Saturday night in Sheffield and I am sitting at a long table in a Vegetarian BYO Cafe, possibly celebrating almost the last 30th Birthday for the year. The view from the glass-fronted restaurant shows a street scene that transports me back to an age when I had time to kill and actually occasionally claimed I was bored.
The Boy has spotted a group of “youths” standing around a bin and their presence attracts attention from our table as we track their progress. I have to lean forward slightly but can see a group standing around and their pointless loitering prompts me to pose the question: “Did you have a street hang-out as a teenager or was there one other kids met up at?” My fellow dinners are animated when asked and tales of local shops, woodlands and even a favoured traffic isle are regaled, suggesting this phenomenon is shared universally.
Some time passes and eventually the chums are off. Their exciting probably nightly social foray reminds me of the old shop in Cranbrook – the legendary Circle C. Providing a modest covered walkway alongside the shop, it was the perfect place for track-suited smoking youths to hang-out, regardless of the weather. Its central location along the “high street” allowed for easy tracking of friends and an observation platform provided a vantage point to take in any daily excitement like a tractor passing through. The fact the shop was the latest open in the “town” and sold alcohol and cigarettes gave it an added appeal.
My mum would look on in disgust at the permanently positioned group of smokers. My sister and I had no chance of ever joining this elite team without being spotted and later reprimanded. It was only when we joined a local drama group meeting every Tuesday night at the Scout Hut, we gained a brief entry into the world of loiterers.
One night the group was canceled and being a warm sunny day, some of the Circle C Gang had moved to the benches in the valley running behind the local supermarket. Walking down the hill from the Scout Hut it was difficult not to make eye contact with the picnic benchers and we were soon part of a conversation. Away from the shop doors and covered walkway and in smaller numbers, these normally intimidating figures were actually quite approachable.
As the weeks passed and we got to know the boys better, Drama club seemed less appealing and little sis and I decided to join their club. I don't recall when we stopped meeting them or why but I remember on rainy days trying to find shelter away from Circle C and running to other exciting spots like the doctors' surgery or family planning clinic that both also had some kind of porch-way to seek refuge in.
Over the years, not much has changed – a gang still remain outside the same shop, despite it rebranding itself and being named after a sanitary towel. Nestled among twee shop fronts, old stone buildings, the parish church and the town's focal point, the windmill, Alldays proudly stands in the centre of the old historic market town of Cranbrook and is now the only late opening shop - closing sometime after 10pm, even at the weekend!
As a teenager, I always thought a youth club was in order to solve the loitering problem but now as an adult I realise this would have never worked. Any youth club would have acted merely as a meeting point and once individuals had formed friendship groups, emigration to less watchful points away from adult eyes would be inevitable. I'll still never understand why standing in such a public spot appealed but I guess I came from a different background where I had rules to follow, parents who could be shocked and punishments to receive. Finding a hidden place of my own was always important to me to get the space I needed and occasionally break some of those rules unseen.
Perhaps, our bin-side entertainers, lived equidistantly from the bin and were merely awaiting a final gang member before venturing to more exciting parts.... We'll never know but their very presence certainly got me thinking.