Saturday, 20 July 2013

"HEAVEN IS A VERY SMALL PLACE..."


The Town Centre in the 1960s

Ah, where do the years go?  Y'know, it sometimes galls me that there are places I can no longer visit because they simply don't exist anymore.  Once upon a time, I would drag myself from bed, get dressed, washed, brushed, have breakfast, and set off for school in the mornings, subconsciously absorbing the details of my surroundings as I did so.  When I wake up nowadays, I do so in the same room as I did when I was 13, but my school no longer exists and the route along to where it once stood has changed in quite a number of ways as well.

Even the shopping centre I once explored in wide-eyed wonder has changed beyond all recognition, having quadrupled (at least) in size and been roofed over to protect shoppers from inclement weather.  Ironically, although it's now larger, many of the best and biggest shops have moved to an out-of-town retail park where the rents are apparently cheaper, leaving the original centre with numerous empty premises. Indeed, many of the newer units built in the last few years have never been occupied since completion.

Outside W. & R. Holmes.  (Out of shot to the right -
you can just see part of the shop sign)

I miss certain shops, havens of my youth, where I'd idle away the minutes looking at books, toys, comics or annuals.  I still have quite a few items (or replacements) from my childhood, with which I associate the places I first purchased them.  SUPER-MAN From The '30s To The '70s, The MIGHTY WORLD Of MARVEL Annual 1973, EL TEMPO marker pens, PRITT glue sticks, and a whole host of other items instantly transport me back to W. & R. HOLMES, a bookshop, stationers, toyshop, tobacconist, art department, etc., which has never been equalled by any subsequent would-be replacements since it closed its doors in the late '70s.

And what about that old standby that everyone of a certain age must surely miss as much as I do?  WOOLWORTH'S, where every child of the '60s and '70s obtained some of the best toys ever released at that time, to say nothing of two ounces of PIC'N'MIX whenever one wanted some some jelly babies, dolly mixtures or jap desserts.  'Woolies' was usually the place my elasticated black plimsolls were purchased for gym classes in primary school.  No such thing as designer trainers for kids back then - Woolworth's was a great 'equalizer' when it came to blurring the distictions between better-off families and the not so prosperous ones.

W. & R. Holmes - now that's what I call a shop!

R. S. McCOLL's was another haunt of mine in bygone days.  'Twas in McColl's I obtained my first MARX friction-drive DALEK (1967), my CORGI TOYS diecast orange bubble-car (1969 or '70), The INCREDIBLE HULK Annual #2 (1973), a TITCH stapler that sits to the side of me as I type (1978 or '79), and a COCA-COLA sign which still adorns my wall to this very day (again, '78 or '79, I think).  In the early or mid-'80s, it moved from the premises it had inhabited since I was a lad to another unit further up the street, and though I still frequented it for years afterwards, it was never quite the same.  (Though I did buy my very first brand-new ACTION MAN there in 1984.)

Well, I could go on and on, and perhaps some of you think I'm going to, but I'll call it quits with this last little thought.  If someone were to ask me what my idea of Heaven is, I'd have to say that my home town exactly as it was in 1969 or '70 would come pretty close.  To be able to walk the streets and run through the green fields I knew as a child, to visit the shops I liked from my earliest days and which could always be relied upon to supply the simplest and the best of pleasures - well, that sounds pretty heavenly to me.

R.S. McColl's is under the awning to the left of the
pillars.  Further up the street is Woolworth's

Sometimes, in dreams, I once again wander the familiar haunts of my youth, where long-vanished people and places welcome me warmly and invite me to spend some time with them.  However, such moments are fleeting, and the harsh reality of the here-and-now lies in wait to disappoint me when I awaken to a new day.

******

We thought there was no more behind
But such a day tomorrow as today
And to be a boy eternal.

William Shakespeare

******

So, any places from your childhood or teenage years that you wish still existed, or do you prefer things the way they are now?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. 


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