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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Wreck

This is an excerpt from "The Wreck" - a chapter in Steady Past Your Granny's available as an e-book

I always knew it as “the wreck”.

It never occurred to me that it could ever be called anything else, or even that “the wreck” was actually a shortened form.  It was only many years later that it dawned on me that “the wreck” was short for “Recreation” and that “the wreck” was properly called “Anglesey Road Recreation Grounds”.  Somehow “the wreck” seemed more appropriate.

As I was growing up in the 1950s, “the wreck” was the place to gather, to play, to walk dogs and to train spot (if you belonged to that earnest brotherhood whose greatest excitement was to enter numbers in a well-thumbed notebook, as one of the steam-wreathed monsters flashed past). 

The railways were an integral part of “the wreck”.  The Leicester Line ran over the bridge that formed the entrance to “the wreck” and the main Birmingham Line formed the southern boundary.  To the east were the Wagon Works and the western border was formed by some allotments.  Train spotters traditionally gathered by a sort of stile in the far corner by the allotments, an excellent place to view the trains as they pulled out of Burton station, or were shunted to the Loco sheds a little further down the line toward Oxford Street.  Each train that passed would set off knowledgeable discussions in the pseudo-scientific jargon beloved of small boys about bogeys and wheel formations, along with frantic scribbling of the all-important engine number.  None of it made any sense to me.  I just stood there in a mixture of fear and wonder as we were engulfed in a cloud of steam, smoke, noise and earth-trembling vibration.

To enter “the wreck” you first had to work your way down Cambridge Street, past a quiet row of houses (for whom the endless procession of boys kicking footballs or larking about on bikes must have been a constant trial), past Scrappy Moore’s scrap heap to the left and some toilets on the right, then under the Leicester Line bridge into “the wreck” itself.  The toilets must have been built in a moment of Council inspired optimism, only ever to be used in extremis, and only then if you could hold your breath for up to two minutes.  I don’t ever recall there being a supply of running water, except for the occasional steady stream issuing from burst pipes. 

Under the Leicester Line Bridge were a series of hazards for the unwary.  Frequently flooded (and not just by the toilets) and then only passable by a precarious tightrope walk along a narrow shelf of raised bricks, puddles filled the potholes even on the driest of days and the whole area was strewn with half-bricks and broken glass.  One of my earliest memories is of falling down under the bridge whilst walking the dog with my Mum, and cutting my forehead open on a jagged piece of glass.  The unexpected benefit of this trauma was a cross-shaped scar on my forehead, which left me with messianic tendencies that took a while to shake off (the lack of disciples was a bit of a giveaway).

Having made your way under the bridge, you could either go straight on and join the train-spotting tendency or climb the side of the ramp leading from the Leicester Line and survey the whole of “the wreck”.  This was a good vantage point.  From here you could spot friends, enemies, games in progress, dogs to avoid and the current usage of the recreational facilities.  These consisted of a set of swings, a roundabout of the sort that resembled an upside down shuttlecock balanced on a pole and a further roundabout which was a solid wooden structure about four feet high with metal handles.  All of these were potential death traps in the hands of the psychotically exuberant (of which there were more than a few).  To the right of this feast of amusement was a large, brick built, shed-like structure with a tarmac covered forecourt.  The shed was open along the side facing “the wreck”.  I could never understand its intended purpose.  Presumably the Council saw it as a rather Spartan changing room. At one time wooden benches had run along the walls, but these had long since fallen victim to the vandals who inhabited “the wreck” in the darkness of the night. In reality, it formed an uncomfortable shelter in the driving rain for the disparate groups that shared “the wreck”.  It was often a home of passion and covert drinking as night fell and a place for those with even less wholesome interests, to lurk.

Now read the rest at Steady Past Your Granny's (Kindle edition)