Wednesday, 26 September 2018

In Piccadilly Gardens on a warm sunny day in the 1950s

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing.

Now I say that because all too often it leads you down a rosy sweet scented view of the past which can be misleading and cheapens people’s experiences.

My son’s are forever telling me with a hint of regret that they envy the fact that I grew up in the 1960s.

They point to the music, the clothes, the films and even the poetry and suggest that it was a decade where all was possible.

Well yes some of it is just about right, but for every great group and powerful song there was also plenty forgettable attempts at the Top Ten, and much the same might be said of the fashions, the movies and a lot of the poetry.

But with all that said I do sometimes slip into that rosy sweet scented smell of the past, and no more so than when I have been thinking about Piccadilly Gardens, as it was, say in the September of 1969* when I first came across the place.

I can still remember sitting with a girlfriend scanning the mid day edition of the Evening News for flats before rushing off to the telephone boxes which surrounded the gardens to make that all important call to the landlord.  Or just meeting up for something to eat in the sunshine and watching the pigeons, well aware that we only had a short time to swap romantic banter.

Now you have to be of a certain age to remember the old Piccadilly Gardens at their best, which of course means that I do.

There were few places in the city centre back in the late 60s and early 70s where you could go and spend the dinner hour on a warm and sometimes hot midday.

From just after twelve till about two in the afternoon, the park benches in the sunken gardens would be full of people.  Here could be found office workers on their dinner break, exhausted shoppers and during the school holidays a fair number of children with or without a parent.

And despite the traffic and the bus station the place was a pleasant haven of relative peace which from spring into autumn was a mass of flowers in those formal displays so loved by municipal gardeners.

I was reminded again of what it had been like when I came across a delightful picture posted on facebook by Paul Ohagan of his mum and some friends.

It is one of those wonderful family snaps which perfectly capture a carefree day out in the city sometime in the late 1950s.

We all have them tucked away in an album or hidden away in a draw and they vividly bring it all back.

In this case I think we are on the bus station side of the gardens, looking up towards Portland Street.  The hedges surrounding the park have yet to grow to the point where they acted as an effective screen against the noise and intrusion of the busy streets.  Judging by the number of people already sitting on the benches we must be sometime in the middle of the day.

And I wonder what the rest of the day holds for our four.  But then such speculation runs the risk of being as fruitless as a bout of nostalgia.

So I think I will leave it at that.  Four young women smiling happily at the camera on a day when the sun was shining, and the grass green


Picture; Piccadilly Gardens from Leisure and Pleasure in the Open Air, Parks Committee, Manchester Corporation 1963, courtesy of Linda Rigby and in the park on a sunny day in 1955 from the collection of Paul Ohagan

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