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Memories of Bilston
Shale's Shop Window
by Geoff Roberts

We lived in Villiers Avenue, just opposite the tennis club. I don’t really know if it’s still there but we would often play when we had the chance. We spent more time in the ‘shrub’ though, a small area of cultivated trees backing on to what I suppose was a very old tip of some sort. This area was magic to us and became the scene of many heroic contests some of which lasted for days when the school holidays were around. The battles were small scale because generally there were only three or four of us but what we lacked in scale and numbers we made up for in imagination and sheer bravery! 

Even heroes had to have some sustenance despite the pitiful conditions of war and so, every now and then we’d succumb to the pangs of hunger and thirst and take our pocket money to the local shops. Now at the bottom of Villiers Avenue was a large square with a pub in the middle of it, aptly named the Villiers Arms, On one other side was a parade of shops and I can remember a Co-op, a dress shop I think and also a grocers’. This shop was grandly titled ‘A.E. Shale - Grocer’ in gold letters on a brown background. I’d like to say that it was a sort of ‘open all hours’ shop rather like the shop in the TV series of that name, but it wasn’t. Shale’s kept regular hours including a lunch hour and a half day closing on Thursday too, and that was a major stumbling block for a hungry and thirsty battalion needing sustenance and liquid mid –way through a battle to save the free world from the enemy hordes. (the propriety of current times forbids from naming the enemies but I think you can probably guess!). 

Shale’s was not only a sub-post office but also sold just about everything else, so Mr. Shale got plenty of trade and to quote a well known phrase ‘he knew how to charge’ too! The post office was the clincher of course because “Shaley” as he was known, distributed all the local old age pension and dole money hence the shop must have been a little gold mine, that is to everyone except Mr Shale who, according to his opinion had a hard and mostly unproductive life! To us, Shale’s was always the second port of call for sweets after the off-licence section of the pub. The pub was a place of secrecy and strange smells, of loud language and forbidden habits and it also had a much better selection of sweets! However there were some days when Shale’s just had to do because licensing hours meant that the number one choice was closed! 

Mr. Shale was middle-aged, short and wore glasses. He was always dressed in a shirt, tie and his grocer trademark, a brown coat. He didn’t much like us kids but to see him fawn over our mums’ when they were buying in the shop you’d have thought him a paragon of customer service! My mum didn’t like Shale’s much and preferred to use the co-op when she could because of course the Wolverhampton and District Cooperative Society as it was then, gave everyone of its shoppers a dividend, or ‘divi’ for shopping. The divi was a small yellow ticket carefully completed at the end of the purchase by the shop assistant and then handed to the purchaser. You had to have a ‘divi’ number of course to identify you and to this day I can still remember ours…34227! I never quite found out quite what the dividend brought to us, but my mum was convinced that it was the reason she shopped there. 

As kids of course the war games we played involved weapons of all types. A favourite was the grenade, which was easily mimicked by a large stone or a half brick, We had the actions expertly practiced from the pulling of the pin with the teeth, to the round arm throwing action for accuracy and the vocal explosion that always achieved maximum damage on the enemy whoever they were on that occasion! There were times when the ‘action’ strayed from the ‘shrub’ out on to the road, and on one unfortunate occasion to the very perimeter of Shale’s shop. It was Thursday afternoon, the shop was shut and unfortunately so was the pub since we’d left our visit a little late. Everywhere was quiet and there wasn’t a soul to be seen. We were making our hungry, disappointed way back to the shrub when war broke out. One could never second-guess when an enemy attack would happen and so when a sniper from Shale’s doorway singled one of our party out it became a serious business. Dodging behind a nearby and very slim lamppost we desperately sought for an effective reply to silence the menace. Without even thinking, one of our party who shall remain nameless picked up a large ‘grenade’ (stone), pulled out the pin with his teeth and hurled it unerringly at the ‘sniper’.  

Oh dear!

The brick flew with reasonable accuracy towards the shop doorway, hit the ground and flew up, straight into the huge plate glass shop window! I can still see it now in the same slow motion I viewed it at the time. There was a huge ‘bang’, and the window…….didn’t shatter! Quite why it did not shatter I’ll never know but instead of the horror of a mountain of glass pieces there was a huge crack across the bottom corner of the plate glass. You have never seen kids move so fast pausing only to pick up the offending grenade and hurtle off back to barracks. 

What happened? Shale never found out and probably thought it was someone with a grudge against him. There were probably plenty of them! I have to say that whilst he never accused us of the misdeed, he did give us some very strange looks. It was almost as if he knew. As for the war games, the armistice after the events didn’t last long but in the pitched battles that followed, I noticed that grenades were not the popular weapon choice that they had been!


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