Thursday, September 9, 2010

Love Barrow-in-Furness?


Barrow seems to get a lot of stick. To hear certain statistics you might be forgiven for thinking it is definitely a no-no place to visit. That is a shame because Barrow-in-Furness is steeped in history, its main streets are wide and well planned and although there may be rows of old terraced housing in large areas, there is a certain charm about them that speaks of old times and neibourliness. Certainly, the many homes that I have visited in the town have been most welcoming. Nineteenth Century buildings and large park, speak of the civic pride when industrial Barrow had it heyday.

The Shipworks can be viewed from different angles. The view from Walney Island is quite splendid. So too, looking across from the promenade by Morrisons. Sandy beaches on Walney and at Roanhead are not just places to enjoy the sea and sit in the sun. Walney has a gull colony and Roanhead a wild life sanctuary. You don’t have to go far to get a great view of sea and fells with a mountain backdrop. There are plenty of shops in the town centre with supermarkets on the fringes. Plus all the entertainments you would expect from a town this size. The Forum 28 has great shows, plus regular free lectures by outstanding speakers who, at times, come from considerable distances.

When we first came to this area forty-two years ago things were a little different, especially towards newcomers. But since the place has been opened up by decent roads and with movement of people in and out, things have changed. I doubt any pupil would now regard a town a few miles away as being a remote place for their teachers to live, or consider them to be foreigners if they did not have a Barrovian accent.

I can’t say what schools are like now, but the children I taught could be difficult but were mostly a joy.

I still have a piece of paper with the signatures of all the children in the most difficult class of boys I had to teach. (It was the first year that three schools had become united but the Secondary School children taught separately from the Grammar until full integration took place) Would you believe, that class had the unfortunate group name of 3Z!

On the last day of term, which happened to be the last lesson on a Friday, these boys came in without a sound and sat down with their arms folded. Fearing they were up to something, I looked each one in the eye. ‘All right, what’s going on?’ I asked.

Silence and then, after a minute, the most sensible one said, ‘Please, Miss. This is our last day with you. We have all decided to be well behaved.’ With a balled fist, he gave a quick glance at the others and said, ‘Or else…’

They were fantastic. No teacher could have a better present. During the lesson I saw a piece of paper being passed around. Oh dear, what were they up to? It was brought to my table.

‘Please, Miss. We don’t think you will want this… suppose you’ll throw it away. But we want you to have it just the same.’

I read what was on the paper and nearly wept. Each boy had signed the paper. It was like a signature to a beautiful painting. That painting being the memory of lads controlling all their natural end-of-year exuberance to make my last day with them memorable.

After twenty-eight years since taking early retirement (to move on to another career, partly in Barrow), my thoughts of the place are not twisted by some of the unfriendliness received by a handful of people who had never been further than the beach (unless travelled by train and plane to a Spanish beach!) but by working alongside ordinary people over a number of years.

Before we moved up to the Furness area, people thought we must be crazy. They viewed Barrow as the end of a cul-de-sac, which was at the end of the earth! At that time the dreadful roads might have suggested it. But roads, like Barrow, have improved. I can’t join the ‘I love Barrow’ badge wearers, but I do respect the town and its people. If social problems exist in large numbers it is hardly surprising with rapid changes taking place in industry. Like everywhere else, they will be ironed out. With the whole of the Lake District National Park on its doorstep, and so much to see locally, Barrow has much to offer any tourist — or someone coming to work in the area,

I often wondered what happened to those boys.

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