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Posts Tagged ‘provincial’

I don’t get into town much these days. It’s a habit left over from the various lock-downs we’ve had. If I’m heading out at all, it’s for a walk somewhere nice, and where the fact the arse is coming out of England’s trousers doesn’t show quite as much.

But I needed herbs, and I remembered the old herb-shop. It’s one of the few independent businesses hanging on from the once upon a time, though they no longer prepare as many of their own potions. Instead, it’s mostly corporate branded stuff, and quite expensive. I could have got them off the Internet much cheaper, but that’s one of the reasons the old town’s in the state it’s in. Other reasons would include the fact there’s no money here any more, and what jobs there are pay very poor wages.

The number of empty shops now is disheartening. The only businesses moving in are drinking dens and betting shops. Meanwhile, the caf├ęs and coffee shops are closing down, as the town trade dwindles. I could get a beer from any number of places, around whose doorways stand huddles of tired-looking men with pint-pot stares, but I’d struggle for a cup of tea, and no wonder. This is not the sort of place you’d linger to watch the world go by any more. This is Middleton, from Saving Grace, it’s Middleton, from Winter on the Hill.

Decline was obvious years ago, but it looks like they were still the good years, and we’re going full Apocalyptic, now. Yet it was a nice town, and prosperous. We used to dress up to come here. I’ve seen images like this before, but they were all provincial towns in the Soviet Union, just before the wall came down. The west was puffed up and smug in shoulder pads then, not realising it was our turn next.

Having got my herbs, I take a mooch around, and wind up in B+M Bargains. It occupies the space that was once Woolworths. It’s odd, to feel nostalgic for Woolies. I’d take the kids there for lunch in the long ago, slip them a fiver, and set them loose in the toy aisle. Then we’d top it off with pick and mix – oh, heady days!

The Argos store has gone. So has WH Smiths. Still, at least B+M is bustling. If there’s any sort of vibe at all, it’s here, among the bargains. Except there’s this one old lady complaining bitterly to her friend how she’s had a wasted journey. The shop didn’t have what she wanted, and the whole thing has ruined her day. I know, the shops rarely have what you want now, other than the most common and basic items. For anything else, you have to go online and chance it.

There are kids rushing around, stocking shelves. I’m thinking they could give her chapter and verse on ruined days, indeed ruined lives, and a future promising even less than what little they’ve got right now. But they’re not complaining. Those who have the most to complain about, tend not to. The old lady carries on, finding more to grumble about, and seeking someone to blame for it. She trails her negative energy around the store like a smog.

B+M are selling solar motion-detecting lights for thirteen quid a-piece. Winter coming on, I’ve been thinking about getting some of those. They’re useful for lighting the way around the outside of the house. But for twenty-five quid I can get four of them from that online place – you know, the one that treats its workers appallingly.

The B+M versions are of a brand that’s been around since the year dot. The online four-pack will be of unknown origin, and most likely only two of them working, and then none after the first winter. What to do then? Do I pay for the one? Or do I chance-it, go online and support a business model that’ll be the ruin of us all when those are the only kinds of jobs left for human beings to do?

Then, strangely, I’m thinking of this girl I used to know. I fancied her rotten, and she knew it. She also knew I’d not the guts to do anything about it. I think she enjoyed my discomfort and the moon eyed adulation. The last time I saw her was 1982, on the Zebra crossing, here in town. She was coming one way, I was going the other. She was dressed to the nines, like everyone else, that Saturday afternoon, yet, like in one of those daft perfume ads, she was the one who stood out.

She gave me a look in passing that left me speechless, but which would later launch a million words in search of connection with the deeper meaning of what I felt for her, and the world in general. I used to go back to that crossing, the same time on a Saturday, thinking to recreate that moment, and maybe this time do something about it. But, like I said, I never saw her again. And it was all a long time ago, when everything seemed much newer, and fresher, and not so,… derelict.

The crossing’s still there, though the shops either side of it are empty. I use it on the way back to the car, remembering of a sudden how she looked that day. Funny how this should be coming back to me now. Then I look up, and guess what? No, she not there, because not even the ghosts come here any more.

Anyway, unlike that sad old girl in B+M, my trip wasn’t wasted. I got my herbal stuff. And I got my motion sensing light as well, because I only need the one, and the rocket guy can do without my business for once. It’s a small step for a man, as someone once said. But those were heady days. And certainly, here at least, among the more material aspects of contemporary provincial English reality, there’s nothing quite so aspirational as that any more.

Thanks for listening.

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