I was born and bred in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the eldest of three children. My memories of Ashby itself are snapshots from a time which now seems so old-fashioned that it as nostalgic as a Herriot novel. As a young lad, I was a pupil at North Street Infants School (1964), a delightfully small, Victorian building that still had air raid shelters in the playground. It was in these dank, musty shelters that I had my first kiss. The small size of the school meant that we walked up to the Parish Rooms for lunch, where the blue-haired, rotund dinner ladies would invariably encourage the slower pupils to “Mek Ace, me luv. Mek Ace” to my bewilderment. A bewilderment which meant I walked more slowly only to urge the dinner ladies to reinforce their exhortations.
In the 60s, I remember that Wednesday were half-closing days and that the cattle market across from the Royal Hotel was the alternative entertainment. I remember that in the gardens of the Royal Hotel there was a cage whose reluctant occupant was an old, probably senile, chimpanzee. I remember the game hanging outside Rushtons the Poulters, and that the proprietor had the appropriate name of “Chick”. The Roman style shop was cold and principally populated by salmon, trout, rabbits, hares, pheasants, and sundry species of water foul, all of whom shared one characteristic in common; they were dead and blood dripped from their mouths. Although I do not recall that their flavour was anything other than ‘gamey’. I remember hair cuts at Walter Garrett’s where my hair was cut ‘short, back, ‘n’ sides’, and my ears were cut. I recall Eric the milkman, whose clinking bottles and cheery whistle were the prelude to a long conversation with my Mum. Finally, I remember big Dick Smithard who had a bakery on the Green. He would deliver his own bread so fresh that was still warm and crusty, and always leave marks on the floor from his boots.
In the 70s, I recall wearing a cap and blazer decorated with the Manor House emblem, walking into town with my Saturday sixpence pocket money to the market in the town Hall to buy vanilla fudge. We would visit Woolworth’s with its peculiar mix of wares, look in Holdron’s window, and go to Dan Staley’s the newsagents and buy a comic which consisted of text only – a sort of Times newspaper 4 Kidz. And a Saturday, like every weekday, would culminate in a short cut across Bill Gardener’s beloved pride and joy, the cricket square of the Bath Grounds. Bill knew my Dad so in my childish head short cuts were Ok, and in Bill’s mind it was sport to come out and shout, “Gerroff the square, young Billy you bogga.” Then I moved. The remaining visits to Ashby have been to tread the paths of my youth. But the Ashby I treasure is long gone, but not for me. In my mind, it’s still quaint, quirky and full of characters, and really rather small.
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