We enjoy having a saunter down to the Ryton hot spots every now and then. Our strolls usually begin with a visit to Bet Fred, or as we like to say, “Let’s go and see Lisa.” Bet Fred has a painted over window which means that Lisa receives no warning of the impending doom that is Heather and I trying to place bets. I’m sure she must think; “It’s those two numpties again,” but nevertheless she’s very tolerant as she explains how to fill out the football forecasts for the tenth billion time this season. Often we borrow some little blue pens and adjourn to Coffee Johnny’s to peruse the Racing Post, and then occasionally we call into the Ryton Hotel.
Venturing into Ferndene Park always places me into reminiscing mode. Is there anyone living in Ryton of my generation who wasn’t taught to swim by Ernie Brodrick? I doubt it. I hark back to halcyon Sundays when we would go down to the tennis courts because Wimbledon was on, then we’d never touch a tennis racket again until the following June. There was the pitch and put, the huge cage with all those budgies, and who remembers the little sweet kiosk opposite the bowling green? It was a regular port of call after we’d been swimming to buy ice creams that were in a spherical plastic container. When you’d finished eating the ice cream the lid fitted back on and you had yourself a mini football.
The main attraction of course was the swimming pool. I used to love going there when it was raining because then I always got the pool to myself. I never understood the logic of others regarding this; surely once you’re in the pool you’re wet anyway? It was always bloody freezing and I used to get dried standing on a stool at the bottom of the ladies’ changing rooms so that my wet hair was immediately below the wall mounted fan heater. Health and safety hadn’t been invented then. On one of my solo visits to the pool I was joined by a woman who talked to me in a way which I now realise was inappropriate. Ernie heard her and her feet didn’t touch the ground. She was bundled out still in her swimming costume, dripping wet and clutching her clothes.
I took Heather down to the Holy Cross Church to show her the graves of my grandparents and great grandparents. My uncle is buried alongside having been killed playing rugby for Ryton. He didn’t die on the pitch but passed away some days later because of a nasty head injury. No antibiotics unfortunately. I think about these relations and what the world must have looked like as they were laid to rest, and wonder what they’d make of it now.
There was Cheshire’s shop too, a wondrous emporium to a kid, I’d buy my toy cowboys there. I would only buy the ones sitting on the brown horses, because the black horses were made so that they kept falling over. I vowed to do something about it when I grew up. Mr and Mrs Cheshire had an array of different toys, and fireworks every November. Dunn’s paper shop stocked fireworks too, as well as the Beano, Dandy, and Cor. Finally, Audrey Whites, supplier of coats, dresses and most importantly – Ladybird vests.