Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Cirencester 22nd December. 2006

I didn’t warm to Cirencester. There was well-fed self-satisfaction in the air and plentiful evidence of what Detroit’s rabble-rousing MC5 would have referred to as ‘a lot of honkies sitting on a lot of money’. In most towns a staple of charity shop stock is the humble fleece. In Cirencester I didn’t spot a single one, but I did spot three Barbour jackets. I’ve never properly been able to imagine the process through which a fleece ends up on the musty clothes-rails of joy. Does somebody really hoik one out from the back of their wardrobe, try it on for one last time, turn to their significant other and say, ‘Be honest, does it suit me?’

Cirencester somehow had an unreal feel about it, pitched somewhere between Dad's Army's Warmington-on Sea, and what Ambridge might be like if it was ethnically cleansed of the Grundys and their ilk. It's rustic and well-preserved, but somehow cultureless. Not uncultured in the ordinary sense but built around an absence, as if at its core something has been forgotten. All the men looked like if you made eye-contact with them they’d start talking to you about sport or money. For the first time in my life I found myself thinking, what this town needs is a McDonald’s and a Wetherspoons. It must be bleak not being wanted on the voyage round here. Late in the day I saw two teenage black girls outside a hardware shop. I don’t think it was my imagination but they seemed to have hunted look.
Regular readers will know I like some time for quiet reflection before the coach home so I aim to run out of stuff to do slightly early. But not as early as I did in Cirencester. I killed a few hours in a pub on the edge of town. It was evidently a refuge for the Grundy strata of the local population. A bunch of glum-faced men sat in one corner discussing where to spend the rest of their evening. They worked their way through a list of possible pubs, crossing them off in turn as they realised that at least one of their number was barred from each of them. Eventually they came up with a venue everybody was allowed into. The oldest of the group then mumbled through his moustache that he didn’t fancy this last option as he owed the landlady £20.
They resigned themselves to staying put and Moustaches started in on a rambling and shapeless anecdote about a recent abortive trip to a strip club in Swindon. Glamorous! ‘I was supposed to go with Trigger,’ he complained, ‘but you know what he’s like. Twat never turned up.’ As casually as he could manage Moustaches then said, ‘I had three grand in me pocket, and all.’ He didn’t elaborate on the source of this money. I like to think it consisted entirely of twenty pound notes, each borrowed from a different pub landlady.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Northampton 8th December 2006

There are some lists I carry round in my head. I supplemented a couple of these in Northampton. The shorter one is my list of mis-hearings resulting from the difference in accents that I come across around the country. Hitherto it was a list of one, where I’d convinced myself that a bloke on a hopper bus in Bradford had claimed to be recovering from a chipolata bypass. In Northampton I was mooching around the busy market square. Walking past a butcher’s van I swear the butcher announced over his microphone a special offer of trays of tube-steak for a fiver. I’m not sure why these mis-hearings should be meat-based and vaguely Freudian. Maybe it’s too soon to conclusively identify a pattern.
Another of my lists is the more comprehensive one of rare or obscure charity shops I’ve spotted. Mostly these are shops representing charities I’ve not heard of before, but I’m prepared to also include shops for well-known charities that don’t normally have retails outlets, like, say, the Samaritans shop in Carlisle. You have to wonder how this particular category of shop comes into being. Did the Samaritans think, ‘Right, let’s not go mad. We’ll start out with one shop in Carlisle and see how it goes.’ Then when it didn’t work out perhaps they didn’t have the heart to tell the volunteers in the shop the bad news.
This list doesn’t just represent the idle wool-gathering of an aimless middle-aged loser, although obviously that’s a big part of it. It also has a practical use. As a general rule, the more obscure the charity shop, the cheaper the stock. Near my allotment there’s a Geranium Shop For the Blind, which despite its name is a charity shop and not a really specialised florists. They have a semi-permanent sale where all clothes are £1. They illustrate one of the other principles of charity shopping, namely the white hair to price ratio. The older the staff, the greater the savings to be had. If everyone behind the counter has locks like cotton wool you can reckon on knocking at least a pound off the expected price of any item.
In Northampton I added a shop called Debra to the list. I’ve since assured myself via the good offices of Google that Debra is actually a charity, and not just some chancer called Debra who fancied jumping aboard the charity retailing gravy train. This, along with outlets for Barnardo’s, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, was sited on Gold Street. These clusters of shops never result in the sort of price war I always hope for. I suspect they operate some sort of cartel, the buggers.