Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane
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“AS fresh as the moment when the pod went pop” - who remembers the TV advert for Bird’s Eye frozen peas from five decades ago?

Well in many Wigan homes of old, the popping sound had nothing in common with frozen peas. And anyway who had a fridge back then?

No, the popping sound was made by the gas mantle (the gas mantle being the equivalent of the electric light bulb) when it was on its last flickering legs.

It’s impossible for young people today to imagine gas lit homes. Why should they?

But gas lighting had an appeal all of its own. And a unique smell.

I recall the heavy ochre light produced by the faintly hissing gas mantles, their holder having a chain which was pulled to activate the supply.

I’m talking about the days just after the Second World War. It’s true, all the new council houses had electric light at the flick of a bakelite switch.

But many Wigan homes remained unelectrified until the Beatles were top of the pops.

Health and safety was unheard of and houses with gas smelled of ... well gas. I’ve often wondered if the pipes had little leaks. One thing was for sure ... put a plant in a gas-lit house and it would curl up and die.

Only the tough old aspidistra survived, with its depressing deep green leaves managing to survive.

Amazing as it may seen, some isolated homes were still gas-lit in the 1970s.

BLACK bin, blue bin, green bin, brown bin.

When it comes to the bins, it seems I’ve bin – sorry been – naughty. Well, perhaps just a little careless.

Let me hold up my white flag and admit that of late I’m suffering from wheelie bin confusion. Especially in the dead of night when the brown bin looks like the black bin.

I do my best. Goodness knows, when it comes to the refuse I do my level best. But it’s not easy.

Let me say straight away, that until these damned multi-coloured wheelie bins came into horrendous being, the bin emptying process was simple.

How easy when we put rubbish of every kind into the bin. The bin men came to the back of the house, took the bin out, emptied it and then returned it.

Simple? Too darned well right.

Now we are all saving the world by putting different types of refuse in different bins. And lugging them on to the street and back again.

Oh mi back!

Anyway, my night-time carelessness resulted in the brown bin being left un-emptied, and stuck to the lid a note telling me just what to do with my plastic bags.

I could say more but I won’t.

I spent an hour ferreting rubbish from brown bin to black.

Talk about glamorous tasks at No 5.

Give me the old system any day. P L E A S E.

THEY make some cracking films these days. I don’t see them because I recoil at the thought of modern cinemas which leave me cold. Dead buildings.

And anyway, picture-going alone leaves me feeling a bit out of kilter. Don’t ask me why. It may be because I always went with Mrs S.

But I do long for the Wigan picture places where I spent my youthful days half a lifetime ago. More.

I have a feint memory of being taken to the Labour Hall Cinema in Scholes which, records show, closed in the winter of 1955.

In the next half century all but a couple of the dozens of cinemas in Wigan and District would flicker into oblivion.

The book on local picture houses by the late Brian Murphy is a treasure – and he charts the whole history of Wigan cinemas and rightly says most had elements of magic in days before the telly.

Absolutely right.

The Ritz/ABC on Station Road was truly elegant, contrasting with the Empire on Coopers Row in the Market Place was rough around the edges.

The Court Cinema on King Street, which closed in 1973, had been a theatre and there was an organ but it was musically kaput.

Then there was the Palace at the bottom of King Street, the Prince’s off Wallgate, and the County Playhouse were all palaces of delight, full of charm and atmosphere.

And all reeked of cigarette smoke.

All in all Wigan and District had more than 30 cinemas which gave locals a choice of 90 films a week.

Happy days.