I HAVE mixed memories of Dewsbury market from my dim and distant youth.
The Parish Youth Club, in the basement of what is now the Gas Showrooms mosque (not its official title) was a Sunday night fixture for teens.
A mate looking old enough to get served at the Railway pub was a bonus, although I recall guzzling a bottle of Tetley’s Special Pale Ale on the nearby market stalls, which came back up even quicker. Belated apologies to the market cleaners.
Dewsbury’s sole supermarket, the Moneysave, was next door in the now-handsomely restored Machell’s Mill.
I wasn’t in a mood for admiring the Yorkshire stone facade the night when two older colleagues dangled me by my ankles from an open third floor window. (I’d probably been a bit too lippy, a trait that hasn’t discernibly diminished in the ensuing 40-odd years).
As I recall I was the one who got fired for that caper, although you got fired and rapidly re-hired from the Moneysave on a frequent basis.
It wasn’t my first town centre job, because an early morning ride on the 281 bus from Thornhill got you down to the market when the traders were setting up.
A bit of patience earned you a couple of hours’ work unloading vans and filling up the tightly-packed rows of buzzing stalls. If you were dependable and hard-working enough, it could turn into a full-day shift.
I always aspired to (but never got) a job on Ramshaws’ fruit and veg stalls. Crowds would gather to not just shop but be entertained by bits’n bobs salesman Lou and his impromptu auctions.
“I don’t want to sell you one light bulb ladies, not even five light bulbs – I want to sell you twenty light bulbs. And no, not for a pound, not even for fifteen-bob or ten shillings ... who’ll give me half a crown?”
It wasn’t just we council estate kids queuing up for work. Traders came in the pre-dawn hours from far and wide to bag a coveted stall on Dewsbury’s markets.
There were city centres that I’ll bet didn’t sell as many goods, cater for as many needs, as Dewsbury market.
And when it was closed? Youthful snogging sessions on those darkened market stalls while waiting for the last bus home (never fear girls, your secrets are safe!) to an altogether different proposition while having a quick widdle in the public loos – no thanks mate, I can hold my own.
Ah, the things it’s seen and the stories that market could tell!
BUT the town centre wasn’t just the market.
Marks & Spencer and Woolworth’s, the department stores Bickers and J&Bs, three arcades packed with distinctive shops, quality retailers whose family names were part of the town’s heritage like Ward’s in Daisy Hill, Hudsons and so many more.
If you wanted electrical goods it was Wigfall’s as likely as not, you bought your records from Auty’s, the place for a pair of good shoes was Bunnies, and for the real fashionistas who had money to burn Dewsbury had three – count ‘em, THREE – John Laing’s men’s fashion shops.
At Laing’s we teenage boys bought our Harrington jackets, Brutus and Jaytex shirts, ‘Skinner’ jeans and Sta-prest or two-tone trousers … thank the lord photographic evidence is in very short supply.
There was a Laing’s in Northgate, another at the top of The Arcade, and a third on the corner of the ginnel opposite what was the Little Saddle pub.
Pubs? Don’t even get me talking about pubs – but even in our pre-pub teens we had the ABC, Pioneer and Essoldo (aka Classic) cinemas.
Back in the late 70s you could even get a decent curry at the Sharma – it seems unthinkable that all these years on there isn’t even an Indian restaurant in the town centre.
Dewsbury isn’t the only town centre to have been transformed, far from it.
The entire face and shape of the shopping industry had been revolutionised long before the internet came along and added it’s own twist of the knife.
My nostalgic whimsy is not a longing for an impossible return because much of what we see isn’t about Dewsbury, it’s about the 21st century.
You can’t see ‘my’ Dewsbury in the bricks of mortar of today’s town centre. You have to close your eyes and let your imagination picture that totally different time and place.
I’ve written in recent weeks about the reality of Dewsbury town centre and our survey on pages one and five shows a slowdown in decline and slight changes in retail emphasis.
Fewer cheque exchanges and charity shops, more Asian fashion and European/Middle Eastern mini markets. More fast food takeaways fuelling quite literally a customer base known to be plagued by both obesity and diabetes.
I’ve said before, any retail environment will ultimately come to reflect the people who use it.
That’s why Dewsbury looks like it does, and why unless different people start being given a compelling reason to use it, the pattern will continue.
Kirklees Council can’t be entirely blamed for that, nor well-meaning councillors.
But it has happened on their watch and what does anger me is their absolute failure to tackle the absentee landlords and owners of eyesore properties.
Have they even tried? We’re all ears, folks.
The way Kirklees Police has abandoned the town to the foul-mouthed mercy of the drunks and addicts who litter the centre of town is literally a criminal dereliction of their duty. A disgrace, by any measure.
But if the town has at least stemmed the empty-shop decline, and is showing life via groups like the Dewsbury Pioneers, the Dewsbury Partnership and the lottery-funded Northgate initiative, then I am brought sadly back to my old friend the market.
Far from there being queues for stalls, you could take your pick of entire rows now. All the butcher’s shops near the old Moneysave are gone. Most of the fishmongers.
On the main covered market hardy perennials like Cross’s and Wilcocks’ butchers, Eric Roberts, Toffee Smith’s, Ken’s fruit and veg, Oliver’s too, and a handful of stalwarts endure in hearty good spirit.
More power to their elbows.
But large parts now resemble a south Asian street market, with one distinction – none of the volume and variety you’d get there.
Now it’s just row upon row of same-same Asian fashion, roll upon roll of fabric for making the same … and here and there, an occasional familiar face, a relic of those good old days.
It’s such a shame.
I IMAGINE that if I ever saw Michelle Obama walking out of Batley Nash, and I ran to give her a hug, that what was left of me to throw into the Dewsbury Moor crematorium ovens would have more holes in it than Blackburn, Lancashire.
(Any young readers not ‘getting’ that reference need to complete their educations by learning The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album off by heart).
The startled look on my expiring face, at having received multiple volleys from the guns of the US Secret Service, would be explained by the email print-out pictured above.
See that? A cool $2.5 million – from the President’s missus, just for me! How very dare they plug me full of more bullets than Geronimo? Me and Barack’s missus, thick as thieves, there in black and white!
And speaking of thieves, can you imagine that the email spammers who pour forth this complete shinola on an hourly basis, 365 days a year, ever get someone to respond? Some idiot must though, otherwise why bother?
It beggars belief that people clever enough to actually switch a computer on and run an email account could be stupid enough to respond to something like that.
Mind you, there must be some seriously stupid people out there – and that’s only referring to an American nation that can narrow its choice for president down to a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Not that we Brits have much room to talk. I wouldn’t trust Jeremy Corbyn to carry Trump’s suitcase full of Silvikrin hairspray while his pathetic leadership rival Owen Smith continues to plumb the intellectual depths.
Last week Smith wanted to negotiate with ISIS. This week he’s appealing to Labour members to elect him so that he can force a second EU referendum. I’m not sure how he’d do that from the opposition benches, but someone should have a word in his ear.
Who does he think old fashioned Labour voters backed in the referendum? Doomed, Cap’n Mainwaring, doooooomed.