It doesn’t matter how endless the climb to the top of the estate, over either shoulder the cathedral is always higher. From the cathedral, stacks of tiny boxes curl around the hillside like they’ve seen it and are raising it a few thousand metres. A precarious move, but it’s just an illusion. The cathedral presides over everyone, defiantly sticking two spires up at them.
From the estate entrance, the houses form intricate tiers of dominos poised for collapse; all two hundred and something nicotine-coloured of them. A concrete relic from an era callously snubbed by design and sanity. The faded mural hints at the outline of flowers painted by local children who have since gone on to have their own. Aside from a smattering of window boxes and tiny four-by-four grass patches, it’s the only attempt at something resembling a communal garden. A lone blackbird sits on top of the padlocked gate to the all-weather pitch staring vacantly at the frayed Palestinian flag flapping on a neighbouring pole.
From the confines of a civil service office thirty miles away, servants in suits only ever refer it to as an area of deprivation. Among the top ten percent in Northern Ireland. It therefore gives a few of them a reason to exist.
From desks less than a mile away, it fails to qualify for traffic calming measures, or a playground. Against policy, they’re told, so children play on the road where toy tractors and scooters are regularly abandoned to the mercy of on-coming drivers; some of them not old enough to qualify for a licence.
From number 29, Irene shakes her head, fearful it’s all going to kick off again. There was a bare-knuckle fight at the weekend, right on the street in broad daylight, she points diagonally. The police were called but they didn’t bother coming out.
It’s less than a year since it last kicked off. Why are so many of them living here?, a handful demanded to know from the Housing Executive official before they were joined by a steady chorus of dissenters until civility fled the scene and there was standing room only. They come in here taking houses, spat one man. And the noise of them, not to mention making our young people afraid. No-one thought to point out that many of them have been living on the estate before most of those gathered. Or how odd it was that the discovery of abandoned used needles in the same week didn’t pose as grave a threat to the safety of their children as those other children.
From number 64, Bridget shakes her head, fearful it’s all going to kick off again. We get blamed for everything, she sighs. The IRA turned up at Mickey’s door the other week accusing him of robbing equipment from yer man’ building site. It turned out it was one of their own. On the plus side, her son finally got someone to take him on for work experience as part of his apprenticeship. He was university material but it would’ve been perceived as a step too far by the rest of the men. When he was doing his GCSEs, he had to change out of his uniform before coming back to the estate. Too risky otherwise. Bridget remains hopeful of change. She can see it already. The girls want good jobs and the parents know they need to be getting an education. But we’re written off. And one family is always keeping an eye on the other, you know?
From Christmas, it’ll have been a year since Irene and Bridget and their kids joined 50 other families from the estate for a trip to the panto in Belfast. Irene put its success down to the mediation that followed the meeting, and them having a better understanding of their responsibilities and not giving too much bother. Bridget put it down to all the families on the estate having a rare opportunity to come together to get know one another. We’re just the same in many ways, do you know what I’m sayin’?