I want to take you back to the 1960’s and 70’s and join me on a journey through my childhood. Well not actually all my childhood, that would take too long, but to a time when all of our shopping was done locally, when Mum could buy all she needed in one street and where we children regularly went with her to do so.
The road is stil there today, but very, very different, I doubt Mum would recognise it now. It is a straight road, one of the main routes across the town and running from either side of it are rows and rows of terraced houses, stretching back and forward containing hundreds of homes.
Back in the day this road contained two cinemas, a bakers, a greengrocers, a newsagents, and much more. It was here we went when we needed new clothes, there was a mini department store on one corner that sold almost anything you would need. Glass counters and rows of drawers on the wall behind were full of lots of things to buy. It was a higgledy piggledy shop with steps between departments, the women’s clothes section had its share of mannequins and rows of coats and dresses on rails. You were served by ladies who helped find just the right thing for you.
Just along from the store was the bakery, my very favourite shop. It had that fantastic warm smell of bread and cake and they sold the most delightful small open top pies full of meat and jelly, we used to have them for lunch with tiny mini brown loaves, just enough for one each. Their cakes were equally delightful, fresh cream eclairs with sticky chocolate toppings and jam doughnuts that oozed raspberry syrup with the first bite. As in all the shops along this road women would stand in a queue waiting to be served and chat away while us kids danced around them.
Next to the bakery was the greengrocer, this was not as interesting to me and usually had an even longer queue. The produce on sale was almost all local except for the oranges and grapefruit, I cannot remember seeing a pepper or kiwifruit, it was basic salad, flat lettuce, local tomatoes, onions and King Edward potatos. The choice was much less than in today’s pre packed supermarket, but it was fresh. No plastic in sight you collected all your items in brown paper bags from women who wrote the price of each item purchased on the corner of the brown paper bag before totalling it up.
On the other side of the street was a record shop where I bought one of my very first vinyl discs. Next door to this shop was the joke shop. A whole shop devoted to tricks and things to make you laugh, from whoopie cushions to marked packs of cards, I remember the fake dog poo being a favourite from there.
Daily along the road you would see women and children, prams left outside the shops with smiling, or sometimes crying babies in, sometimes Grannies would stop to replace the dummy or give them a rock before Mum could return with her shopping, all to be stacked under the pram. There was a hardware store and a chemist along here. All in all it was a vibrant and busy street, serving well all the many people living in the area.
The two cinemas ensured the street was also busy at night time. With one screen each, they showed films of the day, changing on a weekly basis. One was smaller than the other and once inside in the dark a magical ceiling of a thousand tiny lights transfixed me. Sitting next to Mum watching one of her favourite musicals is a memory I will have forever. The cinema across the road was more modern, I remember once queueing right around the corner to get in to see the latest comedy with Mum and Dad. Hundreds of people waited patiently to all be seated. With no video and in some houses no TV the cinema was a vital affordable entertainment centre for the whole family. Later we would go there with our first boyfriends, daring to sit in the back row.
By the time I had my own family in the 1980’s this street was seeing signs of wear. Some shops had closed, a shiny new shopping precinct in the town becoming the place to buy lots of the products once on sale here. Supermarkets had sprung up offering cheaper prices it was not hard to see why these shops were struggling.
I left the area almost twenty years ago and often return to see family and friends. Over these years we have driven along this street many, many times. Sadly, I have watched it change from bad to worse each time we visit. Lots of the once busy shops are now boarded up, metal grills across where the windows once were. The joke shop, record store and hardware shop long gone. Gradually all the shops I remembered were no more.The cinema with the shiny ceiling gained new life as a pool hall, the other managed to hang on for some years but was eventually demolished and apartments now stand on that corner.
It saddened me to see the place in such decline. I could almost feel the buzz of shoppers from the past, catch sight of ghostly prams left outside these now derelict shops. All was not lost, many people still live around the area, houses are neat and tidy and there is always a good community spirit, but with so much changed it began to feel like a shadow of its former self.
It seemed that some of the properties had hope, the council had purchased them to make way for a regeneration of the street. How amazing, perhaps one day the street would become vibrant once more. Sadly it was not to be, changes in government and bankers spending all our money resulted in the project being shelved. The buildings now sat and waited. The regular checks on their structure being the only attention they were given.
Then one day this week something shocking happened, when one evening, halfway through the soap operas on TV and without warning or fuss the buildings slowly at first and then with a final roar to be noticed slid to the ground. Within minutes where once had stood two sad structures now there was rubble and dust. A huge gap appeared. It looked like the images we knew from the war when a bomb struck. Thankfully no one was hurt. Later when police, fire and emergency services had given the site more attention that it had had for some decades it was decided that a third building needed to be brought down as it was unsafe without its neighbour to hold it up.
I have no idea what caused the collapse, I am sure the structural engineers will tell us all in time, but it will always be in my mind that, tired of waiting, the buildings, whose walls contained a hundred years of memories, decided enough was enough. With one last hurrah they crashed to the ground, taking the memories of lives lived with them.