Thursday, August 30, 2007

You can go home again, but be prepared

Things that have changed in my hometown since I was a kid:

Northfield Comprehensive School
When I went there in the mid-80s, the school was kinda crumbly. Despite being only ten years old, it was already prone to leaks and subsidence. The language lab had 30-some desks with built-in cassette players and headphone jacks, all of which were broken; the library was little-used and underpromoted; the nets on the cracked, pothole-ridden tennis courts had long been torn down.

I can't say for sure whether the first two issues have been resolved, but hey, who cares? Because now Northfield has a
sports college! With competitive table tennis! And a shiny metal statue!

2) Mad Ken
Every town has a nutter; Billingham had Mad Ken. He'd stand at the rotary at the entrance to the town center, yelling at cars and mailboxes, his hair dyed jet black and slicked back. Sometimes he had an invisible dog with him, which he also yelled at.

I hadn't seen him for years, though I looked for him whenever I was home and walking past his favorite spot. I assumed he'd moved on to a better, more serene place. And then last week, I was round the shops with my mum because the weekly market was on, and she pointed to an elderly man at the fruit stall.

"Look," she said. "Mad Ken. Except he's not mad now."

What? How could Mad Ken not be mad? What did that make him? What did that make me?

So now he's Sane Ken. Or, I guess, just Ken. Regular Ken, buying peaches and strawberries on a Friday afternoon.

3) La Ronde
A fabulous piece of futurist-brutalist architecture, the La Ronde (as it was known) was a nightclub and lounge. Built in the sixties, it was like a concrete UFO. It was apparently quite the glamor spot in its heyday--a place where men wore suits and women wore long gowns--but many years and name changes (Bardot's, Eleanor Rigby's, K2) later, it had become something of a drug den, at least according to local lore.

So, as part of a revitalization plan,
down it came.

Oh, and now it looks so much better.

Thankfully, not everything has changed in Billingham. The town center still has a Woolworth's, and disturbingly cheap department store
Boyes (locally referred to as "Boyzees"), and that somewhat Soviet Glory of the Motherland statue ...



Blogger -mt said...

just had to say that I enjoy your travelogue - and all your writing, actually. It's just that I can't eat most of what you eat. But carry on, the side stories are interesting enough.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Teessider said...

Was just reminded of Mad Ken as we drove past his roundabout. A character and a Billingham legend.

Wasn't it the early eighties when you were at Northfield? I was there with you.

7:38 AM  

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