Not like the films

The dVerse prompt today is to write a suburb poem. Mine rambles like the Number 11 as it wends its way very slowly from the station to the shopping complex in Bègles.




Here it’s not like in the films,

no tree-lined avenues and big silent cars.

Here are concrete blocks, layered like cakes

or cruise ships, without the glamour

or the icing.

Here are dogs and kids without homes

and homes without kids

just delinquents.

Here the grass is mud,

and the buses pass full of tired people,

and there’s always a group of kids

with their music too loud

and their feet on the seats.

Further out are the streets,

neat and clean,

where the trees in the gardens

come from a catalogue.

No buses come here,

because the old folk are frightened

of the people who use public transport.

They keep in their cars,

speak to no one.

They have cats,


but no dogs.

Dogs bark and they crap on the pavements.

Night in the suburbs is frightening.

I don’t know which is worse,

the fires in litter bins and the dealers,

or the silence of old jaws clamped down on their words,

watching their assets climb

and the years tick by.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

57 thoughts on “Not like the films”

  1. You really presented a different entry than the others I have read so far. I like how you chose to focus on the bad sides of suburbs, the filth that so way often comes with it. We need to see this side too, besides the scenery, the pros, the romantics.

    1. In general, poor people use public transport and rich people are frightened of poor people. I hate the buses and the time they take, and people sneeze in your face, and usually you’re not going anywhere pleasant anyway.

  2. This is a gem that takes us through some of the gritty aspects of suburbia – they’re not all neat and trim! – ‘here the grass is mud’ … ‘feet on seats’ … Nice work 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m more familiar with this kind of suburb than the neat ones. Don’t ever have any call to go there as there isn’t anything except neat houses and the odd golf course or horse race track 🙂

  3. Our suburb had old folks and young ones as well. I think I was probably one of the worst parts of it, young juvenile delinquent. Yours sounds to me more like the urban jungle. Maybe the two have combined as one.

    1. I htink they have developed differently in different countries. Here they act as social dividers. The ‘nice’ places with big gardens and quiet streets don’t have anything that would attract people on lower incomes, even though property prices aren’t much different across suburbia. They don’t have public transport, they don’t have schools except for a very few private religious-based schools. They don’t have shops or sports centres (a racecourse if you’re lucky). The areas with the schools, the shops and the transport are left to the poorer people and get run-down pretty quickly. It’s social segregation that I imagine you find everywhere in the world.

  4. Excellent rocking of the prompt; a gritty journey through the backside to the promos & ads. For us the youth are glued to their phones, gaming, taking pics, making movies, listening to music & texting. I quit going to the movies because 20 cell phones are left on, ringing & glaring with light. How can kids pay over 12 bucks to see a movie, but then never take their eyes off their phones?

    1. The phones are a bane of modern life. Kids walk under trams here because they’re glued to the screen in their hand. In some areas though, if you have a good phone you keep it out of sight; or you won’t keep it very long.

    1. Thank you, Yudith. The suburbs don’t attract me at all as places to live. Maybe because I know them best from beyond the windows of a bus or estate agents’ catalogues, they feel rather alien.

    1. Thank you! It’s a world I’ve only ever passed through, visited a few times but never lived in. The suburbs are places in limbo, between city centre and countryside but with a character of their own.

  5. I have so enjoyed reading about the different suburbs in different parts of the world. Your view of the French suburbs is interesting. We tend to see other countries through a cinematic lens – until we live there for a while and see the reality. I am familiar with the concrete blocks, the dogs and kids without homes, homes without kids and the delinquents.
    I love the allusion to cats – I agree! But those final lines are ominous.

    1. Thanks Kim 🙂 I think the way middle-aged, affluent people cut themselves off deliberately from the aspects of city life they don’t like is pretty unproductive. They fight tooth and nail to keep out the riff-raff and seal their little haven hermetically. They don’t know how other people really live and they don’t want to know.

  6. This is a European view of what is called suburbs, yes? The block housing called suburbs outside the cities is where the poor congregate, where in America the poor inhabit the inner cities and the middle-class flock to housing developments outside the rim. An inversion of the American theme, suburb as ghetto. And what does your poem tell us? That despair is resident in every community …

  7. Very bleak at both ends. I’m with Sarah though–I don’t want to ever experience the last three lines. I think there are areas in the US that are like both extremes you describe, but I think around me, it’s more mixed.

  8. Great piece here Jane – and totally power packed ending.

    As many have said, it paints a particular image in the mind – somewhat universal and yet unique to location too.

    Personally, I hate the suburbs …. just can’t stand the hollow carved out “misappropriated identity” of not full blown city/metropolis or true country – for me, it falls into a grey space of ambivalence and indifference, masquerading as something so white-bread vanilla that it is shallow.

    but to each their own’s pleasures ….

    1. Thank you! They aren’t lovely places however you look at them. They’re the frill or the crust around the city where people live who want/need to be close to the centre but can’t afford the rents (young people) or don’t like the noise (old people). The suburbs don’t have to be soulless but they nearly always are. We’ve always lived either in the city centre or in the countryside, never in between.

      1. I’ve done all three – and oh, hell is the burbs – a wasteland – but like all places, there are hidden gems and treasures to be found within – but it’s not for me. But then again, maybe I’ve never met the right suburb in my travels.

      2. What we find often is that the city expands to engulf the villages round about so you get new housing developments around ‘old’ whatever with its church, village square and a handful of old houses and farm buildings. The charm of the place disappears in the shadow of high rises (and you only need three or four floors to be a high rise in this kind of environment) cars zooming in and out and through all day, lorries taking cheap routes avoiding the motorways, shopping complexes, schools etc etc. There will be a centre hidden in there, but when you find it, is it worth it?

      3. Indeed …. but that’s the European version …. here it’s about open spaces that were once upon a time vast tracts of farmland …. so you know those “sim games” or google earth shots – where you see rows and rows and rows of identical cereal boxes? Hahaahaha….. positively evil. Of course, I’m sweepingly generalizing, but most if any “historic” buildings and sites get swallowed up. So it becomes strip malls and sports arenas and really, few if anything cultural or artistic. Anyhow, such as it is when geography is prime real estate and drives the needs “best fitting” the demands of a life over-exploding.

      4. Those kind of places are scary. The kind of places where you can get lost even when you live there, where you have to paint pink dots and blue stripes on your car so you can find it again, and put a windmill or something in the front garden so you’ll recognize your own house!

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