Oh dear. That Young David Evans has come over a bit gooey. He’s gone sentimental on us… could it be springtime, and a man’s fancy turning? Who knows – but he’s written a lovely, evocative piece today which made me smile.
There’s much in this. As a mere whippersnapper, my concept of ‘old’ Brownhills and Walsall Wood is informed by memories recorded, told, corrected and debated here. To me, the old days were the 70s, of Joes Ice Cream, The Why Not cycle shop and the like. To other people here, like David Oakley, a much earlier time is recalled, retold.
From this communal patchwork, we assemble a picture. Mine is chiefly of hard times and pride, of poverty and dignity. History’s wheels grind slowly on, and incremental change transforms so much. I think David has encapsulated the memory well.
My normal practice here would be to link to related pieces in the text, but I’m not going to do that. I’ve linked the three pictures to their source stories, and from those, dustinct threads can be followed. Have a wander and see what you can find.
My thanks to David, as ever.
One of the most fascinating and treasured of a child’s toys – long time ago, that is – was that wonderful invention, the kaleidoscope. Hours of magical images, all unique, all inexplicably intricate, were available to the prying eye and steady hand of the user. Try as one may, it was both a passing joy and marvel which lasted just the time it took to make the slightest unfortunate move of hand or arm, to lose the glorious patterns, which appeared magically in the light, down the tube.
In a strange way, the many and varied articles that have been contributed to the blog, seem to bring back flashes, images tantalising and transient, of life in this place a long time ago.
We can easily recreate in our mind the sounds and images of the village daily life. The school. The ring of the bell, the chirp of young children playing in the school yard. The skipping chants, the cries from the circle of spectators at the conker contests, the sobs and tears of the playground casualties. The coal mine, the hobnail boots clunking along the roads to and from the towers and smoking stacks of the coal yard, the chuff and clanking from the steam engines as they strained to pull the coal-laden wagons away from the site. The whirring and heavy metallic rumblings from the wheel house in the yard, the slam of gates behind cages full of men or mine-cars. The coded signalling of the pithead bell, the creaking from the plate at the weighbridge. The sharp cries from men calling to others above the groans from machinery.
The complex visual paradox of the canal side. The acquiescent, majestic horses straining to pull the mass of the barges behind them into motion, then striding along the towpaths with their human minder keeping up by their sides. The low-slung laden butty barges following behind them in mute obedience, yet gently and purposefully gliding and lapping through the mirror-smooth surface of the water; the colourful cabin tow-barges with their dull tub-tubbing replacing horse and minders, their admirals resplendent in their crooked caps and togs, steering their vessels as they churn the tranquillity. The coalmen, washing the coal bags out in the canal, engaging in ribald humour as they toil, eager to complete this task.
The busy High Street. The banter from within the shops, the slam of closing tills, the clank of opening shop doors, the crinkling of wrapping paper and string, the rapid, meaningful thump of stamps being franked inside the Post Office, the thin sound of snips emanating of the barber’s scissors, the whiff of brilliantine and thin hair-clipper oil, the aromatic scent of soap and washing- powder, of floor, shoe and metal polish. The mouth-watering aromas curling out from the bakers’ open shop. Bap, bloomer, cottage, bun, cake, fruit loaf.
The trams, their electric motors whirring in to life, The creaks of tramcar and tramline, the ching of the conductor’s ticket machine, the clicking of the accelerator control, the gabble and cluck of the passengers in conversation, the rustle of bustles, coats and shopping baskets in glorious dis-harmony and conflict.
The ale houses; their inviting open front doors and polished and scrubbed door steps, the jingling out of tune Joannas and their merry collective tunes. Nelly Dean, Lilly of Laguna, their choirs and impromptu vocal artistes, the whiff of plug and Woodbine, the hint of stew, bread, mustard and ham; the click of domino tiles, the smack of cards, the nail of darts.
The week-ends with their gentlemen bending to play their bowls on the various village greens, the white-attired cricketers standing, running, throwing, catching, sledging, standing again, walking on and off, all enthralled by the mystery of the game. The precious local football team and their spectators, their weekly battles and joys and sorrows, victories and injustices forming in to the collective memories of all, never to be forgotten at any price.
The images and sounds of the canal anglers along the banks and batters. The line, bait, hook, float, basket. The patience and skill, and the hours or relentless concentration searching for the slightest movement, twitch or drop of the float.
The numerous flights of pigeons, circling, grouping, in splendid aerial formation high in the skies, swooping then climbing in their joyful acrobatic routines above the chimney pots of the village, all in rehearsal and fitness training for the big events.
All, a long time ago. But through the many and varied articles, notes and comments shared here, we can bring this past back to life, if only fleetingly. We can experience and sense parts of yesteryear’s Walsall Wood and Brownhills, and share some of the emotions of those times.