I had a rare opportunity to revisit the place where I grew up, met my wife and worked and lived there for the first 30 years of my life, it was a real eye opener to say the least.
This once semi rural market town had changed beyond all recognition, once upon a time this town was noted for being almost totally self sufficient and self reliant.
We mined coal, iron ore, limestone, sandstone, salt, gypsum on a huge scale, we made our own steel. We made our own unusual looking bricks and setts for roads and houses.
We built Locomotives and Carriages plus goods wagons, we made bicycles, we at one time made guns and ammo in the same region. We built bridges, Towers of steel, we were noted for the quality of the ships we built.
We made Oil, Petrol, Diesel, Plastics, Paints, Monomers, Explosives and Fertiliser
The areas that were not being used to make things were often used to grow things, the whole borough and surrounding area was crisscrossed with Allotments and Market Gardens, Coop owned farms, small holdings etc. Local coal, Sea Coal and Timber provided most of our heating needs.
The remaining areas were unspoilt countryside and parks, public transport was local authority owned, plentiful, reliable and cheap.
Most primary and junior schools had no more than 200 pupils and those schools had close links with the community such as church, women’s guild, British Legion, WRVS etc.
The senior schools were sorted to best direct the particular skill sets of the children in the form of Secondary Schools, Technical Schools and Grammar Schools. Our local technical colleges turned out the engineers, miners, designers, draftsmen etc we needed.
The Children could and did play out at every possible opportunity often roaming far and wide on foot and bicycles, cycle clubs were huge in the area. Most areas even terraced areas still had places that were green and tree covered for the kids to run riot on from dawn to dusk. Heck you could still catch fish in a few local streams and wild strawberries, blackberries, crab apples, damsons ensured we got enough vitamins.
Our Police and Council wardens were 100% fully integrated parts of the community often required to live within the communities they policed, Most kids knew the officers names and frequently vice versa.
Saturday night in the town was the chance to dress up, party, go clubbing or even travel to the coast and have a beach party and BBQ. The clubbers could party until 2AM before going home often stopping for a bite to eat from various burger vans.
Things change that is just life but is it always for the best is a question I needed answering? We moved away from our hometown some years ago in order to try and give our children a better environment to grow up in. The town was changing fast as housing, traffic, jobs and the motor vehicles influence made huge changes necessary on the infrastructure, but when I recently returned to the area to show my now 12 year old son around I was horrified to say the least.
The first thing we noticed was the housing, it was everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, just about every green space that children once play on, made dens, grabbed their first kiss, listened to the top 20 on a Sunday evening was gone. Every possible space was given over to housing…………….but no wilderness or play areas, just a few simple climbing frames and slides littered with broken glass and used drug paraphernalia. Local shops that had benches outside are now replaced by mini malls, concrete and CCTV with dodgy looking unemployed youths trying to avoid the myriad of cameras. The community and Communal areas had gone the out of the way spots the teens could gather without causing concern have gone, the few facilities left require the kids to pay for the dubious pleasure of using.
The only mines left produce only salt for keeping King Car rolling and fertiliser for the mega farms who now surround the hugely expanded town boundaries, Farms where hedgerows long ago were ripped up in the name of productivity, thus depriving the area and the kids of good, natural free supplementary foods, and creating a desolate wilderness for the under siege remaining wildlife.
We don’t produce bricks and setts any more, most housing is built from imported materials and mock simulated, reconstituted psuedo stone and plastic cladding. Village greens, kerbsides and communal areas have all been sacrificed to the needs of the commuter’s car including much of what would once have been garden and vegetable plots.
We don’t build anything for the railways any more, indeed the only new Locos likely to be built in the region are owned and made by the Japanese, and none of the end product will be allocated to this area anyway, most of the locos designated for the south (as usual) It would not matter really because the north’s rail system has done nothing but shrink since the 1960s where as the south east has vastly increased its number of new lines.
From the 22,000 people employed in the local petro-chem industry we see the numbers have dropped to under 4000, the shipyards, steelworks and mines went the same way as the loco works.
As for the substantial allotments and market gardens they too have been concreted over to feed the demand for 3 bed semis and 4 bet detached ( executive) houses most of which have no link to or affinity with the local community, they are simply commuters dormitories, utterly soulless and depressing. These days the people think they have it made if they have a Tesco and a Petrol station to call upon, their kids development and exploration desires not going further than a games console or perhaps and after school football match. Not only don’t the children play as children should, they don’t have anywhere they could play if they wanted. Again not that it matters anymore because parents are so paranoid about perverts hiding in every bush the younger kids are not allowed out anyway.
The schools have now been “” Modernised and equalised” so now we have primary schools containing 500 kids from age 3 to 11, bussed in from far and wide interacting only with other kids from 9 til 3. The older kids now all attend one size fits all Comprehensive schools where no matter what skills, crafts, arts, and attributes you have you will be taught equally. It does not matter that Child A want to go on stage, Child B wants to be an Astronomer and Child C wants to be a plumber they will all be taught the same politically correct, diverse, inclusive multi cultural subject matter, even if large numbers of those kids can not speak a word of English. These kids all dutifully board their allotted buses for the commute home to their specific post coded but otherwise identical estates. God help the child who gets the wrong bus or alights in the wrong post code area, that error in this day and age can mean a death sentence in some shop doorway at the hands of a knife wielding gang member punishing the miscreant for daring to enter HIS postcode area. Its no use getting the Police involved most of the time they appear to prefer arresting the victim as they are not as aware of criminal and human rights laws as the gang banger. And the cops really don’t want to know if the offenders are from ethnic minorities as they dread the career killing inevitable claim of racism from the suspect.
The day mum used to say “If you get lost or are afraid just run to the nearest policeman”
Is now replaced by a warning of “ For gods sake don’t go near the police or they will stop and search you simply for playing with your friends” again not overly likely as the individual Bobby on the beat is now replaced by half a dozen paramilitary riot cops in an armoured van parked in the town centre trying to look intimidating not helpful.
Ah the illustrious heart of the community the town centre, once a haven and hive of activity for Market traders and Shops most days with a vibrant, rowdy but generally peaceful night life has now changed beyond recognition.
The Local privately owned shops long driven out of business by the unchecked inrush of the big high street chains, who have now also moved out to the new clinical soulless out of town retail parks (warehouses). Today during the hours of daylight you find a few take-aways, fast food outlets and charity shops with a post office doing a roaring trade in welfare payments and overseas money orders for migrants to export their earning (or benefits) to their extended families overseas who have not yet gained permission to move to the UK. Pay to park charges and enthusiastic enforcement officers ensure most shoppers linger as little time as possible and market stall owners no longer bother coming because of lack of customers and insane loading / unloading restrictions.
Come the night, comes the fear, the once vibrant nightlife now finds a few bars trying to encourage people to come in and drink as much as they can as fast as they can. Nightclubs where the selection of narcotics is more important than the selection of music vie for people’s money. Outside in the shadows drug dealers, pimps, gangs identified by colour of skin, colour of tattoos, colour of head scarf’s or post code address prey on each other and anyone foolish enough to stray from the CCTV coverage into the shadows. These are compounded by gangs of ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, and folks with none run of the mill religions all campaigning for dominance and “ownership” of certain street corners and misguided teenage girls.
Jobs and fresh food are as rare as hope and job prospects, Neighbourhoods that children once roamed are now combat zones, Communities and now target areas. Leisure areas now out of bounds to most.
The now privatised public transport system is now expensive, unreliable and fair game for thieves, rapists and muggers alike, even going to the local 24/7 mini mall brings a risk of robbery or intimidation as herds of kids who have lost hope gather like moths under the stores neon lights.
Did I like the thousands of others who foresaw the warning signs of the mismanagement by the socialists whose social engineering has destroyed oh so many towns and cities make a mistake in selling up and moving out to a small out of the way village? ( Its called white or Middle Class Flight in some circles)
No, Definitely not, my son flourished in a small village school, plays in cornfields, come home covered in juice from various berries and fruits, he knows not only the one and only occasional policeman by name, and all his class mates from various villages are only tagged by their school class year number. They can and do walk and cycle to each others homes to play.
As for me, crime is less, shopping is slower and more pleasant at the village coop and store, locally produced food comes via the allotments and when it gets dark its simply quiet, no shots, no sirens, no break glass, no barking dogs, no midnight screams.
It isn’t perfect by any means, but by gods it’s a million percent better than living in the towns.