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Hannah Sullivan on Hanwell: ‘Rural enough for blackberrying; urban enough not to paddle in the river’

The poet on west London’s libraries, Indian restaurants and returning to ‘Bunny park’ and Horsenden hill with her son

I was born in Northolt, then in Middlesex, during the snowiest winter anyone remembered. “It was the winter of discontent,” stories began. The milk bottles were left uncollected, the streets were filled with rubbish, Mrs Thatcher was about to come to power. By the time she was gone, I was at senior school.

By then my parents had moved to Hanwell, London W7, the western extension of west Ealing. West of us was mostly open space, golf courses, the “Bunny park” with its splendid viaduct by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There were a lot of canals. It was rural enough to spend an afternoon scooping frogspawn out of ditches and blackberrying in the lane that ran down to Greenford; urban enough that the river in the park was unpaddlable, a few brown inches of water that smelled of sponges. When I pulled out the pockets of my coat, bright sugared aniseeds were often stuck in the lining: the remnants of birthday parties at big, richly decorated Indian restaurants in Southall. On St Patrick’s Day I wore a wet bit of shamrock twisted in silver foil on my school jumper. I thought that when I grew up I might want to trade on exchange rates, like a friend’s father. I especially wanted to do this if it meant I could talk ceremoniously on a cream brick-shaped mobile phone.

I spent a lot of time in public libraries: books about astrology, ballet, the Plantaganet kings, Just William

Related: Nikesh Shukla on Harrow: ‘You’re thinking about that posh school on the hill. That ain’t Harrow’

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