Homelessness by Becky Cherriman

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In Harrogate, this week a site specific theatre piece, Haunt will be taking place.

Billed as ‘a ghost tour with a difference’, Haunt has been developed working with writers who have experienced homelessness in Harrogate. Based on words from the Haunt anthology and material shown in the Royal Pump Rooms as part of Harrogate Stories, Haunt is a guided journey arriving at a place where images, music, words and performance ask : Who are the haunted? Who are the ghosts?

Along with Steve Toase, whose brainchild the project was and Tessa Gordziejko, I’ve been involved from the beginning, working with participants, co-writing the script and now performing.

When I’ve talked to people I’m close to about the project, they have sometimes responded with, ‘But you weren’t homeless, were you?’ I know what they mean.

Things had been difficult in my family home for a number of years and for a number of reasons. Then, in 1994, when I was 18, there was a huge argument and it was suggested that I leave. I wasn’t exactly thrown out but I felt staying was untenable.

As a charity that provide shelter for young people, Sash acknowledges that
homelessness is a complex issue and not just solved by providing a roof over
someone’s head. https://www.sash-uk.org.uk/about-us/

I wasn’t a street sleeper – I only once slept outside, in the Valley Gardens as it happens, and this was a choice. My partner wasn’t welcome at the place I was living so, if I wanted to spend the night with him, my only option was to sleep on the grass with his sleeping bag over the top of us. In the morning we were woken by someone prodding us – apparently they were concerned that we were dead.

I was lucky. Some people are forced into street sleeping. Others have to stay in hostels. Others sofa surf. The first tide of leaving home brought me to Chris’s sofa.

Chris was a generous friend and clever, creative man who has now sadly passed away. In his spare room he was putting up Adam, who, like me, had no place to be.

I soon migrated into the spare room and into a turbulent but exciting relationship with Adam.

Adam and I found a self-contained flat. Compared to most of our friends who were secreted away in bedsits, this was a luxury, a ‘pad’. And didn’t everyone know it? It was a party place, day and night, always overcrowded. Central to town, there was easy access through a window that did not lock. I can’t remember a night where there wasn’t at least one person sleeping on our floor. When I couldn’t bear it any more, I used to pull the quilt over my head and hope everyone would go away. They didn’t. I went hungry often when benefits payments weren’t made and we didn’t eat for days or I made bad decisions and spent what little I had on rolling tobacco. That kind of hunger is painful. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever experienced it. I’m not saying living there wasn’t fun at times but it wasn’t safe. It was never safe and it wasn’t home. Dodgy things were happening in the flat and people would turn up threatening and sometimes enacting serious violence. I knew I had to get out. Luckily for me my mum took me back for a while.

Just before I had my son, Adam and I found a house to live in. But things didn’t work out with Adam who was still embroiled in unhealthy lifestyle patterns and, when we almost lost our home for the second time, I called an end to it. I re-engaged with study and, after an Access Course obtained a place at the University of Leeds. I handed in my notice after finding somewhere to live in the city. But, as a single mum on benefits, they didn’t trust me to pay the rent and pulled out a week before I was due to move in. Again I found myself with no home of my own. After a short spell at my mum’s and then in a rented place with a friend, Unison found us somewhere to live – I wasn’t eligible for university accommodation. For two years we were safe within four walls. I had a succession of flats (damp and all) that I could stay in without fear of being thrown out.

When I finished university and still wasn’t able to find a job that would pay the bills and cover the cost of childcare, I fell on vulnerable ground again. I wasn’t eligible to stay but I couldn’t find anywhere else that would accept benefits – Leeds landlords prefer to rent to students. The council put me on their homeless priority list but didn’t manage to find me a place in the 4 years I was on it. Eventually, in 2003, my son and I were given a lovely housing association maisonette. I had found somewhere I could call home. It wasn’t perfect – I was living next door to someone whose paranoia and aggressive behaviour when unwell was sometimes turned on me. But it was a place my son and I could make together, a home we were even allowed to decorate. It would remain so until, by now making a living as a writer and workshop facilitator, I bought a house with my husband in 2011.

That is my story (or some of it). I’m sure many of my readers will have experienced vulnerable housing or homelessness at some point in their past. But whether you have or haven’t, you might be interested in seeing the show – a true collaboration of stories related to this topic.

Homelessness by Becky Cherriman

Saboteur Awards 2016

Last Friday, Becky, Steve and Tessa travelled down to London for the Saboteur Awards, where Haunt was shortlisted for Best Collaborative Work. We didn’t win (you can see the full list of winners here http://www.saboteurawards.org/), but we got to meet some great people, including A.B. Cooper and Sarah Miles from Paper Swans Press, and had an excellent night celebrating the health of poetry, spoken word and performance at the moment.

When we got back there was an email waiting with comments from those who had voted for Haunt. What was really striking was how everyone who commented got what Haunt is about. They understood the project, and what we’re trying to achieve.

Thank you to everyone who did vote for us, and your continued support. As Becky says in her blog post we make no apologies for sharing them here:

Haunt addresses very real issues in a new and innovative way.

A brave collaboration which aims to celebrate voices that are rarely heard whilst creating innovative work of high artistic quality.

It gives a voice to the voiceless.

Standing way above the rest with originality and great collaboration shining through the work.

Because they are great!

Brilliant project about homelessness which has produced a genuinely lovely book.

Moving, innovative project that gets to the heart of a city.

They are doing very important work in a creative, innovative way.

A wonderful fully cooperative project, raising the profile of a group of people often hidden from sight in towns like Harrogate. Gives them a voice in an original way.

The quality of the work and the depth and range of the community involvement.

Writing in the ultimate social sense.

Shockingly direct and unselfpitying accounts of people’s lives below the surface appearances of how things are meant to be.

It challenges cultural stereotypes and highlights that homelessness can be present in even the most well to do societies.

Because I grew up in Harrogate so this caught my attention and then haunted my dreams.

Innovative, forward thinking productions always, opening up debate about things that really matter. Very original way of looking at things, and opening the door to solutions.

A wonderful anthology giving a creative outlet to hidden voices and hidden talent and one that has made a real difference to the writers involved.

Innovation and fun.

Integrity.

I was particularly enthralled by Richard Harries.

Because the project allowed people who would likely otherwise be left out of arts activity to engage and get enjoyment from finding a voice.

The project has helped vulnerable people to have a voice.

For making a rather invisible subject visible through creativity and warmth. Inspiring, artistically brilliant and socially important.

Great piece on a growing issue in Yorkshire.

Managing to combine a great cause with some great stories. Giving opportunities and experience whilst raising awareness. All round a fab project.

Powerful work. Project which engaged and supported a group who really need it.

Well written and a great piece of work.

Brilliant work.

In aid of such a well deserved cause.

They’re the best collaborative work.

Excellent.

This is a beautifully haunting trip through the other side of Harrogate. The writing is powerful. It may just highlight the reality of towns and cities to the invisible people that are present there.

Just love it.

Covers an important and often neglected area of life with great sensitivity and empathy.

Very moving, on the important issue of homelessness, with participants who have been encouraged to express their real life experiences.

The book produced is great and the ongoing work of the project is raising awareness of homelessness in a town which many people wouldn’t believe has a problem.

My home town is perceived as affluent and privileged. Growing up there, I’ve often called it a schizophrenic town. In Haunt we see the other side, portrayed in a way the posh half would appreciate.

Because they are reaching out to include the excluded in society.

Intrinsic, honest, moving

They have achieved real social value as well as creative worth artistically.

amazing & evocative work

Extraordinary work tapping into the imaginations and the life experiences of some of the most marginalised people in the region.

Fantastic project, really opening people’s eyes to another side of posh Harrogate.

Because while there’s homelessness, we are all haunted, and this project is making a tangible impact.

They have done some amazing projects with the youth hostels that has been really effective

Positive work with the complex young people we support.

Amazing and moving.

Fantastic project that worked so well with our service users to produce some beautiful work

Really important project working with vulnerable people

Great project, giving people their own voice.

Having experienced homelessness and seen it’s impact first hand on many others in my hometown, this is an innovative and valuable project.

This is a genuinely collaborative project with one of the most excluded groups in society. It has led to some great art as well as opening up new opportunities for socially excluded individuals.

Because the project reminds us that homelessness and transient lives aren’t just a ‘far-away’ problem of big cities and deprived places… and, more importantly, reminds us that the homeless are real people with voices and opinions and likes and dislikes – rather than the blank receptacles for pity or charity that we’re all guilty (at times) of seeing them as.

The work they do raising awareness of the problem of homelessness, particularly in such an apparently affluent area as Harrogate where many do not realise it is happening, is amazing and important.

Because it is powerful and truly collaborative.

To encourage further collaboration between artists and venues that increase local knowledge and situational awareness. What Haunt has produced is not just a splendid piece of work, but establishes that effective, entertaining multidisciplinary approaches are eminently possibly.

Innovative, creative, inspirational.

The innovative approach to the project and the engagement with the homeless community amongst others who have collaborated on this work has been truly inspiring.

Homelessness education should be important to everyone.

Good writing and good work.

Beautiful powerful project.

The stories they are telling, in the setting they chose, and the way they are telling them.

Extraordinary work from (generally ignored) homeless people.

A sensitive collaboration between professional writers and non-professional, sometimes completely new, writers. Beautiful writing and a poignant insight into human fragility, and the fragility of our perceived ‘security’.

Very moving work about an often ignored issue.

Innovative, inclusive and local, what is not to like?

For helping those who don’t usually have a voice get their stories out there.

They are doing very important and creative work for the local community and are great poets themselves.

An important and deeply emotional project for the socially excluded.

Great collection of stories, well written.

It’s a great enterprise involving many fine Northern talents.

Compassionate and well-crafted responses to current issues of homelessness and the ways that contemporary issues can haunt us by doing as well as doing nothing, through writing and film.

For all the help and awareness they are raising. And the hard work that’s gone into the project.

Saboteur Awards 2016

Shortlisted for Saboteur Awards

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This weekend we received the fantastic news that Haunt is shortlisted for the 2016 Saboteur Awards in the category of Best Collaborative Work.

To just get shortlisted in such good company is brilliant, but to win would be amazing.

So many people have collaborated on Haunt, from our lead writers, Steve and Becky (who have both experienced homelessness and vulnerable housing themselves, and Tessa Gordziejko and Elenid Davies from Imove, to Paul Floyd Blake who took the photos for the anthology.

We have also collaborated with Bean and Bud to exhibit Paul Floyd Blake’s photos alongside writing from the project, with Harrogate Homeless Project and Foundation UK to find participants who wanted to be part of Haunt. Bean and Bud, and Corrina’s Homeless and Vulnerable Project let us host pop-up readings. Harrogate Museums have included work from Haunt in their Harrogate Stories exhibition, putting the experiences of our participants at the heart of the town, and let us hold our anthology launch in the Royal Pump Room Museum.

The main collaboration at the heart of the project has been with the participants who have experienced homelessness or vulnerable housing in Harrogate. Some have written before, others not since school. Whether sleeping rough, couch-surfing or living in bedsits at constant risk of eviction all came along to share their own stories.

Some of our participants wrote fiction, others poetry. Some pieces were hopeful, while some were cynical or tragic. Each piece captured, in the writer’s own words, what it was like to experience homelessness or vulnerable housing in a place where you are haunted by the town’s opulent identity, a haunting that, in many circumstances, takes your voice.

If you could take a few moments to click on the link and vote for Haunt Harrogate we would be very grateful.

Thank you for your help.

www.saboteurawards.org

 

 

 

Shortlisted for Saboteur Awards

Haunt Launch Photos, Exhibition at Bean and Bud and Harrogate Advertiser Article

On Tuesday 27th October we held the launch for the Haunt anthology at the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate. With a large audience in attendance Steve introduced the project, talking about the background to the idea. This was followed by readings of the work in the anthology from Steve, Becky, Jem Henderson, Richard Harries and Nick Stirk.

Launch 4 Launch 3 Launch 2 Launch 1 Launch 8 Launch 7 Launch 6 Launch 5

(Photos courtesy of Emma MacEwan)

We’re very grateful for the support from Harrogate Museums that has seen work from Haunt included in the Harrogate Stories exhibition, and enabled us to launch the anthology in a building so synonymous with Harrogate’s spatown.

During the performance we also showcased the photographs taken by Paul Floyd Blake for Haunt. These played behind the writers while they read, creating powerful juxtapositions with the poems and prose.

Paul Floyd Blake’s Haunt photos are currently on show at Bean and Bud in Harrogate.

The anthology is currently available to buy, in person, for £5 from;

Bean and Bud

Royal Pump Room Museum

Mercer Art Gallery

Waterstones Harrogate

This week the Harrogate Advertiser ran a great article about the project.

advertiser article

The next event is on the 11th November in York. Steve and Becky will be performing work from Haunt at Speaker’s Corner in York, the regular spoken word night at The Golden Ball. Entry is £1, with open mic slots available.

Haunt Launch Photos, Exhibition at Bean and Bud and Harrogate Advertiser Article

Launch of Haunt anthology and future workshops

On the 27th October we will be launching the Haunt anthology at the Royal Pump Room Museum. There will be an opportunity to hear work from the project read by participants, contributors as well as Steve Toase and Becky Cherriman. There will also be a chance to find out more about Haunt and the inspiration behind the project. Map.

We will also be running two new workshops on the 24th November and 1st December. These are open to writers and those who would like to write who are experiencing, or have experienced, homelessness or vulnerable housing in Harrogate.

Please click on the images below for more information about both the anthology launch and workshops.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Haunt flyer 1

Haunt flyer 2

Launch of Haunt anthology and future workshops

The Haunt Anthology Back From The Printers

Very proud to say we now have copies of the anthology back and they look fantastic, filled with excellent writing from particpants as well as contributions from Becky Cherriman and Steve Toase.

Below is a small sneak peek at the cover and some of the contents. Keep checking back for news about the launch and further work from the Haunt project.

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The Haunt Anthology Back From The Printers

Privets by Becky Cherriman

Here they are, an army of privets

in parade along Slingsby Walk.

They belong to Southerners

who arrive, seduced by flower shows,

tea rooms, Victorian splendour

to grow their children on Harrogate water.

++

The word privet is thought to originate from prime

– noble, distinguished, first –

although there is no evidence of this.

++

Gathering together to form such dense thickets,

they displace natives,

elbow them onto grass verges.

Strangled into the light, the smaller plants

are soon frosted with the remains

of white dog shit, forgotten.

Privets by Becky Cherriman

Trip At The Quad, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

“I feel totally like a little girl,” Carrie goes as we step out into the acid night, “Like an Enid Blyton character.” Then, “Hey, we can be like the Famous Five going on an adventure.”

“Yeah, we can go and find some underground caves where there’s a gold smuggling operation going on or something.” Dan sounds worryingly zealous.

“Yeah Dan,” Sean says, “There’s bound to be loads of smugglers’ caves around here, you know, like Harrogate being right next to the sea and all.”

“Wait,” I put my hand on Sean’s shoulder and everyone stops. “We’d better go back cos Sean’s left his sense of humour at home.”

“Fuck you.” He grins.

“Anyway, when you’re tripping, you are in a different place,” James says.

“Yeah, a good place,” I go.

“You’re right. This isn’t Harrogate. This is good,” Carrie says, putting an extra jiggle into her walk.

We spring up the streets nearest the flat, laughing at street names, and reading amusing licence plates in silly voices. Walking into the town centre, we quieten. Sean speeds up. He’s been a bit snappy today and not just since he got the acid. Can’t be to do with Cafferty though cos he said he got the acid off him and if there were any real problems he would have come back with a black eye, not a bag of acid. Probably just doesn’t want to bump into him when he’s seeing Smurfs all over the place. I can understand that; being chased by an overgrown blue cartoon character saying, ‘Do you think I ‘m thick or sommat?’ would be too much for anyone.

Then I start thinking about the pigs, get that picture again of being locked up in a cell. I could just about handle it now, but if the trip got any more intense…. Maybe if it actually happened, I wouldn’t be so paranoid about it. LSD warps petty insecurities into giant monsters. Maybe the fears that only usually surface on drugs are an insight into the second terrible reality we actually inhabit, the terrible reality that continually keeps us from our spiritual progress by conditioning us into conforming to the way those in power dictate. We’re living in a state of sedation the rest of the time, not seeing life for what it actually is because our brains can’t handle facing up to what little control we really have over our lives.

“Look at them,” Carrie says loudly, gesturing to the pack of townies queuing for entry into the world’s worst nightclub. “Thank fuck we don’t have to be miserable bastards or drunken yobs.”

“Shhh,” I hiss and avert my gaze from a policeman who is glaring at us. Cells swimming in rats and piss. Sweaty, hairy police rapists. At least Carrie’s comfortable with the fact that we’re tripping in the middle of town at pub throwing out time and she’s right: we don’t have to be like them.

I suppose we must look a bit odd to the ‘normal’ people. Enormous pupils and facial expressions that don’t look quite right. There’s Sean with his dreads, James with his ripped black jeans; I touch my head – me with a flower in my hair. How did that get there anyway? Even Dan who usually looks quite presentable is wearing James’s ‘I heart marijuana’ baseball hat and a pair of shades. Carrie is in her smiley-face top. It seemed like a good idea when she asked me what she should wear but now I realise that, collectively, we look like an anti-drugs advert. How did the flower get there?

The closer we get to the end of the concrete, the more relieved I feel. The further away we are from the orange noise of the town’s lights and the nearer to the bewitching sanctuary of the wood, the more we become ourselves.

______________________________

Reaching our destination, I breathe an all-cleansing breath and step into the pine-laden darkness. Sean picks a staff-like stick off the prickly floor and moves in front of us.

“I need one of those.” Carrie’s eyes scan the floor in search of her own crook. Every now and again, she darts short distances from the group towards a possible candidate, then comes back, shaking her head and muttering to herself.

I quicken my pace to catch Sean, rest my hand on his grubby bandage. Come to think of it he should have had it dressed the other day. Last time we went, it had just about healed over – just flaky bits and new tight pink skin. With each step we take, he prints the ground with his staff. Put my mouth to his ear. “Are you going to let it decide which way we should go, Shaman Man?”

He grins at me. “Of course – leave it all to a higher force.” I get it. Sean is using his trip as a mirror of how he thinks real life is, as predetermined. Funny how you don’t think of time spent tripping as real life: most of the time you pretend you are in control, that you have choices. But whether it’s the government – like Sean and James believe – or fate, like my parents do, none of it is really up to you. Thinking about it, Sean’s doing it wrong. You should go with the higher force normally and use tripping as dream-time, an alternate reality where you really are alive and actually do have free will.

“I’ve found one!” Carrie waves a large stick. You can practically see the triumph oozing out of her pores. “So what does that mean, Sean? We have to have two shamans?” She pats him on the shoulder cos he looks threatened. “Don’t worry, you’re still my guru. I won’t take any of your power away. I’ll be your assistant shaman.”

We carry on, our feet crunching quietly on the brittle pine leaves. “Hey, did anyone ever read ‘The Enchanted Forest’ when they were little?” Carrie says. “That tree especially.”

I thought that too. “Yeah – the Faraway Tree.” I stare at it, amazed at how it is exactly the same as the tree on the cover of the book that I haven’t seen since I was seven. I say, “If someone you’re tripping with shares their hallucinations with you, then it’s pretty difficult not to see the same things isn’t it?”

“The incredible phenomenon of the tripper’s power of suggestion?” James says. “That’s why I love acid so much – it defies all logic.”

“Let’s climb it.”   Carrie throws down her staff and jumps at the huge oak. She hoists herself onto the first branch, her arms strong enough to lift her slight body. The bark is rugged yet mossy, brown and gnarled –like a man who has worked outside all his life. I look skywards – head whirling with the vortex of foliage and branches through which Carrie is climbing towards the top of the faraway tree – up, up and away from everything to her own magical world.

“It will make a good vantage-point for seeing more of the wood,” Sean says. I get a funny blurred visual of him, crouched in a loincloth on an upper branch, staring out over his domain – the medicine man searching for the right path for his tribe. He throws down his staff and begins to climb.

Me and James watch them until they disappear altogether. Can’t remember when I last saw Dan. Take a scan around. “Where is he?”

“Dan? Shit, I don’t know,” James goes. “When did you last see him?”

“I’m pretty sure he was with us up until we stopped at the Faraway Tree.”

“Yeah, I reckon you’re right. I suppose we’d better go find him.”

________________________

“There he is.” James points ahead of us.

Dan is standing still, twitching his head from side to side like a lost deer. He slowly turns and spots us, strides over. “Why did you all fuck off and leave me?”

We laugh. “We didn’t. It was you that wandered off.” Then I realise he looks really pissed off. “We were right to head for the quad then.”

“Oh, are we near the quad?”

I indicate the large square of grass immediately in front of us – the centre of the wood. We amble towards it, Dan his happy self again. If you get lost, you always end up here eventually. I pat my clothes for my baccy and eventually find it in the back pocket of my flares. I sit down on the green, feel the cold wetness slowly seep through the bit where my jeans are ripped to the back of my thigh. Should I move? No it’s quite nice this physical connection with earth. The air around my face is thick with life, teeming. The microbes that make it up dance like crazy, bouncing off one another like metallers in a mosh pit. Man, I’d forgotten how much I love this stuff.

Inhaling, exhaling, I watch Dan and James wander short distances into the wood, their silhouettes acquiring extra limbs every time they bend and stretch up again. Every so often, they come back and dump logs and sticks of various sizes in a pile a few feet away from me. After a bit, the pile is bigger and James starts to arrange the sticks into a pattern at the side of it. Then he gets some newspaper out of his jacket – good thinking to bring that – rolls the pages into balls and slots them, at regular intervals, into the pattern. He lights the balls with a clipper and slowly the sticks start to catch too.

He comes over, puts his hand out towards me. I take it and let him pull me up. He holds my hand all the way to the fire where we stop – so wonderfully warm. We crouch down to be closer to the heat.

“Do you think Dan’s alright?” he says.

“Why?”

“It’s something he said a minute ago. I don’t think he even realised he said it.”

I get a concerned feeling. “What did he say?”

“We were picking up firewood and I’m sure I heard him muttering… that he wasn’t gay.” He whispers the last bit.

“Hardly, I mean, look at the way he is about Carrie.”

James nods.

“It’s all because he’s let himself wonder what it would be like to have sex with a man. It’s hardly a big deal. Haven’t you, thought about it I mean?”

“Maybe once or twice.” James waves his hand dismissively. “Even if he had had a sexual experience with a man it wouldn’t mean he was gay. Fuck, if that was the case, half the people I went to school with would never reproduce. You don’t think he’s going to lose it or anything? Only I didn’t want to ask him if he was alright in case he got paranoid.”

Dan emerges from the bit of wood in front of us and throws some more logs on the fire. “What?” he goes.

“Nothing,” we both say, realising we stopped talking abruptly. He gives us a grin and disappears again into the black bit of the wood that I can’t quite see.

James is staring at me. “Look at you, Miss LSD eyes.”

“What? Do I look really bad?”

“No, you look really… pretty. Like a pixie.”

My cheeks go hotter. I know I must look like shit. I do feel amazing though, if a bit giddy. “Miss LSD eyes, that sounds like a song. You should write it.”   Shit, that sounded arrogant. “I mean for somebody else.” Am I making it worse? Of course for somebody else.

James lies back on the grass. “Fern, look,” he says softly, and straightaway I’m calm.

I push myself back next to him, feel the dew in my hair and on the back of my head. The sky is cloudless, a huge bruised crescent of sky punctured with hundreds of winking stars. “Feel how wet the grass is. It’s almost like the stars have been crying.”

James is quiet for a bit and then he says, “Maybe the sun was their lover once, before the beginning of time, and they know they’ll never see him again – stars and sun, forever separated by the impassable gates of dusk and dawn.”

“Shit James, where did that come from? That’s beautiful.” Turn slightly so I can see him better. “Beautiful but tragic.” We both cringe and laugh.

“Yeah, tragically cheesy.” His smile fades. He looks away.

“No, cheesily beautiful,” I say, partly to make him feel better and partly because I think, if such a concept is possible, it’s true.

“Come here and lie down, Dan,” I call then realise James has just said my name like he’s got something important to tell me. I look at him, waiting for him to say it but he’s watching Dan now. Dan plonks some more logs on the overgrown pile and swaggers round the fire towards us.

“Look at this,” James goes.

Dan wriggles in between us, lies down. “Wow. That is unbelievable.”   The three of us stay like that, our bodies touching but not moving, worshipping the beauty in the way it merits, silence, listening to the wood’s rustling, non-human reply for a timeless time.

Trip At The Quad, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

Cenotaph, Summer of 1995 by Becky Cherriman

The air effervesced with gossip and Newcastle Brown,
you were lying across me,
your head in the childless give of my tummy:
my hands were entangled in your braids, hash-numbed.
In those days it was possible to surrender to the sun
while above us the memorial loomed, tall and glittering,
grey-white as Edwardian dresses worn by ladies drinking Taylors,
as Harrogate skin, as the bones of those it remembers.

Cenotaph, Summer of 1995 by Becky Cherriman

Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

Haunt 2

It is 1995, a Saturday afternoon, and tonight Fern and her friends will head to Leeds to a club. The chapter opens with the group sprawled out in a self-contained flat in Harrogate.

There are never fewer than three people here, even when we’re asleep. Me and Sean might be the only ones on the tenancy agreement but James, being homeless, is here all the time. He said it’d be temporary but he’s been here for, let me think…it must be over a month now. I watch him, slouching on his elbows on the floor. He sees me looking. He’s got bad red eye – must be really caned. I don’t think he’s even started trying to find somewhere yet. I could mind but James is fairly innocuous – good word that: having little or no adverse or harmful effect – a Lou word. Besides, I like it, have always had people around me.

The only downer about it is that me and Sean can’t fully go for it when we’re having sex. When he first moved in, James dropped some sarky hints about moans and groans and strange rustling in the night. Funnily enough he’s gone fairly quiet on the subject since Sean told him we had to do it sometime and that if he didn’t like it, he could find a higher class of hotel. Truth is, Sean buzzes off having someone in the room. I’ll be trying to be as quiet as possible and he will suddenly thrust really deep inside me so I gasp. Bastard. Still, I suppose having an audience is better than there being no performance at all…

Anyway, what was I thinking about? Oh yeah, all the people coming round the flat. Cheltenham Mount is definitely the place to be in Harrogate. The problem is, it’s getting to the stage where me and Sean have very little control over who comes round. People who’ve been to a party here or who’ve been round with a mate once get to thinking they’re welcome every day and start bringing ‘just one or two’ friends around to score. Lately it’s got a bit much.

Can I have a bath?” James asks. The stereo’s halfway through Dougal’s Love Of My Life, which I hadn’t even noticed coming on. Must be all the smoke in the air.

Yah man, go for it,” Sean tells him. “You know where the towel is.” The other one is going mouldy in the laundry basket.

We really do need some more towels,” I say. Two months on already and no one has actually managed to find the nearest launderette yet. If it’s absolutely urgent, I’ll go to my sister’s to do the washing but I really don’t want to see her, let alone crawl round, asking favours.

Nah, it’ll be right. We’ll just go to your Lotus’s,” Sean says brightly.

It will not be alright. I ..do… not.. want to go… to my sister’s just… to do some washing.”

She won’t mind.”

Evidently stoned or he’d have picked up on the tone in my voice.

Come off it Sean, you know how fucking superior she is.” I affect the mock upper-class voice my sister has adopted since she moved to Harrogate, “‘Well, if you had a job, you’d be able to pay for your own washing machine. You’re a clever young lady, Fern. How about some office work?” And then she would produce the local paper, dump the job page on my lap – so fucking predictable.

So. Just ignore her.”

Easy for him to say but there’s no point in trying to explain. He just doesn’t understand why I don’t want to have to answer to Lotus. It’s alright for him: he can lie his way out of awkward questions, will maintain till he’s blue-faced that he’s been to three interviews that very day but that there just aren’t enough full-time jobs to go round. That last bit is true, even in a wealthy small town like this. Personally, I would consider a job in which I was permitted to use my brain but unfortunately I don’t have the qualifications – the brains but not the qualifications. And I absolutely refuse to work in a dead end job. I don’t want to be anaesthetised by the system and neither do any of my friends. Won’t catch us being neatly-packaged by society. Not like my sister, a twenty four year old newly-wed who’s just bought her three bedroom semi, is working as a personal assistant to her husband – one of the directors of a small retail outlet – and is planning two point four children in the near future. I shudder. Besides, as I’ve told her over and over again, it’s not as if we don’t want to work; it’s a matter of principle. I mean what’s the point when there isn’t even a minimum wage? Anyway, the last time I went to see her, she whinged about me only coming round when I wanted something. There’s no way in the world I’m giving her more ammunition by asking if I can do my washing.

Do you want to go into town now?” I ask Dan, seeing the necessity of escaping before I start shouting at Sean or someone turns up and it becomes a major mission to leave.

Alright.” Dan launches himself off the sinky chair and pulls me up. Unlike Sean, he seems to have noticed me getting annoyed.

_________________

Me and Dan leave the flat and turn left up Cheltenham Parade. Dan stops at the nice bakery to buy a Cornish. I wait outside and a snooty old woman in a lavender coat uses her elbow to nudge me out of the way. This is what I fucking hate about Harrogate.

We walk on the road to pass the townie kids outside McDonalds. I’m wearing my jeans and Dan looks like an older version of them so we don’t get any comments today. They’re always giving James and Sean stick but it’s cheeky rather than aggressive; James and Sean either laugh or ignore it, depending on their mood.

On the grass near the cenotaph there is some kind of scuffle. Dan grabs my jacket with his fingers and pulls me closer so we can see. Some bloke is running after the scrawny Big Issue seller with the ripped-up trainers, the one who usually stands outside Woolies. He catches him, spins him round by the collar and swings. Looks twice the size and, even though we’re about fifty feet away, I can see how much the poor dude is shaking.

Shit, it’s Cafferty.” My hand goes to my mouth.

That’s not Cafferty, that’s…”

I take my eyes off them to look at Dan. “It’s Cafferty,” I repeat. “Who did you think it was?”

Nobody.” He flushes.

Look back and Cafferty’s still beating the faeces out of his latest victim. The man’s magazines are strewn all over the road and he’s not even trying to fight back. Cafferty is holding his collar with one hand so the poor bastard can’t fall to the floor. With it being Saturday, there are fuck loads of people about but that’s not stopping him. Then a siren starts up.

Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman