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Memories of Bilston
The Slippery Pole
by Geoff Roberts

As kids, exploring was fun. In fact we became quite expert at it and roamed far and wide from the 'base' in Villiers Avenue. Past Villiers School and down toward Stowlawn, passed Mr Bagley's house (a teacher who used to give us extra arithmetic lessons…poor man!) was an abandoned golf course which was a great place for bikes. It was also a great place for small boys with imagination fit to burst. There were ponds in abundance with frogs and newts, water beetles, sticklebacks and, as we supposed, deep water covering the backs of giant fish just waiting to grab the unsuspecting kid and add him to the larder. In was, quite definitely a boys place with not a girl to be seen and in all the years I roamed about there (before they built upon it of course!) I can't remember us having a 'girl' tag along.

Even further towards the back of the waste ground was another road and we could ride the whole distance there in a few minutes on a good day. We never did though because on the way were several bike 'tracks' varying in difficulty and hence 'thrill value' and the recipients of hectic pedalling, sliding back wheels, yelling and excited kids and, of course regular grazing and cuts. Despite all this attraction, there were two further destinations just outside the waste ground that caught our imagination and our curiosity. I wonder if anyone reading this remembers 'The Butchers Skin and Hide' works. I've no doubt that it's long gone but believe me, one visit and you'd never forget. It was locally as 'The Potted Meat Works' except of course that it never, ever produced potted meat, at least not for human consumption! We found out early that the particular and unmistakable smell coming from the chimney stack wasn't potted meat but that of processing animal parts! I suspect that they were used for glue and other such exotic products but all we noticed as kids was the smell, the dirty lorries delivering animal parts, and ……the slippery pole!!

Now, no kid in his right mind would spend even five minutes beside such a stink and there had to be another reason to be there. There was. It just so happened that almost right outside of the 'Potted Meat', as it was known, was a telegraph pole worn smooth by we knew not what. The pole was strategically positioned at the side of a sloping brick wall that we could walk up, grasp the pole at a height of six or so feet above the ground and then pretend we were fireman on an emergency mission. The pole was glass-like in its smoothness and I've never found out why although I surmise it was the bodies of generations of kids sliding down it that imparted the sheen. We would spend an hour or so on the pole until, on a bad day, the smell from the factory would drive us away laughing and shrieking and holding our noses!

Then the bike ride back to more familiar territory across the 'rusty brook' iron stained and polluted with who knows what, along some of the famous bike tracks worn into the hills at angles that were dangerous if you weren't riding fast enough, to rest up in the 'shrub' in Villiers Avenue and talk about the expedition.
We were always told that we should never stray further than the school…we knew better of course and though the memory of such places fades, it still brings a smile when I think about it!

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