Made in Widnes

The Guardian - Review - - Made In - Stuart Tur­ton

On a map, it looks as if it’s sidling up to Liverpool to scrounge a cig­a­rette. Manch­ester has taken a step back, prob­a­bly to get away from the smell. Widnes is fa­mous for its smell. The town is ba­si­cally a load of chem­i­cal fac­to­ries and man­u­fac­tur­ing plants with some houses squished be­tween them. On bad days, the air punches you in the nose.

I hated liv­ing there. As an adult, I know that Widnes is a de­prived town that’s suf­fered aw­ful ne­glect un­der suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments who don’t give a toss about the work­ing class or the places they live. As a kid, I just thought it was a hole.

Ev­ery few weeks we’d be chased by a teenager with a stick that had nails ham­mered through it. There was al­ways lit­ter on the ground and dog poo in the grass. “Paki” was a catchall ra­cial slur for any­body who wasn’t white, which is why the own­ers of our lo­cal chippy had to scrape it off their win­dow ev­ery other week, de­spite be­ing Thai.

Ev­ery other place I read about, ev­ery place I saw on telly, seemed bet­ter. When I was eight, I’d sit at my bed­room win­dow, star­ing at the lights of our neigh­bour­ing town of Run­corn, wish­ing I could move there. I’d never been, but that didn’t stop me pin­ing. One night my mum caught me sneak­ing down the stairs after bed­time. She asked where I was go­ing and I showed her the money in my hand. I was catch­ing the bus to Run­corn, I said. She put me back in bed and took me her­self the next day. It wasn’t any bet­ter, and I be­gan to won­der if the en­tire world was like Widnes.

Paul Simon had been so de­mor­alised by the place in the 60s he wrote “Home­ward Bound” on the plat­form of Widnes sta­tion. He’d only been vis­it­ing. I had to bloody live there. Our bor­ough had the fourth high­est rate of can­cer deaths in the coun­try. Our mu­nic­i­pal golf course was shut be­cause ar­senic started bub­bling up through the ground. Widnes is full of sto­ries like that. It’s the sort of place where hor­ri­ble things queue up to hap­pen.

Read­ing was my Hor­ri­ble things queue up to hap­pen in Widnes

es­cape. Agatha Christie mys­ter­ies were my favourite. They were de­liv­ered to our house by our lovely neigh­bour Doris, who’d buy them from car boot sales for me. The good peo­ple are like that there. They’re funny, kind. They’ll go out of their way to help each other.

I haven’t been back to Widnes for a long while, but I sin­cerely think our coun­try would be bet­ter off if par­lia­ment re­lo­cated there. If our next prime min­is­ter were forced to suck in Widnes’s stink­ing air for a few years, we’d have a bet­ter, fairer, more equal coun­try in a decade.

The Seven Deaths of Eve­lyn Hard­cas­tle by Stuart Tur­ton won the Costa first novel award this week.

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