It seems I’m not the only one with poignant thoughts about you. I’ve been gone for 25 years. For most of that time I’ve been slightly ashamed to mention you to people who might know my lowly roots. Your self esteem had been dented from a prosperous shoes town of the thirties to a place in the eighties with empty factories. You were always too big to be chocolate box charming and too small to be grand or have anything interesting. Nobody aspired to live in Barwell. It was a place to aspired to leave, not to join.
I left and tasted olives and shell on prawns. I became ‘better’ than those I left behind. I no longer read the tabloids that I’d delivered on my paper rounds on the council estates from Bob Pegg’s newsagent. Bob left too – Vancouver Island! We were the real dreamers though. We didn’t just dream of detached houses of Burbage and of joining Hinckley Golf Club. No, we knew there was a sophisticated world out there: Universities, foreign languages and food that wasn’t deep fried.
But I now look back, as many my age do, with fondness. The lack of pretentiousness in the people, the neighbourly values, the white dog shit on the pavements. We never looked up when we walked.
Shilton road was your main road but was not a Barwell place. Large detached houses with views. It wasn’t for Barwell folk. Queensway was your real heartland. Private semis and council houses. When I was young I never knew the difference between the two. I didn’t even know class existed. It was a true classless society. You lived in Barwell and went to Newlands and we were all the same. There was one difference though. The children with only one parent. that was rare in those days and you could tell. The was something slightly edgy about them and I could tell. I felt sorry for them.
Amongst the streets we walked for hours were places more adventurous and exciting: The Crog and the walk to the back of Dawson’s lane, The Second Brook and Watery Gate which was technically Shilton so wasn’t ours.
We were a satellite town of Hinckley and we didn’t need to go further. Everything was there, three miles away. Nuneaton was a special trip and I went to Leicester once a year. I had never been to the centre of Coventry in my life when I was 18. Coventry was 12 miles away. Barwell and Hinckley provided my with everything I needed. Hinckley had an Asda. Asda was enough.
Despite my arrogance and aloofness towards you Barwell I was accepted and loved because I was a Barwell boy. My mum ran the library so everyone knew her and, therefore, me. Scores of elderly people would chat to me and ask how I was even though I didn’t know who they were. People of Barwell care for each other but do they care for you? Did we use and abuse you because you were functional and not pretty? We never did ‘Barwell in Bloom’ and we laughed at the postcards in the Post Office.
But you don’t care about our indifference because you’ve been there long before us and will be long after us. Your rolling hill won’t be mined away like Bardon Hill. The factories will get knocked down, the water tower won’t last for ever but you will still be there, looking out into space, knowing it once came to visit in the form of a meteorite.
What you did for me Barwell was make me classless and for that, I’m grateful. I don’t need to be with rich or educated people to feel at ease. I still love a cheese cob and rough and ready pub. Perhaps this is just my age. Perhaps, having travelled a far bit of the world, I now know Barwell is no better or worse than anywhere else. What makes it great is that most don’t leave. It has Barwell people and Barwell values. It has an accent, it has quirky words. We calls Asda ‘The Asda’ because it was more than a supermarket, it was an event, a phenomena, a passage in to the 21st century.
I walked a lot, I under-achieved, I wasn’t popular, I was bullied, I was constantly told how awful Barwell was. I was too insecure to seek love, too incompatible to find it in Barwell. But you were by my side. Every step of the way. You didn’t judge or seem to care for that matter. But you were there. You will always still be there. I have not been there for twelve years now. But you are still there. I look more on Facebook as time goes by to see the Barwell faces. I want to go to a reunion, I want to go back. I want to take it in now as, when I did live there, I never took time to stand and stare.