ffgroup‘Can I help you at all?’ A woman’s voice comes from behind me. ‘Are you from the council?’

‘No.’ I say. ‘I’m trying to see where the houses were, I’m writing a story about this street.’ The woman addressing me runs the bacon butty van that parks up here every workday.

‘I thought you were a council inspector, checking up on me.’

I tell her I’m just walking around trying to get some idea of my dad, who I haven’t seen properly since I was six. One of the things I’m learning as a writer is that people love to tell you stories. She tells me of a man called Jack Thirsk. He used to live here a long time back. Had the rag and bone yard at the end of the street. He stops here sometimes even though he’s made his money and retired now. She offers to pass on my number when she sees him next.

Two weeks later I’m at home at my desk. I have a first draft sitting on the printer, and my mind is off writing poetry, when Jack Thirsk calls. Jack remembers my dad. Remembers how the street was a mixture of all cultures. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with people today,’ he says, ‘on our street, there was your mum and dad, and Italian family next to them, and a Polish woman ran the corner shop, she would make all the men’s sandwiches for work. Why does everybody have to be separate now?’ he says. We talk about the town, its politics. How the National Front pushed everybody apart in the eighties, and how greed has most people thinking they are something they’re not. Jack doesn’t live in the town anymore. I don’t live in the town anymore, neither does the bacon-butty woman; she lives out towards Whitworth and drives in everyday. We have all seen it change, but there is something in these northern survivors that will still reach out to others, especially when there is a story to be told.

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