I’ve lived in Taunton for just over 14 years now. In that time I’ve moved house 10 times in different areas of the town. Needless to say if there are traffic jams I’m pretty useful at using all the back street as short-cuts.
As a kid I grew up in the sunny town of Minehead. It was a pleasant place to live and explore. But, when we came to Taunton it was always VERY exciting. You had BIG shops and that hussle and bustle. We had a Woolworths, WH Smiths and Boots. You had BFG giant size versions of them.
I always remember the journey up the windy A358, peeking out of the window as we got closer, away from the gentle pace of West Somerset.
Back in those days 40 Commando always had a soldier in their army hut, armed with a gun. We used to wave frantically at them on guard. Sometimes they would nod, or raise a hand. Once we got a full on wave back. That made our day.
Visiting Taunton was like going to space, into the unknown. You had escalators! I remember my uncle told me that if my shoelace got caught I might get munched up. A bit evil looking back really. I would practice my jumps to survive another day.
You were the ‘chosen ones in Taunton . You had a McDonalds AND an Argos. It would be nearing the millennium when Minehead would first hear the gossip that Ronald was thinking of coming to town to set up shop.
Saying that I was always a Wimpy kid. Not in terms being weak, cowardly and unadventurous (hmm, maybe a bit), but preferred the rival of Mr Smug McSmugface. I always preferred the Wimpy ham burger and milkshakes. I even got a free Spectrum game once with my meal. It would take 38 minutes to load, then you’d play it for 12 minutes and go and load up the Soda Stream or something. Now of course it’s where Hubbox have recently settled in.
Argos has always had those funky little pens and I used to love flicking through the catalogue at all the toys. I think it’s hard to replicate that sheer excitement as an adult, as you did busy circling your wish list for Mum and Dad for Christmas. Always Lego, action figures of some kind and as I grew older... it was always about the Nintendo.
When I was 19 I studied Communication Design at SCAT (now Bridgwater & Taunton College). The ‘college years’. A time to taste the night life of Taunton. Nearly every Thursday we would drive up, taking it in turns on which poor sod had to drive that night.
We would park in town and the first stop was always the Tudor Tavern. I can still picture where the bar was.
Next stop would be the Market House, full of the latest beats and drink promotions to set you up for the night. Thursday nights were always heaving in town. Is there still a student night in town these days?
And then, there would be a mad rush for the free bus to ‘Night Owls’, later named ‘The Valbonne’ at Creech Castle. People would run to get the fun bus on its merry way across town.
We spent many a night trying our luck with the ladies. I remember one night I was the driver. I was sick of drinking coke all night. My mate said, “Have you tried Red Bull?”. “Well, no mate, never heard of it” I replied. He insisted it was non alcoholic and the barman confirmed that fact.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that drinking nearly 8 cans of the stuff over the night probably wasn’t the best idea. I was wired all night, buzzing on the drive home and still awake when I had to start my shift at Woolworths at 10am the next day.
Night Owls was famous in the late 90s for their epic foam parties. The ‘youth of today’ can keep their selfies. As a teenage lad dancing with girls in foam was like a dream. The only downside was when it was winter. It wasn’t so fun when your shirt was soaked through and the night air hit you outside like some frozen tazer. We used the keep jumpers in our car to go home in. I still remember the chattering teeth listening to Stardust’s - Music Sounds Better With You.
And it did, every Thursday at Creech Castle with mates.
By Paul Smith
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