Whilst studying in the UK I’ve had the opportunity to visit family in the Midlands – specifically a little town outside Leicester called Coalville where I spent my formative years in the early 80s.
If you’ve ever seen Billy Elliot then you have seen much of what I grew up with (except without the dancing and cross-dressing friends!). As you might guess from the name, Coalville depended on the mining industry and was badly affected by the strikes. I left almost exactly 20 years ago, so it was interesting to go back and see what had changed – and what had not.
I started round the corner from where my mum still lives at what used to be the Fox & Goose pub. I was shocked to see it had been knocked down.
This was the first pub I ever went into (aged 11 which was not very legal at the time but there you go) and also was the pub with a car park I talk about a lot to my students. Trying to explain snow and ice to Bangladeshis who have never left their village is not easy. I tell a story of trying to cut across the pub car park one winter’s day to get to a corner shop. Three times my school bag went one way and I another as I slipped onto my backside repeatedly.
I am not sad to see it gone.
A short walk down the road led me to this house, where a lovely old lady called Eunice – who was a family friend – allowed me to practise on her piano when I began lessons but my parents couldn’t afford to buy me one. She loved flowers and gardening and her house smelled of the most exotic floral scents as well as of old furniture and ornaments. Every now and then I catch those same scents and I’m transported there, unappreciated at the time but now ever longed for again.
Further down the same road, brought me to my old high school – Newbridge. Mixed memories there. Many great ones – including absolutely falling head over heels in crush for my music teacher, Miss Rachel Perks – and some horrid ones – including the time Miss Perks became Mrs Canny and wrecked a young boy’s dreams.
Possibly the most important thing that happened at Newbridge was when some boys broke into the main part you can see in the photo, stacked all the sports equipment and set the school ablaze. We lived most of our life there in mobile huts on the sports fields which were cold and damp even in the summer. It took years to restore the building to its former glory.
Turn the corner and you go down to a road containing these buildings.
They stand where the Public Swimming Baths used to be and where I developed an uncontrollable fear of water due to a foolish young student teacher who thought the best way this 9 year old boy could learn to swim was to be thrown in to the pool. If I could meet him now I would punch him on the nose for the 34 years of fear I suffered – conquered only when I had to help my own young daughter from her fear. We both swim now.
Way down the road and round the corner on to Belvoir Road was this hairdressing shop. Had my first haircut in Coalville there when I was 8 by an old man who took it all off the sides revealing my silly sticky-out ears that had me laughed at by everyone in my new school for weeks. Thanks mate.
Further down came this grotty handyman’s store which has not seen a lick of paint since I was a lad. But I did buy my first wood there and attempted to make my first cupboard. A severe lack of skill at woodwork and no understanding of physics meant the project was a complete failure. My Grandfather on my Dad’s side was a woodwork teacher but it seems his skills bypassed both my Dad and me. Amazingly, it is looking like these skills have re-emerged in my son. We’ll have to see.
After that, came a Chinese take away called the Wing Chun which I think must have stood where this one is here.
My first love was there. I won’t name her as she is a friend on my facebook and may be embarrassed, but as kids I adored her and thought her the prettiest girl in the school even though I was in the Juniors and she was in the Infants. Years later she came to me, having just done my A levels for help with her A level maths. She was one of my first students and I have to say I did a good job as she passed very well indeed. By then though, she was stunningly beautiful and I could not believe it as I went into teacher mode and ‘maintained a proper and professional relationship’ even though I was yet to go to university myself. Inside I was screaming “ask her out for a date!” Just as well I didn’t though, my true love was going to be found once I’d got to university.
Opposite the Wing Chun was this house.
This was my home for six years and if I won the national lottery today (I’d have to start playing it first of course) I would still buy this house just because of all my memories. When we sold it, it was turned into a Retirement home which it still is today. We bought it for a song – cheap as anything – but it came with a full sized slate bed snooker table. Unbelievable to think of now. The house was a small mansion making everyone in town think we were rich. We weren’t – far from it. The house was falling apart and the heating never worked in winter. At times it was warmer outside than in!
Round the side were barns and stables that were falling down. Now they have been done up into private homes. As I stood taking photos, I thought I would kick myself if I didn’t knock on the door and ask to go in and look around. There would never be another opportunity like that. So I did.
The nursing lady who answered was very kind albeit bemused by my request and allowed me limited access as most rooms were people’s bedrooms now. They had put in many extra walls and doors and blocked off others but fundamentally the house didn’t look any different to how it used to when I was a kid. Except it was smaller. Funny that.