pickled cabbage and cheap vodka. They do the jobs the almost extinct British working class used to do. Then there are the muslims who we pay to outbreed us as quickly as possible and finally the white underclass who take it as their right to live off the state for their entire lives and criticise others for doing exactly the same.

Manning Junior has lived in the area most of his life and he helpfully named the various families who had never seen a day’s work in their entire time on the planet, unlike his direct neighbour who although being on the Old King Cole for decades, woke them up the other day at 0530, getting up to go to work (cash-in-hand, needless to say). I also got to hear about the mosque at the top of the road which, allegedly, never had planning permission and the corner shop two doors down which suddenly appeared some years ago, again with no planning permission.

At night, hordes of small children run around the streets screaming at the top of their voices and there are regular gatherings of twenty or more older youths who block the road with car hi-fis on full, or engage in interminable pursuits around and around the block on un-silenced quad bikes. Bernard is convinced it’s all part of a deliberate ploy to speed up the process of white flight and simultaneously lower property values. It’s hard after a while not to see his point.

People ask me why I live here. Like many of us, probably most of us, I appear to have ended up here as the result of a chain of events none could predict. But when I first moved in just seven years ago there was a spirited attempt to revive Armley’s fortunes and the self-appointed Lady Mayoress of Armley was fully engaged in that task. Sadly the Armley Tourist Board’s last tweet was over three years ago (@LadyMofArmley) and I see no recent activity on the blog. I guess even the diehards have died away now.

Armley Gaol - The Good Old Days

So, what hope for the future of the little Leeds suburb that could once boast Alan Bennet, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Chumbawamba among its alumni? This former mill town and bastion of Britishness must surely have life in it yet? I asked my elderly neighbour as he sweated and pontificated. “Honestly?” he replied, “I think we’re fucked.” 

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