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Posts Tagged ‘town’

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 cafés 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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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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