children playing

  • Britain isn’t what it used to be

    Terraced streets in small-town England
    Where have all the children gone?

    A few weeks ago, something extraordinary began happening on my street — a standard issue redbrick Victorian terraced street in a provincial English town. Children started playing among the crowded parked cars. Where there had been only silence interrupted by the occasional revved engine, suddenly there were children’s voices. But they weren’t speaking English.

    The fruits of immigration

    The lament is a common one — not only among my more elderly English neighbours, but across the country. I’ve heard that the street isn’t what it used to be, presumably meaning that the people have changed, since the bricks and mortar certainly haven’t. I’ve also heard the dreamy reminiscence of when children used to be able to play in the street.

    Not anymore. Fear — of traffic, of strangers, of the generalised paedophilic threat — has emptied the street of most kids. But here were a whole host of kids — from late teenage right down to little nippers not much older than my son — riding every wheeled contraption they could find in and out of the parked cars. It was like the 1940s come back to life and put through a prism.

    “Listen to the cosmic laughter in the wind” Robert Newman, circa 1990s

    There is a beautiful irony to the fact that a street in this staunchly Brexit region has had a little slice of yesterday’s Britain resuscitated for it courtesy of its new immigrant arrivals. I don’t suppose it’ll stop the grumbles, but it can’t help make you smile. My son — still just too toddler to join in — thinks it’s the most exciting street entertainment he’s ever seen. Better than telly.