Phil Gillam: Memories flood back on sunny Shrewsbury walk
On a particularly lovely, sunny afternoon, I found myself walking through Copthorne, then Meole, then Belle Vue, alone with my thoughts.
And although all these parts of Shrewsbury mean a lot to me, funnily enough it was still Castlefields – a suburb across the other side of town – that tended to dominate my pleasant, sun-drenched musings.
As I walked alongside the cemetery, I nodded in the direction of Mum and Dad’s gravestone, the two of them long-passed now, and fond memories came flooding back of our parents doing the best they could on very little money.
At the risk of sounding like some Monty Python character: We were poor, but we were happy. Or at least that’s the way I see it.
Dad’s earnings were meagre and this was in an age before the notion of wives also going out to work had become the norm.
Our childhood days in dear old Castlefields were indeed shaped by what, euphemistically, might be called “reduced circumstances” but they were rich in other ways - countless hours spent with friends walking around the block: North Street, Queen Street, Burton Street and West Street, just chatting mostly, dreaming of possible futures, allowing our imaginations to run riot, making up games, creating our own books, comics and magazines from drawing books, crayons, sticky tape, cuttings and coloured pens.
My love of American comic books began here, sitting on the street corner on a summer’s afternoon, reading Spider-Man adventures in the shadow of All Saints Church, talking with friends about Superman and Batman or Iron Man or Captain America as we walked down to take a look at The Weir and wander along gorgeous, peaceful, tree-lined Sydney Avenue.
My life-long passion for pop music started too as a youngster growing up in that damp, cold, lovable Victorian house in North Street, beginning with a great and undying affection for those great tunes that poured from our transistor radio, the irresistible melodies of 1960s chart-toppers from The Move to The Mamas and the Papas to The Monkees to The Marmalade to the Moody Blues and Manfred Mann (not all my favourite groups begin with the letter M, by the way - but clearly quite a few do!).
Other boyhood interests included railways (I eventually became a train spotter and then transmogrified into the slightly more glamorous sounding railway enthusiast). With like-minded pals, I spent many a happy evening on the platforms of Shrewsbury railway station. It wasn’t really about collecting the numbers of the diesel locomotives; more about the atmosphere of the station at night, the tremendous noise as trains rattled through, the companionship of friends, the sense of history all around.
Another great element of my childhood was the British comic, TV21, containing colourful and thrilling adventures, featuring Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and (my favourite) Captain Scarlet.
Family life could sometimes seem like a caricature of working class life in the 1960s: Dad being gregarious, fun-seeking, pub-loving, rough around the edges, Mum being shy, retiring, home-loving, sensitive. And yes, as was the custom, Dad would come home from work, hand over his wages to Mum, she would take what she needed for house-keeping and hand him back his beer money.
As we set off to school each morning, Mum would give us small packages of biscuits (usually Lincoln or digestives or Marie and occasionally those sports biscuits featuring little pictures of basketball players, swimmers and footballers). These biscuits would be wrapped (not terribly effectively, it has to be said) is torn-off pieces of that waxed paper wrapping from Wonderloaf or Mother’s Pride.
These four or five biscuits were to be eaten at break time in the school playground.
Inevitably, crumbs would leak from these packages – these little bits of home – into our coat pockets. I well recall that for years my coat pockets were coated with stale biscuit crumbs.
Funny how, even now, a humble biscuit has the power to take me back half a century.