Sunday, 25 October 2009

Golden Oldie

It's a wet Wednesday morning and I'm in the small town of Shaftesbury in Dorset, waiting for a bus to Salisbury.

I'd never heard of Shaftesbury until yesterday when I was told I would be delivering a car here. As I drove into the town earlier a large sign proclaimed it to be 'The Home of Gold Hill.' I've never heard of that either.

From the bus stop I can see a pedestrian signpost at the side of the town hall, indicating the way to this apparently famous hill. I have a few minutes to spare before the bus arrives so I follow the sign down a narrow cobbled alleyway which brings me to the top of a steep cobbled street, ridiculously picturesque and devoid of people or vehicles.

It is less than a hundred yards from the town centre and yet the place is so deserted that for a moment I wonder if it is private property. But there are no signs to confirm this so I walk down to the bottom and then back up again, still without seeing another soul.
gold hill

If you're older than about thirty you will have seen this view before, although you might not immediately recognise it. It is the setting for the black and white Hovis advert with the kid pushing the bike up the hill.

While looking this up I came across a couple of improbable facts. Firstly, the advert was recently voted the nation's all-time favourite, and secondly it was directed by Ridley Scott, the guy responsible for Alien and Blade Runner amongst other things.

Personally I think the advert could have been enlivened by an alien bursting out of a doorway and chasing the kid back down the hill. It might still have had a chance of being voted the nation's favourite, although not by the same people.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Where Was I?

It's Thursday afternoon and I'm at my flat sorting through some old maps as part of a general clear out.

In the years between the dawn of the internet and the arrival of satnavs I used to print out reams of one-page maps from Multimap or Google, covering anywhere I needed to be the next day which wasn't already covered by my shelf of street atlases.

I've been hoarding these ever since with the vague idea that they might one day become aids to my appalling memory - I could look back at them in later years and be able to recall those days and places again.

One of the pages catches my eye now as the ink is so smeared and splattered by rain that many of the street names are illegible. I can make out Thornaby Road - a red line running north to south - so I guess I was somewhere in Teeside, a part of the country I very rarely go to. Wherever I was heading for I must have got absolutely drenched on the way. And yet neither of these unusual circumstances are enough to stir even the slightest recollection of that day, however much I stare at the crumpled paper.

Maybe my pile of would-be memories will turn out to provide only another demonstration of my inability to recall anything much about anything much.

I think I'll keep them anyway.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Not Keeping up Appearances

It's early afternoon on Monday and I'm in the village of Caersws in mid-Wales, waiting for a bus to Llandidloes where I'm due to collect a car from a dealership.

I'm passing the time trying to guess whether the pub opposite me, The Buck Hotel, has closed down. There are no metal shutters on the windows but in general it looks as though nobody has paid it much attention for some time. The paint is peeling badly from the black window frames. Running just below the roof there is string of small decorative red and blue lights, looking suspiciously like they may have been there since last Christmas. On the ground at the front a long trough contains a flowerbed which has long since turned feral - a mass of unidentifiable plants and weeds tumbling over the edges. In the midst of the unruly crowd a single small red flower stands out.

A white Somerfield carrier bag, blowing by on the wind, flattens itself against the plants at the end of the flowerbed but does not succeed in making the place look noticeably more run down. It lingers for a few moments and then darts away again, as if it has spotted somewhere where it has more chance of making a difference.

Between the front doors and the pavement there are a couple of wooden tables of the variety that have the bench seats built onto them. The fact that these tables are not bolted to the ground, and are still here, finally makes me decide that the place must still be in business

It would be easy to write some disparaging conclusions about The Buck, or to make a big poignant deal out of the solitary red flower. But the truth is I don't mind places like this, where appearances are clearly not a priority, provided there is no air of menace to the dilapidation.

I would always rather be somewhere untidy than somewhere which is just too neat. If nothing is out of place then you are the thing that is out of place.

All I would change about the pub would be to add a sign in the window to let people know that they had not gone bust, something along the lines of -

'Yes, we are still open, we're just not that bothered.'