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Sunday, 9 March 2014

I hurled it down the lane, fine! - Part 1

Dum, dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum,
Dum, dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum.

Doesn’t quite capture it, does it?  You see, ideally, this article would be coming to you in surround-sound, with all hisses and crackles suppressed and the bass enhanced (as opposed to having the Bass enhanced which would probably involve a barley wine and a whisky chaser).  All of this will hopefully make sense in a little while.

This article was prompted by news of the closure of the Superbowl in Bargates’ (as I and legions of others have always known it, despite valiant efforts to rechristen it as the Riverside Centre) prior to the proposed demolition of this little-loved 1960’s development to be replaced by….? (Probably a little-loved 21st Century Local Government ‘vision’). 

Bargates’ was one of those developments that probably looked really great in the architect’s drawings (like those optimistic artist’s impressions of your Mediterranean hotel that cunningly miss out the building site and the 8-lane toll road outside your window).  You know the type of thing, sparkling clean buildings framing wide walkways in which two or three impossibly beautiful people stroll along in the blazing sunshine.  Bargates’ was always good at the ‘two or three people’ bit, but ‘impossibly beautiful’ and ‘blazing sunshine’ was always going to be something of a challenge, particularly on a wet Wednesday in November.  Allegedly unloved by the town planners (who, in turn, are hardly dear to the hearts of the Burton citizenry), the development was left to wither far from the hub of Burton commerce and transport links.  The arrival of the town centre’s own original concrete wind-tunnel (which was laughingly termed a shopping precinct) pretty much put the tin hat on Bargates’ future, presaging the long, slow decline to a boarded-up eyesore and now a vacant lot.

Originally, Bargates’ held the promise of modernity, excitement and sophistication.  Remember, it was born in the optimism of Harold Wilson’s “white hot heat of the technological revolution” when everything seemed possible, if only we could be persuaded to let go of the old and embrace the new.  Many towns and cities took the opportunity to redevelop their bomb sites and slums using modern architectural principles.  Burton, having escaped the worst excesses of the Luftwaffe, decided to do the job for themselves.  Modernist concrete buildings with their clean lines and logical structures would sweep away the cramped and quirky illogicality of such remnants as Bank Square in the old town centre.  Of course the ‘blazing sun’ concept of architectural design seemed to blind the designers and planners to the likely appearance of grey concrete in a predominantly grey climate, particularly after a few decades of grimy rain and the enthusiastic attention of hordes of loose-bowelled pigeons.

Bargates’ had restaurants, supermarkets and a rotunda (for no apparent reason other than architectural ‘joie-de vivre’), but most importantly, it had a ten-pin bowling alley at a time when a night’s entertainment consisted of a visit to the pub or the cinema.  Interestingly, in those puritan days, it was difficult to combine a visit to the cinema and then the pub unless you were a world-class athlete with a comprehensive knowledge of the bus timetable (or, if you reversed the order of attendance, someone with an Olympic standard bladder).  In case this vision of night-time entertainment perplexes our younger reader (if such a being exists), you have to remember that the typical cinema performance finished at some point after 10 pm (variable and very dependent on whether you watched all of the credits and stood for the National Anthem or said ‘stuff this for a game of soldiers’ and made a mad dash for the exits at the first sign of the swelling chords of the closing theme music), whilst pubs were obliged to close at 10.30pm.  Not for us the languid discussion, stretching into the early hours, of the night’s entertainment over a pastis and Gauloise like our continental cousins.  Oh no, in my case it usually involved a sprint in the driving rain up Guild St. to the Transport Club, arriving wet-through and weary at 10.25pm.  The languid discussion would usually consist (after the downing of the first pint) of:

          “Good film, wannit?”
          “Yeah, fancy another?”


When you’ve only got five minutes in which to cram an evening’s boozing (plus ten minutes drinking-up time) something has to give and, in this case, it was the cut and thrust of intellectual debate and witty repartee (not to mention the pastis and Gauloise).

You can find this, and a lot more like it, in the bumper book of 'nostalgedy' - Crutches for Ducks.