Night-time economy is vital for Hanley and our city as a whole

A police officer on the look-out for trouble in Hanley.

A police officer on the look-out for trouble in Hanley.

Nightclubs are, mercifully, a distant memory for me. As much as I enjoyed shoe-gazing to Indie tunes in the late Eighties and early Nineties at The Ritzy in Newcastle, ‘dance music’ – and the whole popping pills mullarky – left me cold.

It didn’t help that I’m no Travolta, neither. When I was in The Regent theatre’s panto a couple of years ago, Welsh star Christian Patterson, who played the dame, wrote: ‘Martin is to dancing what King Herod was to babysitting.’

It was a harsh, but fair assessment.

My drinking days are long gone too.

In truth, I never really enjoyed booze like my peers did and was almost always the driver for my mates when we went on pub crawls around Hanley or up ’Castle.

My friends would shrink with embarrassment when I ordered a glass of red wine in a pub as part of their round of manly pints.

Four bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale or four pints of Löwenbräu (laughing juice as we used to call it) up the Duke of Wellington at Norton and I didn’t know whether it was Friday or Norway.

To be honest, I could never understand why anyone would want to drink pints of anything. It just made me need the loo. I always regretted it the day after too: Waking up with a banging headache and stinking of cigarette smoke.

We weren’t bad lads by any stretch of the imagination.

Unless you count running past Hanley nick late at night with a traffic cone on your head and being chased by a couple of coppers.

Then there was the time I drove down the A500 in the dark in my bright yellow Austin Metro, forgetting to put the lights on and barely able to see out of the windscreen because of the smoke from the marijuana spliffs being passed around by my passengers.

In truth we were far too square to get into any real trouble.

However, even in our day – 20 odd years ago now – there were always idiots looking for a fight in pubs and clubs and we got into a few scrapes.

It seems some things haven’t changed.

This week’s figures showing that Stoke-on-Trent is ranked as the 15th worst local authority area in England and Wales in terms of violent crime, shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

For starters, the city is 16th in the list of most populous built-up areas in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics, so our position in the ‘league table of troublespots’ sort of makes sense.

Around 13 per cent of violent incidents in the Potteries happen in Hanley. Again, this is to be expected, I suppose – given that the city centre has a large number of pubs and clubs concentrated in a relatively small area. Apparently, most of the trouble – involving drunken youths – occurs between 9pm and 4am.

Why anyone would still be out drinking at three or four o’clock in the morning is beyond me.

It was only when I met recently with Hanley’s pub and club owners that I realised that the night-time scene has actually changed beyond all recognition in the last two decades.

Gone are the days when 10, 15 or even 20,000 people were out in the city centre on a Friday or Saturday night – moving from pub to pub and ending up at The Place or Valentino’s – then finishing up with a kebab and a taxi ride home before mum got too worried.

Nowadays, Hanley is a ghost town most nights.

Licensees are fighting for custom from the two to four thousand young people who don’t actually turn up in Hanley until after 10 o’clock – many arriving ‘preloaded’, having drunk copious amounts of alcohol before leaving the house.

They then flock to the Trinity Street area and cause police a huge headache – especially at closing time.

The real problem here, in my opinion, isn’t the fact that a minority of boneheads can’t handle their ale – it’s that Hanley is dead of an evening – with the exception of audiences who visit The Regent, the Victoria Hall or Mitchell Youth Arts Centre when there’s a show on.

This is absolutely not the case in other comparable city centres which have a far more cosmopolitan ambiance and where people of all ages feel comfortable walking round.

The night-time economy in Hanley is genuinely struggling and really needs some urgent help. It is simply not viewed by over-30s as somewhere they’d like to be of a Friday or Saturday night – unless they have a theatre ticket.

Even if they do visit the theatre, the vast majority park up, watch the show, and go home – rather than heading to a pub or going for a meal. Hanley is currently undergoing major regeneration work involving the expansion of the Potteries Shopping Centre and the creation of the Central Business District.

Meanwhile, we’ve all had a punt in the great sweepstake on whether or not the ridiculously-named City Sentral development will actually happen and finally lead to a much-needed makeover of the old bus station site. Over to you, Realis…

Parts of our city centre now look bright and modern but the problem remains that it isn’t somewhere most people over the age of 30 or anyone with children really wants to visit.
This isn’t a question of demonising young people.

I don’t believe for a second that there is a higher proportion of yobs these days than there was when I was queueing at the bars in Macy’s or the Market Tavern.

Helping the police to reduce violence is, of course, important but – to me – of equal value is assisting those businesses who rely on night-time trade for their survival.

That includes the restaurants and businesses which don’t benefit from an influx of teenagers and 20-somethings of a weekend.

While Hanley is, undoubtedly, a work in progress I think that more needs to be done to tempt families, couples and those born before 1985 to spend their evenings in the city centre.

Christmas shopping nights shouldn’t be the only time when the majority of us want to visit Hanley of an evening. There should be more continental markets and street entertainment, the superb Potteries Museum – for example – could be opened up for evening visitors and more should be done to promote some of the terrific restaurants.

Successful city centres don’t close down at 5.30pm and I would suggest we neglect Hanley’s night-time economy at our peril.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Sad that Eighties motors haven’t stood test of time…

A yellow Metro not too dissimilar to my beloved motor.

A yellow Metro not too dissimilar to my beloved motor.

Depending on your view of life I’m either an excellent driver – or a very bad one.

It took me five attempts (yes, five) to pass my driving test and I finally achieved success in 1989.

On that basis, you’d have thought I’d have been quite good by the time I took off my L Plates, wouldn’t you?

However, I’m embarrassed to admit that at the age of 18 I drove into the back of someone else’s car because I was titivating with my hair in the rear view mirror.

The vanity of youth, eh?

It’s also true to say that I still have a tendancy to hog the middle lane while driving on the motorway – much to my other half’s annoyance.

But I’d like to think I’m a better driver these days, due in no small part to more regular shifts at work and the fact that there are no babies to wake me in the middle of the night anymore.

Thus my days of travelling to The Sentinel on auto-pilot, fuelled by coffee, are a dim and distant memory.

I learned to drive in a Nissan Micra and my first car was actually a company car – a bright yellow Austin Metro from WT Bell, no less, of Burslem.

I remember picking it up from the garage of the then Port Vale Chairman and him telling me that it was ‘a good little runner’ with the latest stereo system.

To be fair, the car never let me down and it did have a ‘wicked’ stereo with a graphic equaliser.

When it was stolen from outside my parents’ house in Sneyd Green one night the thieves woke my mum and dad because I had left the stereo on full blast and so when they started the engine Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell kicked in at full blast – waking the neighbours and presumably scaring the life out of whoever it was who nicked my wheels.

I loved that car – even if my mates did refer to it as ‘The Canary’ and ‘The Yellow Peril’ and I was jealous that they had a Ford Orion and a Renault Fuego.

Sadly, my beloved Metro was found dumped at Central Forest Park – its stereo missing and the car itself a write-off on account of it having been driven through and on to wooden fence posts.

Now I read that the car once driven by Lady Diana Spencer during her engagement to Prince Charles is on the endangered list – along with a number of other Eighties classics which haven’t survived the test of time, often due to unnecessary scrappage.

Car industry website estimates less than 2,000 of the 1.5 million Metros built between 1980 and 1981 survive today.

Its analysis of cars built before 1995 claims that 1980s cars have disappeared far more quickly than models from other periods.

Many of the models we grew up with and watched racing around on our goggle box have all but vanished from Britain’s roads – although some may take the view that it’s no bad thing.

These include the legendary Austin Allegro (only 291 remain) which, as I recall, was something of a joke even back in the day.

Then there’s the Austin Montego. I’m pretty sure my dad drove a green one of these of which we were quite proud at the time.

According to Honest John, however, only 296 Montegos are being driven on UK roads today.

Other motors from the Eighties said to be on the brink of extinction include the Austin Princess, Hillman Avenger, Vauxhall Viva, Austin Maxi, Morris Ital and Rover SD1.

Even the legendary Ford Cortina, a staple of TV cop shows from my youth, is in danger of disappearing – with just 5,411 of the 4.15 million models built prior to 1982 still on the road.

So, if you see one of these Eighties classics, give it a toot – for old time’s sake. And make sure the driver hasn’t broken down, won’t you?

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Boy racers, super-cars… and THAT invention

For a teenager in 2011, passing his or her driving test is the least of their problems.

Even if they can take off the L plates the chances are they won’t be able to afford the insurance to enable them to drive because it will resemble a telephone number more than a quote.

This wasn’t always the case, however. Back in the Eighties, insuring your little runaround for a few hundred quid put millions of us on the road to motoring independence.

For yours truly it was a case of making do with a canary yellow Austin Metro. I kid you not. (At least the stereo was decent – graphic equaliser I’ll have you know).

My car may not have had the cool of David Hasslehoff’s black Pontiac Trans Am or packed the punch of Michael J. Fox’s silver Delorean time machine but then again I was only driving from Sneyd Green to Norton.

For many of us, the likes of the Nissan Micra – the car I learned in – were an essential tool to get us from A to B.

But for others, their cars became an obsession – a source of immense pride and a toy in a game of one-upmanship with like-minded mates.

For such people the decade of decadence equalled spoilers, body kits, suspension modifications, tinted windows and alloy wheels.

They were the boy racers and the Eighties was made for them.

I can still recall one such group – the engines of their Ford Escort XR3is purring outside the kebab shop in Glass Street, Hanley, (boy racer alley, as we knew it) after nightclub closing time.

It seems I’m not the only one who immediately associates Eighties cars with this phenomenon, either.

John Swift worked for The Sentinel for 16 years and for much of that time was this newspaper’s motoring correspondent – scooping the Guild of Motor Writers’ Regional Journalist Of The Year Award no less than five times.

His dad ran Byatt’s car dealership in Victoria Road, Fenton, and had raced Jaguar sports cars in the Fifties.

No wonder John became a passionate and knowledgeable ‘petrol head’, I think the phrase is these days.

I asked John what immediately springs to mind with regard to motoring when someone says the Eighties to him.

He said: “It was the decade of boy racers. It was a case of ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ – and that applied to cars too.

“In many ways the 1950s can be considered the halcyon days on the bike industry because, back then, people couldn’t afford cars. It was a case of walk, catch the bus – or buy a bike or scooter.

“By the Eighties cars were far more affordable and manufacturers began targeting younger drivers.

“The problem was, however, that there were almost as many crashes as there was suped-up cars – basically because these young people didn’t have the skills or experience to handle the vehicles they were driving.”

Understandably, insurance companies got fed up of shelling out for these accidents and that’s one of the reasons why new drivers these days are facing such astronomical premiums.

John’s answer? A graduated driving licence which restricts young people to learn and then drive less powerful motor cars – which their limited skills and experience can cope with – before they progress to more powerful motors.

Of course, there was more to motoring in the Eighties than white baseball caps and sound systems which made your ears bleed.

Who could forget the infamous Sinclair C5 electric car which was set to revolutionise urban transport?

In the end it became the subject of ridicule and was a commercial disaster – not least because it asked drivers whose heads were at the height of a lorry’s wheel nuts to take their life, literally, in their hands.

The C5 aside, many of the vehicles from the Eighties were firm family favourites and first loves of drivers which have more than stood the test of time.

Such motors included the Peugeot 205, which John describes as “a fantastic little car” and earned the title ‘Car Of The Decade’ from Car Magazine in 1990.

But beyond the reach of most mortals were the super cars – so expensive that the only time many of us ever saw them was on telly or being driven by a City boy wearing red braces.

These included the Lotus Esprit, the Porsche 911 and the fearsome Ferrari Testarossa which John had the pleasure of test driving.

He said: “I remember it was pretty quick. The styling was certainly of its time – very bold and really made a statement.”

For the record, John’s first car in the mid-Eighties was a B reg Vauxhall Nova and he can still remember the number plate.

He is equally nostalgic about his favourite car of the decade – the Ferrari 328 GTB

John said: “I remember it very fondly because it was the first time I’d ever driven a Ferrari.

“I took it on one of my test routes – along the A34 towards Stone, up Bury Bank and towards Eccleshall. It was fabulous.”

I asked John to gaze into his crystal ball and tell us what motoring in the UK might look like in another quarter of a century.

He said: “The old combustion engine still has a lot to offer in terms of its development potential. However, the manufacturers now have a real incentive to try to produce vehicles that run on alternative sources of fuel.

“There have been many years of unrestricted growth in car usage and I expect this to change.

“I think we will see a lot more battery-powered cars and hybrids.

“If more roads are built I expect them to be toll roads as we attempt to create workable public transport systems.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia