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Posts Tagged ‘austerity’

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A small market town up North, far less prosperous now than it once was. It was the place to go when things were needed that the corner shop in my outlying rural village could not provide. But nowadays the town does not provide that either. I mostly order my needs off the Internet, and the postman delivers.

In memory, probably rose tinted, it was a prouder place back then. Do I imagine that on Saturday afternoons people would dress up to go shopping? Men would wear clean shirts, jackets and aftershave, ladies their fashionable dresses, high heels, and lipstick. Film actresses have walked Market Street in their finery on the Saturday afternoons of my childhood, crossed the road by Woolworths on their way to Boots. Marylin Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall. I have seen them all on the catwalk that was the pelican crossing by the old Town Hall.

There were innumerable family businesses here, names over doors that had stood for generations – bookshops, shoe-shops, florists, shops for artists, photography shops, all gone now and the town has dissolved into a place of thrift, of bookmaking, of pawn-brokering, e-cigs and of bargain booze. And in their passing something has happened to us.

I don’t know when it happened, or how, or why, or even what I mean exactly. It’s more than money, more than the economy. It’s hard to put a finger on it. I could use a word like respectability, but risk accusations of elitism and a hankering after the nineteen fifties, when working men still doffed their caps to toffs.

As I walked Market Street this afternoon, I heard a group of women plainly from a hundred yards away, fag-raw voices much amplified by alcohol. I thought they were fighting, but they were simply talking, oblivious to the obstacle and the spectacle they created on the pavement. Of course such unselfconsciousness can be argued as a virtue, not caring to live one’s life through the eyes of other people, and hurrah for that, I suppose, but at the risk of sounding like an insufferable snob, there was something unpleasant about their laddishness, something embarrassing, even threatening. Oh, I’m sure had they read my mind, intuited my feelings they would have given me the finger, and well deserved.

Grace. I think it’s the loss of grace I mean – the grace of the actress, of the ballroom, of the dancer – it’s gone from all our lives now, though I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds. Yet I still search the crowd for it – in vain mostly – seeing only rags instead of finery, and stout, hideously tattooed stumps in place of dancers’ legs. I have largely withdrawn such sensibilities into imagination, hesitate to express them.

And charity shops.

We have a lot of charity shops now, a dozen at last counting. They are the only places capable of thriving, the only reliable landmarks on the high street – all else is pitifully feeble, ephemeral. They smell, don’t they? I used to find it off-putting – something unclean, I thought, and for a long time resisted the plunge – just one more step in my own fall from gracefulness.

It helped I could find decent books in there, good novels, literature, a handful for a fiver and just as well in straightened times – for such an appetite would cost fifty quid from a bookshop and quite out of the question. But there are no bookshops any more.

I like the Heart Foundation. Their books are well ordered, easy to scan, always a generous selection. And that’s where I saw her.

She was tall, slim, a voluminous cascade of seemingly luminescent blonde hair falling down her back. She had an upright posture, head balanced with a dancer’s poise, chin up, directing her gaze as she swept the titles with a leisurely, bookish grace. She wore a pair of snug blue jeans and a green shirt over a cream camisole – not a young woman by any means, forties perhaps,… and so far so much of a cliche.

The movie cute-meet would no doubt have been our fingers reaching out for the same title, something by Sebastian Barry perhaps – always a hard find in a charity shop. Our fingers would brush, then we’d each draw back with an embarrassed laugh.

“After you,” I’d say.

She’d smile, blush, reveal endearing dimples and a row of Hollywood perfect teeth. “No, you first. I’ve read it anyway. You like Barry?”

And thus we would connect, two lost, bookish souls finding succour among the cast offs in this wasted northern town, which seemed at once less wasted for her presence in it.

Poise. Yes, it was her poise that caught my eye, her arm gently reaching up to the book-shelf, something of a reserved curve to it, ending in a languorously relaxed hand, only the index and middle fingers forming a stiffly extended double pointer as if to aid in this most delicate act of intimate divination, or to bless.

Stillness, grace, presence. She had presence. But what was she doing there, a woman like that? She was quite, out of place, out of time.

I was beside her at the bookshelf, but only for a moment. No cute-meet here. I felt my presence as a vulgar intrusion upon such grace and visceral femininity. I feared her effect on me could not go unnoticed, that I would disturb her, make her uneasy, that her grace would stiffen, become angular with suspicion, that by observing it, I would destroy it.

I felt stung then by something very old, a feverishness overcoming me, ancient but familiar. I have taught myself over the years of useless infatuation, successfully I believe, to see women as human beings. It’s what they want, they tell me, this elimination of objectification. But without the object, the symbolism also dies, and love is next to divinity. Yet here was one out of the blue coming at me as a goddess again.

I melted away unseen.

What was all that about?

Chapter one, I think, that’s what all that was about!

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mazda southportFull moon and a Spring tide draws me to the coast. The coast for me is Southport, North West England, a place you rarely catch the sea – at least not splashing up against the promenade, even at high tide, so the opportunity is not to be missed. I have in mind an hour’s stroll along the front, and some sea air, but I am an hour late in arriving and the tide is already on its way out, a slow peeling back of muddy foreshore puncturing my boyish optimism.

Instead I am faced with a dilemma. To park on the promenade for just an hour now is over a pound. I fumble for change, but it seems an extravagance given the receding tide and the all pervading mood of “Austerity”. Do I stay, or do I just go home? I split the difference and drive to the Ocean Plaza instead where it’s free to park so long as you intend buying something.

I buy coffee.

Two pounds buys a medium Americano at the Pausa Cafe  in Dunelm Mill. Luck gets you a balcony table overlooking fabrics and curtains. The coffee is really good.  I come here a lot on wet weekends – for the coffee, not the fabrics.

When I sit down I’m thinking about the work in progress, a novel that seems intent, as usual, on self destruction about three quarters of the way in. Such single minded preoccupation is irrational when it doesn’t matter a damn if it’s ever finished or not, and will in any case never make me a bean. It’s just a vast puzzle to be solved, something satisfying only to my convoluted psyche, the end result being something I have made and can post online. And it gets me out of bed.

A couple of overnight pings in response to a sample posted on the blog have revealed potential avenues for exploration, and I’m thinking about those. My thanks to elmonoyd on Wattpad, and Steve on WordPress. I make notes, add them to the mix, let them stew. Then I fall back on the secondary preoccupation: the apparently perilous state of Western Civilisation, its dearth of progressive leadership, its alarmingly retrograde motions this past twelve months, and its lack of answers to the most pressing questions of our times.

What now after the collapse of Capital?

The world is disintegrating on so many levels, and no one knows what to make of it, let alone what to do. The best us Brits can come up with is Brexit, God help us, but that’s like sawing off the branch we’re sitting on. Me? I’m done. All I have in mind now is a little cabin in my back garden, so when retirement comes, soon I hope, I can sit in it and make writing the sole purpose of my life, instead of just a hobby.

My solution to the world’s ills then will be to get up at nine in the morning, instead of six, and never have to commute another fucking mile – a sort of wry three fingered salute. Of course there will be no more purpose in this than there is to my writing now. But I feel too old these days, and too muddled to make a difference to anything more worthy. I see my life’s challenge as simply not to waste any more time moaning about stuff I cannot fix.

But there’s a snag, and it’s to do with the energy of reaction. We’re ten years into a recession, though no one’s actually calling it by that name. In the broader picture it is the sudden acceleration of a decline that’s been steadily ongoing since the seventies – in practical terms by this I mean the availability of well paid work for working men, and free education so the sons of working men can aspire to better paid middle class work. Irt is the struggle of the majority against the minority.

But that’s all over now.

Think about it.

Things are no better, ten years on, employment trends being to divest the employers of all responsibility for employees, while driving wages down to Victorian levels that fall short even of subsistence. In the mean time it overhangs everything, like a chest infection, every breath we take a reminder of its cloying presence, that foul delusion of our times: Austerity.

Is my little cabin still a viable proposition? Sure I can build it, but can I really close the door on a world gone mad, retreat into my fantasies? On the one hand I don’t see why not since I can do nothing about any of this. Putting the world to rights is for the pub, and self indulgent blogging, but on the other hand it seems morally bankrupt to turn my back when the generation I have nurtured in hope and optimism is left with no future and no credible leadership of any colour at all, and there is only the turmoil of populism and layer upon layer of toxic social media to inform opinion.

What the hell?

Suddenly I’m aware the old girl at the table behind me is talking too loudly and has nothing nice to say about anyone. Then there’s a sharp mouthed mother shouting abuse at her child for dolloping something on the table. A baby squeals loud for hunger, for comfort, for sleep. It seems my troubled thoughts are sending waves out into the world, unsettling it. Time to move on before I bring the ceiling down as well.

I look in Pound Stretcher and Matalan while I’m passing, further justifying my free parking, but they are drab and uninspiring this afternoon, and I don’t buy anything. I never do. I cannot help but think big out of town shopping centres like this will all be gone soon – nothing to sustain them with the world and his dog on minimum wage. Then all we’ll have will be our threadbare highstreets with their thrift shops, their pawn shops and  their pay-day loan sharks.

And coffee shops, I hope.

I return to the car the long way via the end of Southport Pier. It adds perspective, and a glimpse of emptiness, of infinity.

It begins to rain.

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stannesIt’s sad the way our highstreets continue abrading to rags under the slow, austere grind of what is now fast approaching our lost decade. I have not been to Saint Annes on Sea since the nineties so, when I returned this week, I found the changes here particularly striking. It was always a very well heeled town – ladies in fur, trailing strings of cute Dachshunds, and old gentlemen in blazers with regimental badges sewn into their top pockets – I exaggerate of course, but I think you know what I mean.

Today I counted eight charity shops, and noted with some sadness the boarded up remains of JR Taylor, which I’m informed closed in January 2015. JR Taylor was an upmarket, independent department store, much favoured by the affluent middle class of the region. Back in the day I remember admiring a jacket here that would have cost me a hundred and fifty quid. I put it back, being more of an M+S man by instinct. I note the very serviceable jacket I’m wearing today however came from a charity shop. It cost a fiver. Note also, dear reader, I’m carrying a couple of paperbacks, also charity shop finds, having spent a pound on what would have cost me twenty quid in a bookshop. Perpetual austerity certainly alters ones perspective on value, so perhaps I’m as much to blame for the decline of the highstreet as anyone..

I have made no other purchases, so it’s been a cheap day out.

I’m still in work, not struggling, especially, but I’m fortunate in that respect, and you think twice these days when, contrary to the official employment figures, half the country seems out of work and chasing the same small pool of rat’s arse service sector work. Clearly there’s not the money any more to support the likes of a JR Taylor, nor indeed any of those traditional household names for very long.

Names familiar since childhood have been replaced with e-cig shops, cash converters, and no win no fee solicitors. Opiates, Pawn and “sue the pants off anyone in the hope of a windfall, for sure as hell it’s the only way you’re ever going to feel better and make any money”. It’s the same in every other provincial town, certainly in the North of my knowing, but seeing it here in St Annes today saddens me. I had been hoping for – I don’t know – an oasis of genteel refinement amid the desert of eternal austerity.

Our towns complain loud and daily of the message we are now firmly a minimum wage, dead end society, void of future, void of hope, at least in any material sense. Meanwhile, our children, enthused by fresh degrees in this and that, are weighted down with the slavery of State sponsored debt while competing even to stock the shelves of privateer supermarkets and to shift iPhones on commission, at the mercy of the Spivs who own them. Throughout long, soporific Powerpoint Presentations, in league topping colleges and Universities up and down the land, they were promised the earth, and then betrayed.

If you’re reading this while sitting anywhere between the eastern boundary of western Europe and the Pacific Coast of the USA, you’ll know what I mean. And I say this not as a political statement, nor less a rallying cry to the forces of opposition – such as they are – but more as an observation, and perhaps a little detached – at how remarkable our fallen position, and how understated it is in the usual media.

Capitalism has failed as an economic system. I don’t think there’s anything controversial in saying this now, no other conclusion to be drawn. It crashed and burned in 2008, wiped out with it the entire western world, at least in so far as we were led to believe in it, and certainly for the working person and the middle ground of the middle class, and that’s ninety percent of us in the same boat now, disenfranchised, and with the scales of delusion removed from our eyes. The rich of course will thrive under any circumstances, so they may not even have noticed yet the gatherings of the thrift-shop ragged at their gates.

So, I turn my back on the old town, my memories of better times, tuck my dog eared paperbacks under my arm, and I make for the sea, for the pier where there is still the cheery ring and zing of  slot machines, the scent of beef fat and chips, and a nostalgic tiddley-om-pom-pom from an electronic busker on the promenade.

The tide is out.

It goes out a long way here and comes in fast, revealing both the pristine hope of renewal with each ebb, yet also the fleet footed treachery that might befall the unwary at times of flood. These are the time’s we’re in. It is what it is, and we must deal with it as best we can.

I buy ice cream and sit down to think, venture a photograph of the pier, which I imagine I could Romanticise with the use of a digital filter.

That’s the advantage of a seaside town I suppose. You can always turn your back for a while on the decay of the interior, gaze out to sea and dream of better days, perhaps even filter out an uncomfortable reality with the combined distortion of imagination and technology. These are uncertain times for sure, unlike any I have known. There is an anger, and a sense we are being taught the language of blame, as politics lurches into the quagmire and the rabid slogans of the right, and the left still can’t get itself in gear.

I hope our young are immune to hatred, that the crass incitements of the bigots and the racists, and their appalling media, who blame it daily, as they have for a hundred years, on “all these damned foreigners comin’ over ere”, fall on deaf ears, and we, the old and the middle aged who, I’m afraid to say tend to be more often vilely bigoted and racist, will die out before we pass on our unwholesome views and genes.

But damn, it could be so much better than this! I mean, we’re human, and it’s never going to be Shangri-la perfect. But this is heading in the wrong direction entirely.

As I sit in pale sunshine on the promenade, a woman passes with a string of dogs, cute little Dachshunds – at least in my imagination. The dogs are circling, creating an unholy row as they snarl and yap at one another. They entangle her legs, threatening to trip her over. She admonishes them to no effect. The racket drowns out even the vaguely cheerful tiddley-om-pom-pom.

A cloud takes the sun, and casts a chill.

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catrigg foss waterfallI chose Langcliffe for the start of the walk because the parking was free. Well, it was not exactly free; there is a donation box and I did donate, but the money I saved by not parking in Settle would pay for coffee later. This is austerity in personal terms, and rather petty I admit. Those truly struggling under austerity, and there are many now, would not have driven to the Dales in the first place because £20 worth of petrol goes a long way towards groceries.

It struck me recently we’ve been under the cosh of austerity since 2008. This tells me two things. One, it’s been a long time. And two, the ideology that’s driving it has either self evidently failed, or it’s driving us in another direction, that in fact it has not failed at all but succeeded in bringing about a state of political and social affairs that has basically reordered society into one that is less equal.

What this means in practical terms is penny pinching on a scale so grand our ears are filled daily with the sound of gears grinding as our machine runs down. There is a shrinking back to the Gradgrind-glory years of the Victorian era, an age when we sent little orphan boys up chimneys and down the mines to work the narrow seams, because they were cheap and expendable. We did not value life. We are being taught again only to value our own, that a person drowned in the Med is not a person, but something less than that.

Anyway, Langcliffe. This is a walk I’ve done before, many times: Catrigg force, the Attermire Scars and the Warrendale Knots. I wrote about it here. My return was on account of a free day and insufficient time to plan anything new. But with a familiar route, freed from the responsibility of navigation, the mind can turn to other things. The weather was promising, the morning peeling open after overnight rains to a mixture of sunshine and humidity.

Someone tried to get my email logins by phishing. I was sufficiently webwise not to succumb. Meanwhile the BBC tells me of a woman who was targeted by phone scammers, tricked into thinking her bank account was under attack and so sought to transfer funds to safety. She lost it all to the scammers. This leaves a sour taste.

This and Austerity. But are the two things not the same?

2008.

A long time.

Hitler was defeated in five.

This economic crisis is taking longer.

Unless it is not a crisis,

But a change of paradigm.

 

Some have grown fat from austerity, but most have grown lean. Then some have sought to join the ranks of the fat by foul and ingenious means, by preying on the poor and the lean and the hungry, because like in Victorian times the poor are once more cheap and expendable, and easily vilified into a thing less than human. Into perhaps a scrounger? Nobody cares about the poor.

But the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales managed to work a little of its magic on my soul. At Catrigg though, I felt unwell, my vision whiting out as I descended the shady sylvan dell, after strong sunshine on the open moor above. I don’t know what this was about but I didn’t panic. Were I to have expired alone at Catrigg, I can think of no finer setting.

He was at peace, they said.

As it was I sat only a while with a sandwich and fruit and quiet thoughts as the water roared through the narrow slit. Then, feeling better, I carried on.

It’s possible something has happened this summer. Many feel the way I do; fearful; alarmed by an ideology that seems unshakable in its grip, and which has razed the familiar ground, so there is no path now for my children to follow. Instead, they must follow the directions of the suited man with his slick coiffure and oily smile, and take their place in the minimum wage economy, regardless of whether they have a university educations or not.

It may fizzle out in a few weeks time, this thing, or it may lead on to a kind of rebellion. Not just here, but across the West and wherever the suited man sits fat. Men are appearing, dishevelled, articulate. Yesterday’s men, the suits tell us, but then they would. The dishevelled men fill assembly halls and football stadiums. They speak a language that is nostalgic to the old, yet new to the young. It will collapse of course, but not before it brings about a change in the other direction – I hope.

The walk is more up and down than I remember, more of a pull on the leg muscles, though I comfort myself this is probably on account of the stretching I did at Kung Fu the night before. In April you will find the early Purple Orchid sprouting in profusion along the base of the Attermire Scars. Today I found the delicate Hare bell, and other blooms so small one would need a glass to see them properly.

It was cold on the tops, a cold wind icifying the sweat on my back whenever I stopped, so I kept moving, munching a Kit-kat as I went. Dark chocolate and bright white limestone. The world could be going to hell in a handcart, quite possibly is so far as I can tell, but so long as I get my Kit-Kat of a morning, I can find it within me to remain magnanimous.

In the pastures by the Warrendale knots there were long haired cattle, reddish brown. Calves sat easy, nudged udders. One cow stood aside, silent and serene in expectation, as wide as she was tall, her calf still basking in the warm hinterland of the womb. A lone white bull moved among them. The path took me through the herd. I made delicate adjustments, startled none. A hundred tons of beef, but not aggressive. Had they the intelligence to be cognisant of their fate, would they have been so easy in my company? Had we been cognisant of ours in 2008, would we have been so easy too?

I return to Langcliffe, hill-achy and bone tingling tired. The church is having a sale of books and CD’s. I am searching for a copy of Belladonna. Stevie Nicks. 1981-ish. I could buy it online for about a fiver, but am holding off, thinking to discover it in a charity shop for £2.00. I have been searching for years.

Why so selective? I spend £20 on petrol for a walk in the Dales, but I won’t spend a fiver on an old CD that I tell myself I really want. Or is it that I resist the siren call of Stevie Nicks. Stevie is nostalgia.

My moods are mysterious.

I did not go into the church. I peeled my boots off, sat a while, let my feet cool, changed my shirt, then dropped the top and took the car across the moor to Malham.

There are moments of happiness. They come suddenly. Unexpected. It’s a rough old road to Malham from Lancliffe – quite a climb up the zigzags into a lonely wonderland of limestone country. The car’s done 80,000 now, still drives like new and with a punch on the climbs that delights and surprises. And then there are these moments, when we’re rattling along, I swear the tyres dissolve and we’re flying, and the land is not the land at all but clouds on which the scenery has been painted. Then the heart opens and I am smiling at the lightness of my being.

I stop for coffee at Malham, having joined some dots on the map. But it’s a strange country opening before us now. And 2008 is a very long time ago.

Anyway, let’s keep that drive

in mind.

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man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsAmazing, how quickly the cosy glow of one’s holidays fades, isn’t it? Mid morning, first morning back at the day job and there you are, things settling upon you once more, a million crabs nipping and nagging at you, something slithering over your skin – that all too familiar cold slime of responsibility. Then it’s out into the near stagnant commute, arriving home some indeterminate time later, brain-fried and grumpy, then bed by ten, waking at six thirty a.m. feeling totally unrefreshed, and getting up and doing it all again.

But we would be much worse off if we didn’t get that two week break, if like in the olden golden times of arch Conservatism, the labouring masses got no holidays at all, but for Christmas day, and we worked a six and a half day, sixty five hour week until we dropped dead, never having climbed a step from poverty – a regime we’re heading back to if our young are to have any hope of living off the wages that are paid in these enlightened, tightened times, these times of grim austerity.

I can’t believe I am still hearing that word.

Surely austerity was for the nineteen fifties, after the world was nearly ruined in a storm of war that lasted five years – not this, this financial crisis, this money game, this accounting fraud that has already lasted much longer than a world at war, laying waste to the less fortunate of nations as surely as if they had been invaded by tanks and guns.

The black tide of Nazism was defeated in less time than this. And the only strategy against the tyranny of the money game that the money captains can come up with is to convince us there is no alternative to an eternal free fall into a future of less and less, into an austerity of eternal midnight.

Alas, it is the banishment of all hope, all ye who enter here.

But for a weeks I flew. I climbed the little road from Malham in a lovely old car with the top down. I flew all the way to Leyburn, I left the bustling market square at Masham early one Saturday morning beneath a deep summer blue sky and with the birds singing, and I flew all the way to Scarborough. There, I walked the long front from north to south bays and back, explored the steep and narrow of the old town, and breathed a different air. And the gulls were not the killer gulls of the bonkers press. They were the snow white fisher-birds I have always known, and there were only ink-dirty fingers pointing blame where blame there was none, creating a story, where story there was none, while steadfastly ignoring the real story of our times.

In the creed of Nowness, the past is unimportant, but the recent memory of a positive experience can sustain us, at least for a little while, as we nudge ourselves back into the material reality of our dayjobs. It creates a bit of space. The darkness of the first week back after one’s holidays can then be punctured by a gentle reflection. But I fear in my case, after thirty seven years of nine to five, I am already growing out of work, my mind turning far too soon to other things. I would as soon eschew the looming golden watch, escape instead, travel the length and breadth of my United Kingdom in that little roadster with a light bag and a box of books, and a little tapping pad on which to muse and write of what I find along the way.

Sigh.

It’ll be a while before I can realistically do that, but there it is:

The dream of flight.

Of escape.

But what if what we are trying to escape from is a state of mind? one that constructs cages for itself, and the cage is on castors, so we cannot help but take it wherever we go? What if it cannot be escaped by running? To be sure the snares of the material world are myriad, and the thing with snares is the rabbit strangles itself by thinking it can get away, by resisting, by struggling. But by resisting, the noose only tightens all the more. It is the evil efficiency of the snare, that it uses one’s own energy to bring about our destruction.

Thus it is the creed of Nowness teaches us the art of escape through stillness, by creating space within ourselves so we slip through unharmed, like a slippery seed, clean through the arsehole of the world, to bloom elsewhere, upon another plane. And so, even amid the nine to five, we walk a kind of inner freedom, and we do not mind the world as it is any more. Even the bumbling blather of austerity talk and money tyranny melt into the background, into a meaningless Muzak.

Or so the theory goes.

It troubles me only in that all of this sounds a little defeatist. Surely if we are trapped we should fight with all our might, and at the very least do something? Seeking instead our escape within we might as well be wishing an early grave, for both things are liberating in a sense, but hardly what one might call living. I suppose it’s just this feeling I have done my time at the work face, my nose pressed against the dirt for too long, and would leave the struggle to others now, to those who still can – struggle on. For as the saying goes, those who can do, while those who cannot do teach, and those who are not for doing any more, and cannot teach, can only write.

I don’t know if I’ve returned, post trip, with a straighter head or not. It feels a bit wobbly to me. Do you think?

Graeme out.

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wormy gremlinsGrey, warmish, threatening rain all day but without following through. Managed to keep the top down. The driving from Leyburn is excellent on good roads, fast and curving. As usual the Mazda seems to take about 30 minutes to warm properly, then she purrs and revs sweetly, and with a sharper responsiveness. I enjoy a relaxed run to Richmond. It’s my first visit, and I rely on the ‘Droid to navigate me. This turns out not to be necessary. I park by the Cricket ground and make my way to the Market Square – seemingly ubiquitous to all rural Yorkshire towns. The whole of England was once like this. We have lost so much.

It’s £2.00 to park, £2.00 for coffee in a pretty little tearoom that used to be the bus company office and waiting room. The coffee itself is worth the trip. To the pretty lady at the till, I say the thank you I was not able to at the time, on account of the press of other customers. The day is gloomy-overcast, so I enjoy the castle walk, a pleasing overview of Richmond to be enjoyed for free. There is something about the town that reminds me of Knaresborough, another Yorkshire town I adore. I pass an hour here, then recover the Mazda, drop the top in determined fashion, and retrace my route back to Leyburn, then further south to Middleham. Parking is free at Middleham’s little market square, coffee also free courtesy of thermos and guest house kettle. There are some spots of rain on the run south from here to Masham but I keep the top down and teeth gritted as the car feels so much better when she’s driven al fresco. We avoid a soaking and arrive at Masham for 2:00 pm.

Sadly Masham is grey as the sky, and the hotel room is not ready. There are twelve rooms to be serviced by an overworked and overheated teenage lad, slaving on minimum wage. It seems my anosmia remission allows only the sweetness of sweaty bodies today.  And coffee. Still, I applaud the lad’s fevered and good natured industry.

The room is ready for about 3:00 pm. Room is not great. Grey, dour. It is also strangely corporate and lacking welcome. Courtesy coffee and tea are clearly rationed. Austerity “heavy”. I am by now a little tired, and feeling off-song. The room looks out over dour cobbled backs and buckled rooftops. I can still smell teen sweat.The windows are prevented from opening by more than a crack to admit air, lest I should instead wish to end my life by leaping from them. This smacks of corporate risk assessment. Not cheery. Almost laughable.

By 4:00 pm I am already looking forward to checking out. It is 60 miles to Scarborough tomorrow. For the promised free Wifi one must enquire at the desk. I cannot be bothered.

A 20 minute snooze improves things a little, but I am woken by man in the corridor asserting his displeasure to staff at lack coat hangers, soap, bath mat, and functioning bulbs in his room. I’m clearly more fortunate in that my bulbs work. I realise with a start I also lack bath mat and soapy things, but then remember I have brought my own. I decide to make do with a spit-wash. Hmm. Serious penny pinching here. As for coat hangers I shall manage without unpacking my case.

The Guardian runs with a picture of Kayne West (rapper) and Bob Dylan (legend) on the front page. Scientists have analysed their lyrics and a computer algorithm pronounces the somewhat obvious fact that rap makes greater use of vocabulary. In other parlance it is more wordy. But this equates to nothing; it is a statement of the obvious, and the article puzzles me. I cannot decide if newspapers deliberately make scientists out to be stupid by paraphrasing them, or if such things really are considered worthy of PhD study. Personally I prefer Dylan, but then I am of that generation, and not fond of rap.

The newspapers are also in a lather at the possible election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, some suggesting it is an appalling idea, others more sanguine. The thing that excites them is Corbyn is very left of centre and we have not heard a proper Socialist voice in a long time, or at least not one grossly caricatured in the largely right wing press as raving mad, which of course Corbyn will be if he begins to look like a serious contender. Yet anyone familiar with the Dao knows current times make his appearance more or less a certainty, and some might even say long overdue. Personally I would welcome it, though I am not the Shang-ri-la socialist I once was. Militant socialism is as stupid as swivel eyed conservatism, Corbyn seems more moderate. Left wingers also divide the Labour party, though it was founded on altruistic and inclusive Socialist principles, and a Corbyn ascendency would raise the possibility of a bifurcation into left and right flavoured Labour parties. I wonder what they will be called? It will certainly enliven political debate in the coming years. This is a fascinating turn of events and I am buoyed by it.

Anyway, dinner in the restaurant: Brewer’s Chicken, not bad, though a little “industrial”. The restaurant presents a better face than the hotel’s rooms, though I note the poor couple at the next table are unable to pick anything from the menu that the kitchen has remaining. The waiter keeps returning to them with apologies. They are good natured, though exasperated, and settle finally for what the kitchen has, rather than what they actually want.

I’m letting the story settle for today. I shall pick it up again in Scarborough. I feel a change of working title coming on – Mending Time, perhaps? There will be something about watch repair. The main protagonist, Finn, repairs worthless old watches as a hobby – reflecting my own recent interest in this field.

It’s late now. It’s difficult to focus on anything. The room is hot and there’s an irritating music beat vibrating up from the restaurant below. I hope it doesn’t go on all night!

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booksI’m reading a lot at the moment, enjoying working through a pile of novels I’ve been acquiring, and promising myself I’d get around to one day. Well now I have. I should add I rarely buy novels from the bookstore now, or Amazon. Sorry about that Mr Publisher, but the economy’s still broken. I know, it’s my fault things are refusing to pick up because I’m not spending enough of my relatively piddling salary on consumer goods, but I really don’t feel like it. Since we’re all in it together, as our politicians are fond of reminding us, austerity remains my watchword! Alas, while indeed we are all in it together, to shamefully misquote from a particularly famous novel, some of us are clearly more in it than others. Thus the high streets of our little market towns continue their decline, and the busiest shops of all are the charity shops.

And since austerity, in my book, means doing for a couple of quid what any fool can do for a tenner, I’m a great fan of charity shops now. On Saturdays I’m often to be found in either the British Heart Foundation, or Age Concern mooching about in their entertainment section. My spending on pleasure has plummeted as a result, but paradoxically, the pleasure I’m getting has increased ten-fold. They provide an eclectic and at times a delightfully serendipitous experience. I’m told by the more stuck up of my acquaintances that charity shops smell, and I seem to remember they do – kind of mushroomy – but since I’ve no sense of smell, I really don’t care about that.

A while back, I took a chance on a novel by John Banville – The Untouchable. It’s one of his older works, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It cost me £2.00. That same trip I came away with a DVD copy of V for Vendetta (£2.00) and a Stevie Nicks’ 1981 album, Bella Donna, (£2.00). That’s a lot of bang for my bucks. Of course when you go into a charity shop it’s not a question of expecting them to have what you want – more a question of wanting what they have. And often I find that I do.

By contrast this weekend, I paid full whack for a novel which I won’t name because there’s nothing nice I can say about it. I got it from the supermarket, on impulse, because I liked the cover and it had glowing reviews from big newspapers, and the blurb sold it to me really well. But when I began to read the book, I realised what the blurb hadn’t told me was it was quite an old story, written about the same time as that John Banville novel, actually, except it had been flogged to me in a shiny new cover as brand new and the next big thing.

I didn’t enjoy the story. It was an interesting premise, but the telling of it didn’t sit well with me at all, and I abandoned it half way through. I have read more engaging tales I got for free from Feedbooks, and I am not being cynical when I say I could not imagine presenting such a manuscript to an agent nowadays in the expectation it would ever be published. Yet clearly it was. Twice. At intervals ten years apart.

The John Banville story was returned to the charity shop this weekend with a lot of other books I’ve enjoyed in recent months so others might enjoy them, and so the pounds in their pockets will go to worthy causes, causes other than attempting feeble CPR on a financial system that is in any case irredeemably broken, and would perhaps be better replaced by something else. The other one, the one I felt was a cleverly packaged deceit and which therefore so aptly represents the system that has led to these dire financial straits, went in the bin.

It was a weak and futile gesture I know, but I felt cheated by it, and it was the only way I could give it the Agincourt salute it so sorely deserved, except also to say I am even less likely now to be tempted back to the glossy rows of newly published titles in the bookshops and supermarkets. I would also like to urge you all to visit your charity shop, as they are often the only bookshops still open in our little market towns these days, fortunately also among the more eclectic and interesting, provided you have no idea what you’re looking for in the first place.

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