21 Market Place

Saturday Girl

by Lynn Hawthorne

She hated this job. She knew that it kept her in tights and sanitary towels and eased the family budget, having so many younger brothers and sisters, but she hated it all the same. She’d been so excited to travel by bus on her own from Walsall to Wednesbury and go for an interview at Woolworths in Market Place. She’d walked through the doors of the imposing old frontage and seen all the counters full of interesting stuff, but she’d been intimidated by the manageress, who’d been stern and fired questions at her.

On her first day, the bus had been late and she’d missed the quarter-of-an-hour stocking up time on the shop floor before the doors opened promptly at nine. That hadn’t gone down well and the vagaries of public transport continued to be a problem throughout her time there. It was out of her hands.
She was hoping for an interesting job, but soon realised there was a pecking order and the ‘better’ jobs went to the longest-serving Saturday Girls. The closer to the front door you were, the more glamorous the job.

Mary was on the record counter up the corner and along the wall. She got to choose what to play all day - until John Lennon died and she was ordered to play his solo hits on repeat - and she had great fun talking to all the customers, mainly young men who came in to flick through the latest releases.

Trish was on the sweets counter, two huge shelving units recently pushed together rather than having a central aisle from which to serve. She had to run round from side to side to operate both tills, but she knew the regulars and their habits and often had their orders ready-bagged under the  counter to save time. 

Sharon was a full-time member of staff and threw her weight about looking after children’s clothes. The girl caught her at times holding up the baby clothes and looking wistfully at them before carefully folding them or putting them on tiny little hangers. Sharon didn’t have a boyfriend, let alone a husband, so it would be some time yet before she would be buying such items.

And what did the girl get? Paint! That’s what she got: DIY around the corner at the back of the store, illuminated only by small windows high in the wall and unseen when customers first arrived. She had to go up in the rickety old service lift with heavy metal doors to the creepy stockroom on the first floor to get new stock. She had to load a trolley full of heavy tins of paint and her arms ached at the physicality of the work. She scratched her hands on rough sandpaper and caught her knuckles on chisels and hammers and hated it all. This was no fun for a 15-year old.

Back on the sales floor, Trish’s boyfriend had come in to find out which lunch break she was on so they could meet at The Salonica. The manageress took exception to his long hair and general appearance, so she often used to change the rota after he’d gone. 

The manageress caught the girl eavesdropping and once punished her by sending her to the stockroom with a bucket soapy water and a brush to scrub the wire shopping baskets clean.

By the time she’d finished, the store had closed and it was Tidying Up Time. Another 15 minutes of pointless exercise in her opinion. If only she could go now, she’d catch the 5.40 bus, instead of waiting ‘til after six to share the journey with drunks and football fans.

She was lonely. It was not at all what she’d expected. She couldn’t wait to leave school, get a proper job, and become visible at last. 

The Pied Wagtail

Union Street, Wednesbury. February 2021

by Lynn Hawthorne

The Pied Wagtail touched down on the herringbone pavement, spreading his claws and bobbing his tail. The delicate black and white plumage almost disappeared when contrasted with the salt-stained pavement, the recent snow having left its mark.

He was completely unnoticed by shoppers.

His tiny eyes scanned the scene. He stood apart from the queue at the mobile catering unit, considering whether or not he might get crusts scattered from samosas. He thought it unlikely, as buyers scuttled away clutching carrier and paper bags, taking them to their houses to share, but not with him.

Having drawn a blank, he hopped over to the benches set at angles. He knew that people rested there, often with paper bags decorated with blue print. Crumbs from sausage rolls and pasties would litter the ground and his speed and agility meant that he could beat the gathering pigeons to the treats, especially if he waited under the bench, just out of kicking reach of shoes and boots.

Pickings were slim on this bitterly cold day, as few humans lingered long. With so many shops shuttered and closed, there weren’t many people about at all. This puzzled the little bird, as it was usually so busy. His tail bobbed several times as he weighed up his options.

A sudden urge to take flight took him further down the street, which narrowed. He landed deftly and skipped between pavement and sunken road, avoiding the sloping sides that seem to catch out so many elderly humans. There had been falls and ambulances called. The flashing lights and crowds of morbid onlookers disturbed him on these occasions. There was never any thought for him and it was down to him to escape injury by moving away. 

A brisk breeze blew up, ruffling his feathers, so he took to the wing once more, this time taking refuge on one of the bars protruding from the street light, black, metallic and cold to the touch. The receding row of lamps stretched towards the sunset and glowing shades of fiery orange and flame yellow showed through the glass lampshades, making them look on fire. 

The humans did not seem to notice this display by Mother Nature. They turned up collars and pulled down hats, heads down as they hurried home. They did not notice the silhouette of the Pied Wagtail, his shape standing out against the deepening colours of the sky.

Darkness was due soon. He could tell by the cobalt blue developing, such a pure colour. The sun was dipping below the horizon and it would be night. No more people, no more chances for easy food.

The street light flickered on and he took flight for the last time that day, to his nest. Still no-one noticed him. 

In Praise of Wednesbury Market

by Suzan Spence

Every time I go there it feels like coming home
When the patter hits my ears I don’t feel alone
The market is the living soul of old Wednesbury town
An afternoon of retail therapy to wipe off any frown.
Customers try to knock pound items down to fifty pee
‘Go ask that fruit ‘n veg’ stall man if money grows on trees’
That brand new dress costs five quid not a measley five pence 
I know it’s not designer gear but have some common sense.
Next they’ll ask if they want to give stuff away for free
The stall costs cash money and the rent man wants his fee
There’s always been a market here since the olden days 
It might change location but it’s the same in many ways
It helped to stretch a poor man’s shilling, halfpenny and a farthing
My pound will go much further now, you’ll always bag a bargain 
There’s bric-a-brac on a Tuesday morning like a giant lucky dip
Stainless steel cutlery to china crockery, it could be worth the trip
My favourite days are Friday, the shoe stall with the fancy slippers
And lots of stalls with lots of clothes for teenagers and the nippers
I hope that in years to come Wednesbury market will become a place of renown
And it’ll still thrive when I’m not alive. The living soul of Wednesbury town 

Wednesbury Market Place

by Mike Maynard

 This is no ordinary street,
 By the clocktower, people meet.
 It has long been a rendezvous,
 for friends, lovers, me and you. 
The clock may not tell the time,
the tower may be covered in grime.
But the tower stands proud and tall,
changing times, it’s seen it all.
The gentlemen, in their top hats
Girls, with their hair in plaits.
The worker in his cloth cap,
the boater on a trendy young chap.
Come, sit on a bench,
right next to that pretty young wench.
Come, pass the time of day,
with a passer-by, that might come this way.
Life will pass you by,
Just say hello or even hi. 
Greet the stranger with a smile,
maybe they will stay awhile?