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Memories of growing up in Formby in the Seventies

My son, now in his late forties, was recently home for a few days. He has lived in London for nearly thirty years, but retains a deep affection for Formby and his many friends here. He is very interested in my Bubble columns and suggested talking to me about growing up here in the Seventies. It was quite a revelation listening to his child’s view of Formby during his Junior School years.

His most vivid memories are sounds and smells. We lived in a long straight road, and many noises came slowly from one end and on to the other. There was the clip of horses’ hooves both from the coalman’s cart which delivered to the cottages opposite us, and also from the Rag and Bone Man who also shouted out his presence all the way down the road. There was a rattling hand cart pushed by a man who sharpened knives and scissors. At Christmas the Carol Wagon was total enchantment to a child as yet not sated by TV spectaculars. He remembers being a five year-old when he first saw and heard it, catching the distant sounds, and his mounting excitement as Father Christmas came nearer, then running to the gate to watch him disappear down the road having waved his thanks for our offering added to the collection bucket.

He remembers s also the sound of skeins of geese flying over in the Autumn and the crack of Altcar rifle fire on some early mornings, and trains rattling down the line to Liverpool (but not audible going to Southport). Overhead there seemed to be a good many small airplanes which flew from Woodvale.

He sometimes played with a school-friend who lived at Wicks Green and they loved to roam on the open land on the seaward side of Larkhill Lane. It was full of delights especially in spring, with a powerful scent of broom in flower, then of Gorse overlaid with a whiff of the sea. In a hot summer there was also the scent of the pines. He remembers some sort of pool which had been either recently dug or dredged, which heaved with tadpoles in Spring. His overall memory of that time is of huge skies and a feeling of spaciousness. He still feels that sense of space now when he visits, and attributes it to our freedom from the high rise development which can hem city streets in.

His memories of the village centre are mostly limited to the small run of shops opposite the old Post Office which were a magnet for little boys under ten. At the far end was a newsagent who sold (when he could get them) American Marvel comics, which these days are collectors items. For my son it was the start of a lifetime love affair with Marvel publications, which can only be purchased now in specialist shops. There was also a bookshop Phillips Son & Nephew, often worth a quick browse. And then there was the Aladdin’s cave which was Delahunteys. They had shelves full of Action Men and their paraphernalia, the very stuff of dreams. Lastly there was Carolina’s, ostensibly a watch and clock shop, but offering pens, rubbers, and all sorts of quirky little things for a boy with a little pocket money left. His final port of call would be the Bonbon sweet shop, just across the road on the corner of Elbow Lane, where his usual choice was a Sherbert Flying Saucer.

In those pre-charity shop days, he remembers there being a large array of Saturday book stalls. During his teens he bought arms full of books, and at university no-one else seemed to have known anything like the Formby book stalls.

By the time he was nine or ten his territory extended to several newsagents round the edge of Formby such as those on Harrington Road and Queens Road. He and two boys who were near neighbours visited them on their bicycles. They also went to the Post Office in Old Town Lane and Vista Lawn, the garden centre next door to it. At Christmas in particular, Vista Lawn was a magnet if you had any pocket money left. All the outlying small shops had bric-a-brac and bits and pieces worth investigating. At weekends and in school holidays the boys looked for things to do, since daytime TV, videos, DVDs and mobile phones were still things of the future. They were out on their bikes whenever possible, checking out the shops on the edge of their patch, and in the process discovering the dozens of passage-ways between roads, and always looking for more. In fact they explored every nook and cranny of Formby. He remembers riding his bike round Formby and feeling king of all he surveyed, and thinking he could draw an A to Z of all Formby’s little connecting paths and snickets.

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