It matters not where any of us were born and raised. Every single one of us feels some kind of connection with the town in which we grew up; for better or worse.
I’m no exception to the rule. You cannot be an Ashtonian and feel nothing for Ashton-under-Lyne. I feel an awful lot for it. Some of it’s good; a lot of it’s not so good.
My intention wasn’t to use this as an opportunity to pour scorn on Ashton or talk about what a s**thole it is, but unfortunately it was too hard to resist. I think it’s nigh on impossible not to talk about how desperate a town it can seem on the surface.
A once thriving nightlife scene sporting some of the country’s finest DJ’s and a host of really good bars and clubs has now been left with about three dives that the locals cling desperately onto of a Saturday night. The town centre was once a bustling hive of activity with shops aplenty and consumers turning up in their droves. Half the shops are closed now and the majority of faces you see are people who just can’t be bothered staying at home.
It’s no longer the busy market town of the past. I can’t even describe what it is. I head into it and I can hear my brain sigh as soon as I do. “We’re here again, are we?”
I think the reason for my animosity towards my hometown is the fact that it’s changed so much. It doesn’t appear to be future bound, but heading back in time. Sure, the town is now linked directly to Manchester via Metrolink (because the train isn’t quick and convenient enough…). Sure, the road systems in the town centre have been vastly improved. Sure, they’ve rid the town of the monstrously ugly orange-brown eyesore that was once the council offices and replaced it with a brand spanking new and infinitely more modern building.
But this all seems to me like they’re covering up cracks (something that a few Ashtonian’s fail to do when they’re out in public). The town looks and feels miserable. It seems to be perpetually grey in complexion whether the sun’s shining or not. Between eight and ten years ago, the heart of the town just stopped beating. It was almost as though Ralph de Ashetton, the fabled Black Knight, rose from the dead and began to suck the joy out of everything as he allegedly did during his first incarnation.
Would it be remiss of me to say that the decline was perhaps synonymous with the decline of Ashton’s nightlife? Is it really as bad as I say it is or am I just bitter that all of those places that gave me so many good times and fond memories no longer exist and that very fact clouds my judgement?
So what if it does? There was absolutely no reason at all for 90% of the bars and clubs in the town to be systematically closed down one by one. It was an utter disgrace. They couldn’t claim that there was too much trouble because there just wasn’t. Yes, there were fights on the odd occasion, but name me one town with nightlife where there isn’t? Apart from Felixstowe. Felixstowe is such a nice town that I imagine disputes are settled with dance-offs or races up the high street, but I digress. There were a host of great nightspots and I genuinely looked forward to every weekend in my late teens and early twenties because of the good times that Ashton was sure to provide me.
After the nightlife went neck deep in s**t with its mouth open (thank you Abraham from The Walking Dead) the rest of the town seemed to follow suit. The market is a spectre of what it once was; a drab and miserable hole that used to be so vibrant and full of life. The Arcades shopping centre was always jam packed with people from around Tameside who were out looking in the plethora of shops. Nowadays you could drive a Mercedes C63 AMG through there at peak time and you wouldn’t hit anything but air. The only place worth going in Ashton is Costa Coffee, but even that’s because the upper echelons of Caffé Nero think it’s too much of a hovel to bother opening one there (and anybody with a couple of brain cells to rub together knows that Caffé Nero is ten times better than Costa. Facts are facts).
Luckily for Ashton, there are certain areas that remain bloody lovely and, provided the corporations keep the hell away, there’s no reason that should ever change. I’m talking the more rural areas like Daisy Nook, the lakes up near Stamford Park, Hartshead Pike, the trail of the old abandoned railway between Ashton and Park Bridge, Park Bridge itself (which I think is officially in Oldham, but closer to Ashton), Holden Clough; there are so many nice places in Ashton that you’d need a couple of weeks to see and experience them properly.
My childhood memories are filled with bike rides and walks to these places where I would spend virtually a whole summer during my school years playing with my friends and having the best times of my life. The fact that they all still exist now more than twenty years since I became too old to do things like that (or rather too boring) makes me smile. That tells me that my hometown still has some of its soul remaining. Perhaps one day I’ll take my son to these places and see if he connects with them in the same way I did.
Most people now recognise Ashton-under-Lyne as that town with the Ikea; the place with the Cineworld and bowling that have all the restaurants sat around them. There’s little else that any outsider can associate with it. I’m the only person I know who’s ever acknowledged St Michael’s Church to be a stunning piece of architecture. It’s a church so nobody gives a hoot.
I’m not proud to have been born and raised in Ashton. In fact, I often bemoan it. It’s difficult to make the best of a place that seems not to have made the best of itself since Victorian times when it was an important industrial era settlement. Furthermore, it seems that those who have the power to make the place better are simply not interested in doing so. The evidence to support my claim is the fact that it isn’t getting better.
I hope that my hometown sees better days in the future. That somebody gives it a facelift to send it kicking and screaming into the present without tarnishing its character; because it does have character. Whether I like it or not, I’m an Ashtonian and that will never change. Ashton-under-Lyne itself needs change more than it ever has.
P.S. Trivia time. Did you know that Ashton is the birthplace of two former World Cup winners? The first was Geoff Hurst, who won the trophy with England in 1966 and the second was Simone Perotta, who won it with Italy in 2006.
Any questions or comments? Do you agree with my assessment? Am I being too harsh? Am I not being harsh enough? Leave a comment and I’ll respond as soon as humanly possible.