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South Shields premier political blog

A winter of discontent

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Cleadon Hills, South ShieldsWill South Shields see some snow (and how would we shop for it)?

Tomorrow’s Met Office forecast for the north-east:

Starting dry and chilly before cloud and rain, and snow over high ground, arrives from the south late morning. Then remaining cloudy with spells of rain or hill snow. Maximum temperature 5 °C.

It is unlikely to last and unlikely that we’ll see any in South Shields, and if man made global warming predictions are to be believed then our winters will be warmer and probably wetter as the Met Office has predicted that next year there will be a 50% chance that that global temperatures will hit an all-time high. However it is not my intention to go on a climate change bashing exercise in this post, El Nino is not the cause of my discontent either, but looking back some 30 -40 years to my childhood in South Shields winter was welcomed as a stark seasonal change.

Back then we didn’t have gas fired central heating in the home most of us kept warm around coal fires (even in the doctors’ and railway stations’ waiting rooms), neither did we enjoy some of the fabrics which make make our coats, socks, and shoes these days, in fact a duffle coat and a pair of wellington boots might have been the order of the day for most kids, and ready meals bought at a supermarket ready to radiate in a microwave oven simply did not exist, and neither did the microwave, as mothers skilled in home cooking served up large helpings of soups made from fresh vegetable and left over roasts (prepared with stock using the bones) to warm our bodies. Most children spent many hours out of doors in winter weather that was far different to what we have become used to in recent years, a few days of constant heavy snowfall would blanket South Shields transforming our landscapes and bringing a whole new set of adventures. Despite copious amounts of snow on the lines, trains still managed to carry their commuters from South Shields to Newcastle, often with  ice forming on the inside of the windows, trolley buses managed to get around town with only a few minor mishaps as overhead contacts were lost, schools remained open and all sorts of scrap pieces of wood were collected from the waste that shops were throwing out. It has to be said that some would use the wood to burn on open fires, whilst others with skilled dads could watch as sledges were fashioned by hand, and even the metal bands that were stripped from wooden barrels (that’s how your Lurpack was delivered to shops back then) was cut and nailed to the bottom to make your sledge an efficient runner.

For those without a home made sledge, a bread board was an excellent substitute, upturned its two inch lip could be drilled to accept a rope for rudimentary steering and a place to wedge small feet against as we hurtled down some of the steepest banks in the riverside area of town, places like Reid Street, Bertrum Street, and Barnes Road became treacherous for pedestrians and cars as we wore the snow and ice down to a glass like skating rink guaranteed to upend the unsuspecting! Then there were the posh kids, they had their own shop bought sledges (wooden) bought at Rippons or Clarkes, they could afford bus fare, or their parents had a car, they lived in posh areas like Cleadon Park and Marsden, for them Cleadon Hills or Blackberry Hill on the Coast Road were the preferred destinations of choice. Places that had even more snow than we seemed to have, deep, thick, crunchy on top, but soft below. The sort of snow that dived over the top of your wellies and left you with bright red sore welts at the end of the day, and the likelihood was that your fingers would be the same colour too as woollen gloves or mittens became sodden after forming and throwing so many snowballs, but not to worry, mother would have dragged the “tin bath” from the back yard and boiled copious pans of water to fill it as you soaked in front of the open sitting room fire to thaw out.

Tomorrow, if we suddenly got twelve inches of snow, I wonder just how many kids would (a) be allowed to play outside in it out of sight of parents (b) know how to make a well formed spherical snowball, (c) know how to control a sledge (if they have one), (d) would be accused of anti-social behaviour for throwing said snowballs, (e) know how to make a giant snowman, or (f) know how to drag themselves away from the Xbox 360? (Well after all their future career might depend upon it).

But even these minor moans of a grumpy old man are not the reason for my discontent, forget the fact that children would probably not be allowed to make “slides” in the playground for fear of contravening some inane health and safety regulation, forget the fact that paranoid parents won’t let Mary or Johnny go outside into a world pervaded by paedophiles, forget the fact  that PCSOs and Community Wardens see them all as anti-social yobs these days, forget the fact that diets will be dictated by the multi-national suppliers of Tesco and Sainsburys, but instead think about the so called mini uplift in retailing in South Shields.

We now have a Poundland in King Street and a new chemist shop, and a new fashion retailer for women, but if Mary and Johnny really want to go out and play in the snow how do we prepare for a possible winter of fun?

We still do not have one specialist children’s clothes shop since the demise of Adams in King Street and we haven’t had a specialist toy shop in South Shields of note for many years (Woolworths was the closest we could manage), if you really wanted to buy a wooden or plastic sledge these days you would have to jump in the car and get out out of South Shields to find one, come to think of it winter wellies for kids would be a problem too. We still need a quality tailor or men’s wear retailer, we need more butchers, we need a specialist giftware shop, an additional soft furnishing retailer, a decent stationer, and a model shop too. That dear friends is the reason for my discontent.

I appreciate the difficulties facing those responsible for rejuvenating the retail experience in South Shields town centre (which is still not helped hugely by its cheaper parking) especially in the depths of this recession, but as units start to become attractive to entrepreneurs we must be encouraging them to risk providing for obvious markets which are no longer catered for here. Shoppers need variety, and that variety helps to stem the drain of revenue to places outside of South Shields, it doesn’t help much by adding to what we already have, we need to be filling the gaps in the market that have been ignored for years. King Street does not need to be populated with phone shops, pound retailers, and charities.

End of rant.

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Written by curly

November 27, 2009 at 11:03 am

2 Responses

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  1. Nice read Curly. We even had coal fires in our school. The teacher would always ensure that the kids without wooly jumpers who only had plimsols to wear ( often without socks ) were seated right near the front. This was the early fifties not the thirties by the way.
    However your halcyon picture of apple cheeked children playing on sledges and slides is a bit too idealistic. You forget to mention the formidable old gannies who would put ashes on your super slippy slide. Also the odd motorist at the foot of Barnes Road and Temple Street bank who would stop the car to administer a clip if you veered in front of him on your sledge. Many a grown up would retaliate to a thrown snowball with a formidable hard packed missile thrown with unerring accuracy. Enough to take your head off.If you dared throw them at the bigger lads on their way home from the shipyards you would get icy snow down your neck or in your face.
    But who is stopping the kids? It’s the mam and dads of today.Not my generation

    I spy

    November 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm

  2. Your final point is very important as well as being correct, seems we have a generation of parents mind controlled by a very negative media.


    November 29, 2009 at 11:18 am

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