A Eulogy To A T-Shirt

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life of the recently passed away Adidas 2012 London Olympics stripy polo neck t-shirt.

Since its birth in 2012 and adoption into my wardrobe family in September of that year, it has been an almost constant life companion. It has accompanied me to the Caribbean, to both Cuba and St Lucia, and has been on many a European adventure; France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Cyprus.

It has been with me on messy nights out, often trying to soak up as much booze as I did. It’s been with me to the top of cathedrals, and into castle dungeons, serenely wandering through stately homes, and formal gardens. On work days, rest days, and play days. It has seen many a thing that it shouldn’t have, but has never said a mumbling word. And I’m sure anyone who knows me will have seen this on me.

But recently the years have been catching up. Some of the labels have faded away so they are now blank. The main crest and arm numbers have stayed intact and look nearly as good as they did at birth. But elsewhere the sure signs of age and wear and tear have caught up with the poor fellow. Its remarkable shape has started to let go, and it is not just my downsizing that has caused it to become baggier these last six months.  It is losing its cohesion. The coloured lines are now automatic creases, and as they become concertina like, little holes have started to appear as wisps of threads start to fall away.

None of this should be a surprise, it has been on the heaviest of heavy rotation for ten years now. Since becoming mine in the time between watching Richard Whitehead winning the T42 200 meters title in the morning in the Olympic stadium, and Ellie Simmons winning the S6 400 meters freestyle gold in the Aquatics centre in the evening, it has been worn at least once a fortnight ever since. Over 250 days and nights, and the associated washing machine cycles.

Yet, despite this, it is still a sad day where I must admit that the great servant of mine is no longer for this world. And so, with a heavy heart the time has come for me to let go. After deliberation, it is in no state for a second life with someone else via the charity shop route. Nor does unceremoniously dumping it in the bin for it to lie in land fill feel right for it. Therefore, next weekend, ten years on from its adoption, the beloved t-shirt will pass on to the other side in a private cremation service in front of a few friends, with its ashes to be scattered at a future date in an appropriate place. (Yes, in the Olympic stadium all over West Ham fans may be tempting and somewhat appropriate, but it will need a better untainted resting spot).

Thank you for covering (for) me for all these years, you will be sorely missed.

End Of An Era 1 – Atlantic House

Last Tuesday was my last ever day in Atlantic House after just over ten years of working there. It is being closed as part of changes to office locations brought about by the fact most people work from home and have been doing since the original lockdown brought about by Covid-19. I’ve pretty much had the office to myself since we were allowed to go back in July, with a handful of people in some days. There has been somewhat of a feeling like it being the Marie Celeste, and it was no surprise that the office would be closed, the first of three announced so far, and there are sure to be others as we move into 2021.

To be fair the usage of the office had been heading downhill before Covid struck. The teams that were in the office had been downsizing over the previous few years and it was probably only ever at a maximum of half capacity most of the times (apart from Wednesdays, when the world and their wives would descend on the building for team meetings). It was at the kind of level it first was when we moved over there at the back end of 2010 to prepare for the sale of the Networks business after the company had bought British Energy.

Employee Services was of a similar size to what it will be in January, and of those original refugees from Energy House, not a lot survive, I’ve had a good think and only eight of us are still in Employee Services now, there are a couple who were and have moved on elsewhere within HR, and there are others in Employee Services who were employed by the company back then, but there are only the eight of us, half of which work in the team I’m in, and four of them had worked for me when we were in Energy House.

Over the years we have seen the team expand, to the point where we were on two floors, and then after meeting rooms and offices were stripped out of the first floor, we were crammed in taking up the whole of that floor. And then as various projects and reorganisations have taken place, we have shrunk again into a space that was less than half of the floor.

I’ve moved around the first floor quite a bit, but have spent the post lockdown months in a spot where my original desk was when we moved over. I’ve spent time on floor two as well when I was seconded to a very long and tiresome project, after which the reduction of the team could be seen more clearly. And along with the reduction in the team, the dilution of team spirit it took with it became more obvious.

It had used to be a fun place to work, and we did some great team events in the office. 2012 was probably the high point, we had just taken on a whole new team as part of an expansion, and the events came thick and fast during the year. Easter, Queen’s 60th Jubilee, Olympics, Halloween, Christmas, and Charity days. These would always involve dressing up, cake baking, eating, top trumps tournaments and engagement from the whole office. (Well, apart from a select handful of professional miseries, which at that point didn’t include me.) It was a good place to be.

Over the last few years all the fun has seemed to have been sucked out of working. People have been literally told not to talk, not to laugh, and if someone just happens to be smiling it is frowned upon (yes, that was intentional). Fun has come to be forced and therefore actually tiresome.

The teams would go out for social events – Friday night at the Snooty, Bowling, meals, helping hands etc – and it was all good. And as for the Christmas parties, they were legendary. Everything is so buttoned up now, and we don’t really mix outside of work at all now, which is somewhat of a shame.

And now that the office is closing the team will be split even more than they were before lockdown if and when we get back to the office.

There have been a lot of characters that have worked in Atlantic House, some I’m glad to have met, that I’m glad to know, and call acquaintances. Others who have been an utter nightmare and in no way am I sorry that they don’t work there anymore. And even more have been barely tolerated with accompanying eye-rolling (and I’m sure they thought equally highly of me). Some of them were only there for a matter of hours, some will still be working for the company into their nineties. A lot of people have left whilst we have been there, some have had grand leaving dos and great speeches, others went out for lunch and never came back (this seems especially prevalent in payroll).

I’ve been working at this office for about twenty percent of my life and there are a lot of good memories from it, and some big life events have taken place whilst I’ve been working there, and there is a part of me who is going to miss the office. The rest of me just wants a lottery win so I don’t have to commute to a new office.

The Brook

The Brook, or The Stream, that’s what we called it. We never knew it had a proper name. It does, but I only found out as an adult and examining maps, that it’s called the Melton Brook. All we knew was it was a great place to play. And over the years we played in and alongside its course. All the way from where it came out of the industrial estate on the Barkby Road and under the railway bridge into the top of Rushey Mead, down to where it went under the footbridge at the end of Cuckoo Woods and joined the River Soar.

Under and over its eight bridges along that stretch (then), or across the stepping stones in several places. Wading through it in wellies, falling in at various points, sliding down its banks and generally having it form a big part of childhood. I’m going to try a take my memory for a trip along it.

I’m going to start at the railway, where the brook funnelled through a black brick, almost circular, tunnel. It ran down the middle and left either side dry enough to walk (or run, or cycle) along. We never went any further upstream into the industrial estate, just under the bridge and back again, or back up the embankment on the other side and across the train tracks.

When I revisited this spot last year I found it is now securely fenced off and the surrounds are all overgrown, leaving no way to make it down to the water anymore. Much safer than when we had been kids dicing with death on the railway. Something we did for years, and that we only really gave up after the evening the transport police turned up, and arrested one of my friends for throwing stones in the general direction of a passing train. We’d only just avoided being hit by a train earlier, so should have expected the transport police to show up. They took everyone else’s names and drove our friend off. It was a fair trek back from the railway to home, but the transport police’s car was still outside my friend’s house in the next street when we got back. Ten of us crept up to the corner and peered round into St Michael’s Avenue in a cartoon style scene, and ran off when we saw the transport police car there.

From the railway there was a short open stretch, strewn with rocks and bricks, before the brook went underground for a long stretch under the end of Roseneath Avenue before popping out on the far side of Peebles Way, the longest of its bridges along its course. Even as a child it was difficult to make it all the way through that stretch. It was low and uneven, hot and tiring. I did it once, just to say I’d done it, and left it at that. Others did it multiple times, but surely no one enjoyed doing it.

Back in the open the next stretch of the brook was hardly ever travelled. It only had narrow overgrown banks on either side as it ran behind the houses on Huntsmans Way and Roseway on one side and Strathmore Avenue, Glenmore Road and Kerrysdale Avenue on the other before it went under another bridge under Gleneagles Avenue. No one bothered with this section as it didn’t really go anywhere. It was awkward to traverse and at the far end there were only two choices; climb over the high wall onto Gleneagles Avenue, or stoop and trudge through the brook under it. Neither of which were appealing; or done very often.

Bizarrely, the wall on the other side of the bridge was used quite a bit more. Probably because it led to the open ground of the playing fields of Soar Valley school, and the Rushey Fields beyond. There was a path along the north bank, under the trees at the back of the houses on Gleneagles Avenue which led to the bike sheds of the old school. The south bank wasn’t complete. There was a little island just over the wall, but then there was a storm drain outlet before a path ran down the side of the fenced off little copse before opening up into the park. The entrance to the storm drain was too big to jump across, and although the entrance to the storm drain was very shallow, the actual storm drain itself was fences off with metal railings, mainly to prevent little brats like us exploring up it.

Nowadays this whole section is properly fenced off and very much private school grounds. Back when we were kids it wasn’t, there was no fencing, just the posts that should have held it, and we all used it as an extension of Rushey Fields. At the corner of the field where the brook came out there was the first set of stepping stones, making it easy to cross there and a good spot for fishing with little nets and jars.

Further down, where the bike sheds were on the north, and before the gym on the south was another occasional set of stepping stones. A steeper bank and trickier crossing meant it wasn’t used as much. At one point there were a couple of purloined planks across the brook there, but they didn’t last long before they broke and tipped someone into the brook. Besides there were a plethora of other crossing points close by.

There was the wooden and steel bridge which crossed between the main school building and the gym, crossing over the brook, but under the first floor walkway that connected the buildings. Underneath the bridge was another set of makeshift stepping stones, and also crossing the brook under the bridge was a thick black pipeline. This could be used to hang off and shimmy across the brook. However being fat and low on arm strength meant trying this way just ended up with me in the water. I wasn’t the only one to fail this method of crossing.

From there it was a ten second sprint to the next bridge. The concrete road bridge over to the gym and tennis courts (and later the all-weather court). This was the sensible crossing back then, the one used when going to church at Our Lady’s, the least muddy route in winter. Underneath this bridge was another ever changing set of stepping stones. It was funny that the proper bridges had stepping stones underneath them all, set up in the places where you didn’t need them to cross over the brook.

The school as it was then doesn’t exist anymore. We played on its grounds more than most of the kids who went to the school. Hide and seek all around the buildings; siting on the top of the blue fire escape next to the oil tanks and space rocket chimney; scrabbling under the mobiles, and playing football in the little concrete five-a-side court next to the brook.

I can remember playing football on the grass on both sides of the brook, and how the little rise up to the bank on either side didn’t ever stop the football from going over the top and down into the water. It meant you lost five minutes playing time, first of all arguing over who should retrieve the ball, and then actually trying to get it out of the brook without getting wet, and laughing at the failures.

We wondered what they were doing when they ploughed up the field to the south side to lay the all-weather pitch. We were there, playing on the ‘slag heaps’ of various aggregates they’d piled up before laying the strange black surface. And of course when it was locked we’d climb over the fence to play in there anyway.

There was a salutary tale on this stretch of the person ‘someone’ knew who tried to jump the brook on their motorbike only to come off and break their neck. It was told many times, but it was always vague as to what their name was and who it was that knew them.

Both sides of the brook were actually part of school grounds, and the border between Soar Valley and Rushey Mead was somewhat lax. On the south it was a banked piece of ground, and to the north, a lesser bank, but a row of trees and bushes with occasional gaps in them. At the border there was another well used (even in winter) path down the banks of the brook, and more stepping stones across the brook.

Before I left Leicester in 2001 this crossing had been made into a bridge, with a foot/cycle path along it joining up Rushey Fields to Gleneagles Walk between the two schools.

The raised section from here to Melton Road saw more football being played over the years. I played occasional Sunday league games on the south side. Where, even as adults we argued over who would get the ball back out of the water. (Or, if we were lucky someone had a large fishing net on an extendable pole to fish balls out.)

As the brook got close to Melton Road the banks got steeper to the point where for the last ten yards or so they became brick walls. Just before it went under the road the brook widened out to twice the width of anywhere else along its course, and therefore normally the shallowest. It narrowed as it went under the road and came out at its usual width on the other side.

This whole section is now surrounded by the new Rushey Mead school buildings, and as properly fenced off as its Soar Valley counterpart, and as such impossible to get at.

Although the clearing under the road wasn’t as low, or as long as the one at Peebles Way, it felt a more difficult journey to make. All kinds of random junk was strewn along its length, and the sound of the heavy frequent traffic over the top of your head was unnerving. I did it a couple of times as a kid, and then after an afternoon of drinking in The Owl & The Pussycat I did it as an adult and it seemed a lot worse than when I’d done it as a kid. Being two feet taller wouldn’t have helped.

Once over (or under) the Melton Road we come to the only truly open bit of the brook left now. To the south is The Owl & The Pussycat, at one point my local in the sense of time spent there, if not quite the closest pub to home (the Melton Hotel just edged it). I remember it being the Herald of Peace before that, and being woken to go and see Santa’s sleigh there one December in the seventies.

You could climb over the wall of the car park / garden of the pub on to the bank of the brook, and if you were determined enough you could force your way along it at the back of the houses on Lanesborough Road, but it was overgrown and hard going even then.

To the north side was the long white boarded side of the Ford dealership, with a little wall outside the wooden boards next to the footpath. Of course, we never used the path where the wall could be walked (or cycled) on. The wall stopped about halfway along the path and was replaced with a chain link fence next to the allotments. When I say halfway, I mean between Melton Road and Cuckoo Woods.

Now, I’m not sure if that was ever their official name, but my parents called them that, and all the other kids did as well.

I walked down this whole section with my other half a couple of years ago on a trip back to Leicester a couple of years ago, and I was shocked by how little water there was in the brook, and how overgrown it was. It looked more like marsh land than running water.

At the edge of the woods there was a brick wall, which had a little collapsed (probably destroyed and removed) gap in it into the woods. To the side was a metal and concrete narrow footbridge over the brook. Underneath the bridge were more stepping stones, and this spot under the narrow bridge was the most popular spot for trying to fish for minnows and sticklebacks using the little nets we’d buy from the toy shop on the corner of my street (that’s now Ashoka). (I’ve racked my brains again to try and remember the name of this toy shop on a few occasions now, so if anyone can remember that would be great.)

Across the bridge was a footpath off to the end of Lanesborough Road / start of Bath Street. Veering off and following the south bank was another footpath that headed down to the river. No one was ever interested in taking that route, why would they be when they could go through the woods.

An old five feet high brick wall marked the boundary with a gap through to the woods. Originally it was just a boundary, and then when they fenced most of the woods off, it was a great place to climb up, shuffle along and drop down on the other side of the fence into the main part of the woods. (Or to get past the chain-link fence into the allotments to go rhubarb scrumping.)

I sat on that wall with a new pair of binoculars, testing them out whilst a teenager. I found out that if I looked straight down the path back to Melton Road with them, it was a direct line across the Rushey Fields, up Wyvern Avenue and to the Barkby Road railway bridge. At full magnification I could see people’s faces as they came under the bridge. Which I thought was great, although not really much use for another twenty years and mobile phones for all.

Even before they fenced most of the woods off, our parents would always tell us not to go into Cuckoo Woods by ourselves. Which of course we ignored. Yet they never had any issue with us playing around the brook (only with us falling in).

I was only about eight when a group of us went into the woods only to find a tramp there. He started to shout at us and made a grab for one of us, and at top speed we ran out of the woods, up the path, past the pub and across to the police station next to Rushey Fields, where we all excitably talked at once about the “monster” in the woods. We were accompanied home only to get a rollicking for being in the woods in the first place.

When the metal fence went up it wasn’t really a deterrent to us not to go in. As kids we didn’t understand the potential danger; how it was done as there was subsidence danger due to the sewerage works next to the woods. We’d seen the various pits in the woods, but they were something to play around and not fall in and get muddy feet. We could get in using the wall at one end, and then get out at the other end under or over the fence as it was offset going up the bank to the river.

For most of the path through the woods you couldn’t even see the brook, but just about halfway through the woods was a clearing, a big dusty (or muddy) shallow bank down to the brook, with a massive tree to one side. This tree had various attempts at a rope swing hanging down from it over the years. It was just rope, or it had a branch through it, or at really good points a tyre hanging off it. We would try to swing over to the far bank (failing most of the time with a big splash), or to just swing out over the brook and make it back to the starting point.

The clearing was no longer there when I was back there a couple of years ago, and there is no gap through to the overgrown brook from the woods.

And then we are at the river. The brook passes under a final concrete and metal footbridge similar to the one at the other end of the woods, and is carried away by the River Soar.

There was never an easy way down to the brook at this point, corrugated iron formed the bank, and so we would have to climb over the metal railing of the bridge and then lower ourselves into the brook, and then tentatively edge out to find where the brook ended and the river started.

I can conclusively say I know where it ends, as it’s a hell of a lot deeper when it becomes the river. My mental walk down the brook has brought back a lot of memories, of which what’s been put in here only scratches the surface. It was a lot of fun at the time and it is a shame to see so much of it now fenced off, or overgrown and neglected.

A Trip Down Memory Lane – Leicester

Actual Leicester street sign, on the base level stones of St. Mark’s Church (now Empire Banqueting Rooms)

The full blog isn’t going to appear here. It goes on for over 24,000 words, and has 240 photos in it. I broke it down into 20 smaller pieces and posted them all on my Medium account. The list below names the parts and has the links through the the posts. If you do click through to Medium, don’t forget the applause button on the pages, you can click on that as many times as you like.

Part 1 – Getting There and Getting Started

Part 2 – Rushey Mead

Part 3 – From Gipsy Lane to Melton Road

Part 4 – Cossington Street to St. Mark’s

Part 5 – Old Belgrave

Part 6 – Around My Old Home

Part 7 – Evington and Beyond

Part 8 – Victoria Park and The New Walk

Part 9 – Winding Back to the Hotel

Part 10 – What Used to be Here?

Part 11 – 3 Old Churches and a Wall

Part 12 – From West Bridge to Western Road

Part 13 – Liberty, Dykes, Tigers and Art Deco

Part 14 – The Castle to The Cathedral

Part 15 – Guildhall to Granby Street

Part 16 – Charles Street to Bed

Part 17 – Richard III and Grandparents

Part 18 – Old Aylestone and Graves

Part 19 – Knighton Day to Queens Road

Part 20 – End of the Road (Trip)

The whole piece is a mixture of my memories and actual history of the places in the photos.