Phil Gillam: Avenue of memories
I seem to think we were in our last year of junior school. The evening was warm and sunny, the trees lush and green, a cyclist would go gliding by occasionally.
It was quite possibly during the summer holidays before “going up to the big school”.
My best pal and myself were walking along Sydney Avenue, a beautiful riverside walk that links Castlefields to Ditherington.
There wasn’t a great deal on the telly back then, and this was an age untroubled by game consoles and electronic wizardry.
As generations before us had said (and it was still largely true in the late 1960s): You had to make your own entertainment in those days.
And so, for us, a gentle evening walk along the riverside was, I suppose, the 1960s equivalent of killing countless computer-generated baddies in “Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night” or whatever.
For bullies, of course, making your own entertainment back then (and indeed now, come to that) included picking on younger boys, teasing them and calling them horrible names, perhaps even pushing them around a bit, a punch here, a kick there. You know the sort of thing: character-building!
As we strolled along the tree-lined avenue, we spotted, coming towards us, a couple of neighbourhood bullies who looked bored out of their minds.
They were looking to cause trouble.
They swaggered up to us, called us a few unrepeatable names, and then started pushing us around. So far, so predictable.
What happened next, however, was unexpected.
One of them, without any provocation whatsoever, threw a punch in my direction and hit me on the jaw.
Yes, it hurt. (Thank you for asking).
But I’ve got over it. It was 50 years ago.
The bigger boys, having had their fun, then just wandered off, laughing and sneering.
I remember, as I nursed my sore jaw, I turned to my best friend and said something that wasn’t meant to be funny, but that – years later – struck me as hilarious.
I said: “They didn’t fight like 10-year-old boys, did they? They fought like real men – like they fight on The Man From UNCLE or Batman.”
Yeah, of course, that was real fighting on Batman … POW! – WHAM! – ZAP! – BIFF! – KAZAMM!
Anyway, it’s funny really, but while on a cycle ride along Sidney Avenue the other night, all this came flooding back to me.
My other great childhood memory of Sydney Avenue is (and I must have been only six or seven years of age, I reckon) attempting to fly my plastic model of Fireball XL5.
Full of optimism, I catapulted the rocket into the sky, only for its little parachute to fail and it come crashing back down to earth.
Steve Zodiac and Professor Matic would never have allowed it to happen! And as for Robert the Robot and Zoonie ….
Okay, if you’re younger than 50 you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.
Fireball XL5 was the Gerry Anderson science fiction series that came before Captain Scarlet, before Thunderbirds, before Stingray …. and it was made in black and white and it was utterly brilliant!
Setting aside young bullies and early 1960s TV shows, if you want to know something about the history of Sydney Avenue, might I recommend the rather splendid website walkingpast.org.uk
It’s superb, and packed with stories, illustrations, walking routes and recordings that shine the spotlight on the history of Castlefields and Ditherington.
You’ll find wonderful references here to the excellent Dog & Pheasant pub, a cast iron boundary marker marking the boundary of Castlefields in 1891, and the offices of the old Shrewsbury Gaslight Company.
There’s stuff here about The Coach pub (formerly The Comet), and Gough’s Island (just off Sydney Avenue) which was probably man-made to create fishing opportunities using nets.
Curiously, though, there’s surprisingly little about the evening I was hit by a bully or the day I tried to go into space in Fireball XL5.