Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane

THERE was life before the invention of the mobile phone ... but it didn’t amount to much.

Hands up, that quote is a direct steal from the late, great John Betjeman. Just substitute “mobile phone” for “Coronation Street.”

He was a fine Englishman who made films and penned books about everything he believed good about English life.

Hands up for a second time. My mobile came out of the ark and I NEVER use it. I don’t need it.

Going about my everyday life it’s obvious that the mobile is the No1 vital accessory. Sit in a coffee house and half the people have one glued to their ear. When I managed to eavesdrop – naughty, naughty – I seldom hear anything interesting.

Just things like “Our Pearl’s had highlights,” “Think I’ll do them microwave sausages for tea” and “Bathroom tap’s stuck again.”

Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all this fairly unnecessary phone babble. It’s just that there’s so many other more interesting things to do, like people watching, concentrating when you cross the road, appreciating the local scene and – most important thing of all – thinking about all the good things in life.

Sitting in the theatre, the interval curtain descends and in two seconds hundreds of mobiles are lighting up. Same when people sit down on the bus or in the cafes.

Not long ago, a phone using teenager get on the train in Manchester and she was still wittering on when she got off at Wigan. I don’t want to be curmudgeonly on this subject. The truth is ...I am.

COMPARED with long-ago yesteryears, we don’t know we’re born. We don’t.

Are people living in rat-infested hovels in Wigan? No. Are kids in numbers dying in infancy? No. Are any Wiganers starving. No.

You can talk about the recession until the cows come home, but we live in a Wigan of plenty.

I can say this with utter confidence and conviction after dipping into some reports on mining conditions (Queen Victoria was horrified) back in the 1840s.

The descriptions have the power to bring terrible human images to mind. Like the child who went to the pits still wearing his “bed gown”.

Here’s what some said:

Henry Jones: “I am the youngest in the pit except Jack Jones. I am aged 11 and have been six years down the pit. I’m a right little one and I never see dayleet for weeks on end.”

Mary: “When I was nine my father, not finding me any work above ground, took me and my seven year old brother down the coal pit with him. We put our strength to the task of dragging coals from the workmen to the mouth of the pit.

“Then one day, I saw my father killed by a shower of stones falling on his head and I watched my mother go insane when they brought her the news.”

Betty Harris: “I am a drawer in a coal pit. Drawers drag the wagons behind them, when the roof is too low for the horses to be used.

“I have belt round my waist and I go on my hands and feet. The road is very steep. Sometimes it is very wet and sometimes it has been up to my thighs.

“I have drawn until I have had my skin off me. I had a child born in the pit and I brought it up the pit shaft in my skirt. It was born the day after I married.”

As I said at the beginning of this piece, “We don’t know we’re born.”

IT was a day for spotting stars.

The scene – Wigan North Western Station. Only a handful of us waiting for the 10.09 to Euston. But on the opposite platform, a couple of hundred locals en route to once again sample the delights of Blackpool.

I spotted Sherrie Hewson (who has a house in Wigan), quietly reading the paper in the buffet. She always looks particularly attractive.

Then, as she was making her way along the platform, one of the Wigan lads bawled out at the very top of his voice: “JOYCE TEMPLE SAVAGE.”

For those not in the telly know, that’s the name of the woman she plays in Benidorm. And plays it well.

The shouter waved like mad, but I doubt if Sherrie heard. Then on the train, Cannon and Ball were more than willing to chat to fans.

In Big London Town itself, Suzie Blake (formerly Coronation Street and those Victoria Wood shows) was keeping busy keeping several youngsters safe from the traffic.

Talk about seeing stars.