By Sue Shipp
Dowdy – that’s what they call me. Dowdy! They can’t be bothered to give me my full name – James Dowdy Street. No. All I hear is: cut through Dowdy, turn left along Haversham Way and then the next right onto Connaught Avenue, keep straight on and you’ll be at the Park. If they want exercise, why don’t they walk the blooming long way round instead of keep wearing me down.
To be honest when they were handing out the names, I thought James Dowdy Avenue or James Dowdy Way had a much better ring to it. But I’m not wide enough to be an Avenue, or long enough to be a Way. I was piqued, I don’t mind telling you – and didn’t really believe I’d been named after James Dowdy who was killed in WWI. Apparently there were three other Dowdy brothers killed in the War. All had places named after them, or so folks said, and they all had a much better ring to them than me. There was Milton Dowdy Crescent, Herbert Dowdy Way and Eustace Dowdy Avenue, but they’re in a nicer part of the town and no-one cuts through them.
I couldn’t tell you how many people have cut through me over the years. It used to just be mothers with prams, kids on bikes, scooters or skates, but now I have to also put up with electric scooters, which I suppose aren’t too bad, and mobility vehicles. They’re too heavy. Is it any wonder I’m cracked and uneven. I’ve had people cursing when they trip, had them throwing rubbish all over me, some even spitting on me – which I think is a disgrace – but what can you do? And the dirtier I got, the shorter my name got until they just called me Dowdy.
I had a couple of holes blown in me during the Blitz, and a few houses copped it at the same time. I didn’t give much thought to how they were going to fix me. But I never thought they were going to shorten me. They did. I lost the bottom half of me. Ten houses were bombed out, so they pulled them down. Never replaced them with anything, and when they were clearing they just scooped up the lower half of me, which I think was cheek because I wasn’t long to begin with.
Even the people who live here call me Dowdy – it’s no wonder really, because I can’t recall a time when I’ve had a proper freshen up – not unless you count rain. And that’s another thing I’ve to contend with. I’m either baking in the sun, drowning in the rain or smothered by snow, and don’t get me started on what dogs leave behind! Even the lamppost isn’t happy with them.
It’s not all been bad and I’ve never been bored, what with the ‘goings-on’ in this street. Number 5, well she ran off with the builder who came to do their extension, and what she didn’t take with her ended up being strewn all over me. At Number 12, they had a chip pan fire the other day – she was out in the street in her dressing gown, panicking with her grubby kids clustered around her. Mind you, she perked up a bit when the fire-brigade boys arrived. Number 20, we don’t see much of him. Apparently he’s a bit of a recluse. And at Number 13, they had a party a few weeks back; that ended up in a fight and me being covered in broken glass. So is it any wonder I’ve become a bit of grump. Even the lamppost has stopped listening to me gripe on, but to be fair, she has a trying time of it with dogs cocking their legs. Anyway, that nice Mrs Palmer, Effie and Elodie’s mum, at Number 17 swept me clean; if she hadn’t I’d still be waiting for the street cleaner.
After that it went really quiet and I didn’t see anyone, except those who live here and that was only briefly when they were going and returning from grocery shopping. It was most peculiar. No-one went to work, the kids weren’t out playing or going to school, and no-one was visiting. I mentioned it to the lamp post but she didn’t know what was going on either. And I’m ashamed to say, I descended into one of my long sulks, not even rising to the rude remarks the lamp post kept making about my appearance.
And then something wonderful happened. It quite brought me out of myself, even though at first, I was suspicious.
It started earlier this week, when the door to Number 17 burst open and out ran Effie and Elodie, each with a tin box in their hands. They ran to the top part of me, set down their tins and crouching with their heads together, they began whispering. They’re cooking something up, I thought, and felt myself groan when they began pulling out the big, fat sticks of coloured chalk. More muck. And I know it was uncharitable of me, but I prayed for rain.
I didn’t get rain. Not a drop. What I got was rainbows. Hundreds of them. Along the whole short length of me. Glorious, glorious rainbows. I sparkle with colour. And so did the twins. Each day, their hands more colourful than the last. But here I am, in all my brilliant technicolour. And that’s not all I got. I got people. Not just those who used me as a shortcut. In fact they stopped doing so, but they did come to see me and they marvelled at the brilliance of me, so much so, that they’ve started calling me James Dowdy Street. And I’ve been in the newspaper. A man came to take pictures of me, Effie and Elodie, and to find out how much money they raised in their sponsored chalkfest. They’re not keeping the money. I heard Mrs Palmer telling the man it’s going to an NHS Charity.
I’m so chuffed with my rainbow colours, and now I don’t want it to rain for a long, long time, because Old Dowdy ain’t dowdy any more.
Inspiration: There had been many inspirational suggestions posted on the Pens of the Earth website, but one that really struck a chord with me was by Dr Alison Habens of Portsmouth University, and that was to ‘write from the point of view of a street itself, speak in its voice and tell an episode of its story’. And I thought, well why not tell the whole life of a street from the time it was named to the present day.
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