A grey, overcast day, with the kind of deadening chill in the air that only serves to lower the spirits ; so no great hardship to stay indoors as far as is possible and do some writing, which it turn leads me to thinking about the past.
I went for a walk round Stoke town centre yesterday, in the deepening dusk of a winter's afternoon, and as I was looking at the buildings, I couldn't help but think about how it used to be, both as a child in the 1960's, and later, as a teenager in the 1970's.
A large Sainsbury's supermarket and adjoining car park cover the land where formerly stood the Minton china works, the blackened brick walls of which came right up to the pavement, and which produced some of the most exquisitely crafted pieces of china ever created. All that is left now is the statue of Sir Colin Minton Campbell, who sternly turns his back on the supermarket windows to gaze across the road at the former Stoke Library building, an eccentric piece of architecture from 1878. Its upper windows resemble those of a railway signal box, beneath which are mosaic panels so abraded by time that only Shakespeare is still recognisable. Strange round windows like oversized portholes add the finishing touch. It was a quaint old library, whose tiled floor was regularly washed over with strong disinfectant, the pungent aroma of which penetrated all the books, so that reading them at home had something of the hospital ward about it. The library service now has a modern building much more suited to the needs of today, situated on the site of the old Stoke Market.
Behind the library, a small car park occupies the former location of the Swimming Baths ; it looks much too small to have replaced what seemed at the time to be acres of heavily chlorinated water where I was tortured mentally and physically on Thursday afternoons. Not being naturally aquatic, the bullying teaching methods of the day left much to be desired, with the result that I can barely swim and am still afraid of any watery leisure activity.
I don't intend to write a great long account of what Stoke was like, I'm sure many other people have already done so - and not having an especially rosy view of some of yesteryear, it wouldn't serve any particular purpose. I do however, remember the smell in the air, a burnt brickdust dryness, which seems to have vanished for ever, and the pottery workers in their white overalls and footwear dusted with clay.
But there is one little reminder for me these days, which I imagine few people notice, and which I always take care to seek out. It's not a building or anything of historical note, just a doorway by the side of a furniture shop (formerly a supermarket), inside which the original wallpaper from the 1960's still manages to survive, albeit battered and weathered. A grey and black stripe, over which is superimposed a design of classical urns and such, in a white filigree effect. Very much of its time.
I'm not sure whether there used to be a restaurant or a hairdressers over the shop, but that bit of wallpaper takes me right back to a very particular time. It's the mid 1960's, and my mother is shopping, It's coming up to Halloween, or maybe Bonfire night, for which reason my brother and I have been allowed as a special treat to choose whatever we like for tea. Our fine dining menu consists of miniature hot dogs, skewered kebab-like with little pieces of bread on cocktail sticks, followed by such a pudding as I have had neither before nor since. It's a vanilla ice cream, studded with icy cubes of orange and lemon sorbet, and grandly and improbably
named "cassata". It all seemed impossibly desirable and exotic to two small and impressionable children, and I find it mildly amazing that a scruffy old bit of wallpaper can let loose all those memories.
One day, I surely know, that it will be gone. And I will be sad.
Tomorrow's almost over Today went by so fast The only thing to look forward to is the past
Theme from "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads"
looooooo still looks out