This morning, I had to make a trip into Dereham, the local town. I often drive through it, to get to the large supermarket on the outskirts, but I rarely have occasion to stop there. Today, I had to take a suit to the Dry Cleaners, as I will wear it next week, to a friend’s funeral. I was also going to pop into the branch of my bank there, and perhaps have a look around some shops.
I parked in the large free car park at the northern end of the High Street. As it is not one of the market days, it was easy to find a space. It was very cold in the wind, and occasional sleet made the short walk unpleasant. The shop where I left the dry cleaning is also a shoe repair and key-cutting business. The pleasant young man who runs it is always cheerful, and he must be a hard worker too, as he juggles all three sides of his business alone. It will be ready on Saturday, which is just in time for me.
Leaving his shop, I had a look around. The town was wintry and unwelcoming. Large puddles made negotiating some areas tricky, and the other shoppers were shuffling, bundled in heavy winter clothes. At that time of day, almost everyone out was either elderly, or young mums with prams and pushchairs. For the older people, it is a familiar routine, a daily walk around the individual shops. A chance to escape four walls, endless hours of television, and being able to see others; perhaps even bump into someone they know. They stop for a cup of tea and a cake, at one or other of the cafes there; a break from the norm, and a brief spell of warmth inside. For the young mums, it is not that different, and the baby gets some fresh air too.
I went into some shops, not really intending to buy anything, but open to inspiration, or clever merchandising. But it was just the same old stuff, and I found myself spending a few extra minutes in a sportswear shop, as it was nice and warm inside, and the friendly staff were happy for me to browse unmolested. I still notice how chatty the local people can be, in great contrast to London. A man of about my age, walking ahead of me, turned to warn me. ‘Watch that bit, it’s slippy there’ he said, indicating a section of path that I was nowhere near. Negotiating a narrow pavement alongside a parked lorry, another man stopped to remonstrate with me about the inconsiderate parking, seeking confirmation that I was as angry about it as he was.
I decided to go into the bank to draw cash, rather than use the ATM in the cold outside. The couple in front of me were dividing cash into different sections of the lady’s handbag, and putting other banknotes into envelopes. They were so engrossed in this task, that they didn’t even notice that I was queuing behind them for some time. If I was still in London, I might well have said something, asked them to move to a counter to complete their budgeting. But I am no longer faced with the pressures of big city living, so I just waited, smiling amiably.
Walking back to the car park, the sleet was getting insistent, but it was not halting the progress of those elderly shoppers. Most were making straight for the large ‘Poundland’ store, where everything, as the name implies, costs just £1. This is a false economy of course, as the perceived value does not take into account pack sizes, the durability of the products sold, or the quality of anything you might buy there. Still, it is nice to get five things for £5, even if you realise later that you didn’t actually need them.
Back out of the sleet, cosseted in my car, I was home in ten minutes, to a welcome from Ollie. These days, a trip to Dereham seems like an adventure in a big metropolis. My life has surely changed.