Barrow-in-Furness Revisited

Three men in flat caps and leather aprons are frozen in iron as they go about the business of shipbuilding.

“That’s new” I say to my sister for the sixth time today.

“It’s been there for years” she replies, rolling her eyes. The town is her place of work, but for me it is a place of memories.

“It looks vaguely…hmm…communist.”

She nods in disinterested agreement.  On this cold, windswept day, a post-Christmas hush brushes past closed shop fronts like tumbleweed, the statue adding another level of bleakness.

“Take our picture” I say, handing her a camera and grabbing my daughter’s unwilling hand from deep inside her duffle coat pocket.

“When I was a kid the Jesus statue stood here”.

My sister frowns; more than fourteen years my junior, she wasn’t born when I spent Saturday afternoons with my older sister and cousins at the park or the library, or just hanging round town eating ‘willy sausages on Jesus’.  We knew it was really a statue of Lord Cavendish, one of the town’s founders, but found it hysterical to misname him and our hotdogs.

We continue down the main street; roughly patched paving pulling the eye past the pound shops, the charity shops and the ‘To Let’ signs, to the shipyard cranes on the skyline.  Seagulls caw-caw overhead tainting the air with the smell of dirty seawater.

“Do you think the baked potato man will be open today” I ask, suddenly hungry.

“He left ages ago,” my sister informs me, “he’s got a karaoke bar in Spain now.”

“What about chips? asks my niece.

“Good idea” I say, “where’s a good chippie?”

“In Ulverston” says my sister flatly, referring to her home town ten miles away.

It starts to drizzle and we retreat further inside our coats.

“Hell-oooo stranger! Long time no see. What’re you doing here eh?”

A woman – cheerful grin, cheeks bitten pink by the cold – stops in front of me.  I grasp for a context to help recall her name.  She provides one.

“Me and Christine were just talking about you the other day and, you know, I turned round to our Tom and said – you remember our Tom don’t you? – I said to him ‘didn’t she do alright for herself eh? You’re dead lucky, you know.  I bet Barrow looks dead boring to you now eh?“.

She bubbles on and I blush, without knowing why.  We say our goodbyes.

Back at the car park – one of many spaces created by a WW2 bomb – I note that the old Victorian church is still derelict, its circular stained glass window missing a few more panes.

“Ha, look at that” laughs my niece, pointing to a wall – the back of a row of terraced houses – “classy Barrow.”

She urges me to take another photograph – the two girls  grinning against the backdrop of a three-foot high illuminated reindeer, stars, a jolly Santa and a ‘Merry Christmas’ wish.

As we drive out of town down the tree-lined road, past the park and the abbey and a sign to the coast, I think of all the places that I haven’t had chance to visit.

Maybe next time.

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2 responses to “Barrow-in-Furness Revisited

  1. I really enjoyed this one! I’m still writer’s-blocked on my hometown piece, partly for the same reasons you used so clearly and eloquently here- it has been an awfully long time since I lived there (1992!) and have no idea what’s true there anymore. Well done.

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, I struggled too with my place of birth. I was torn between an overly romantic view of my current home and a bitingly cynical view of my original home. Some things are just too loaded to write about I think.

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