Made in Scar­bor­ough

The Guardian - Review - - Made In - Su­san Hill

Chil­dren ac­cept the sta­tus quo. You live in a place and that’s how it is. But I think I knew then that be­ing born and raised in Scar­bor­ough, on the York­shire coast, was spe­cial and would form me as a writer. It did, and not only be­cause the adap­ta­tion of my ghost story, The Woman in Black , started life there, at the Stephen Joseph the­atre. The coast­line, the cliffs, the sea, the beau­ti­ful curve of South Bay, the pub­lic gar­dens, the cliff trams, the smell of rock pools, the mas­sive win­ter storms, all have threaded in and out of my dreams for 70-plus years.

I was born in 1942 and so grew up dur­ing the last years of the war and the post­war era. I re­mem­ber air raid sirens, my in­fant­size gas mask and white rings painted round the huge trees that lined the roads, to guide us when walk­ing in the black­out. Scar­bor­ough re­ceived a few left­over bombs dropped by en­emy planes as they re­turned home from raids over the north­ern in­dus­trial cities. My first haunted place was the bombed shell of St Mar­garet’s girls’ school. I peered through the “Keep Out” fences, imag­in­ing the ghosts.

My imag­i­na­tion is rooted in the land­scape and the town, a place of faded gen­til­ity at one end, poverty, es­pe­cially among fish­ing fam­i­lies, at the other. The old ladies, spin­sters ac­com­pa­ny­ing el­derly par­ents on slow walks along the es­planade, and the re­tired wool mer­chants from the West Rid­ing, lived, re­spec­tively ei­ther in a poverty that kept up ap­pear­ances at all costs, or in great wealth, on the South Cliff. They, along with sur­vivors from the first world war, the gen­er­als, ma­jors, lieu­tenant colonels, sat out their days on benches look­ing at the North Sea. They lodged first in my mind, later in my books.

But so did creepy places. Penny-in-thes­lot ma­chines showed ex­e­cu­tions, a Cham­ber of Horrors in a long-gone mu­seum had wax­work mur­der­ers. I was for­bid­den to en­ter, but I of­ten did. No won­der I have a macabre side.

As an only child, my days were spent with my mother, who met her friends for morn­ing South Bay and Cas­tle Head­land, Scar­bor­ough

cof­fee in Mar­shall & Snel­grove’s depart­ment store. It was posh. Man­nequins pa­raded through the restau­rant, as I es­caped to wan­der the store, x-ray­ing my feet weekly in the shoe depart­ment ma­chine.

On the fore­shore, the dodgems, candy floss and amuse­ment ar­cades were all out of bounds. We went pen­ni­less. Some­times they gave us bags of sweet drum-scrap­ings and we cadged free rides. I set short sto­ries there, decades later.

It all ex­ists when I re­turn. I am trans­fixed by the glid­ing snake ca­bles of the cliff tram. Time means noth­ing. Scar­bor­ough is out of time. It means ev­ery­thing.

The Com­forts of Home by Su­san Hill is pub­lished by Chatto & Win­dus.

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