This is the part of town where I grew up, an area where women used to wear headscarves and men flat caps. It was almost a village in its working-class parochialism, with many families having lived here for generations since the start of the industrial revolution, Jukeses and Whitehouses intermarrying with Jinxes and Whittakers.
Headscarves are still popular among the womenfolk, though they no longer cover up curlers. Some cover faces and reach right down to the ground, too. Flat caps have given way to turbans, gaudy rasta hats and back-to-front baseball caps. Some would say this is a melting pot, I would say it’s more like a fruit loaf: still some bread but a lot of different varieties of fruit added. More flavour, more interesting. Third and even fourth generation blacks and Asians, mixed race people and whites all communicate in the shared local dialect and feel the same sense of belonging to the area.
The Indian running the fish and chip shop, where you can also get kebabs, burgers, pies and fried chicken, has the same easy banter as his white predecessor. “Turned cold, ay it?” “Ah, yo’d better put sum curry in the batter ter ‘ot it up a bit.“ Within about 50 square metres there are two fish and chip shops, a pizzeria, a balti house, and a bakery selling sandwiches. No Chinese takeaway, surprisingly, though the pub and its restaurant a short distance away is run by Chinese and offers Chinese cuisine as well as a traditional carvery. The new incomers are from the EU countries of the former East bloc, particularly Poles, and the corner convenience store, run for many years by father and son Pakistanis, now carries Polish specialities alongside its wonderful selection of oriental spices (all from a local producer).
One of the oldest stores on the High Street, a hardware shop that had been in the same family for about a hundred years and had always done a good trade with local diy men, has closed down and its premises have been turned into small retail units and flats. One of these units, its shutters painted a very bright Barbie pink, displays a prominent sign:
Opening soon: Beauty and Cosmetic Salon with Fish Spa.
I wouldn’t have thought that a beauty and cosmetic salon would find much of a market here, but perhaps things have changed more than I realise.
My mind went off at a tangent, as it frequently does, and I envisaged the local ladies munching fish and chips while having their manicures and pedicures – not during a facial, of course. But no, I was assured. The Fish Spa is a special pool where you soak your feet while little fish nibble away at your corns and calluses, leaving the skin baby fresh and pink.
Ron next door, a man of wit, claims that when the fish get fat they will be sold to the Chinese pub managers, who will sell them as deep-fried whitebait. “And then,” says Ron, “You can pay to eat your own feet.”