Monday, 16 November 2009

Every Little Helps

It's shortly before eleven in the morning and I'm standing on the platform of Newtown station, in mid-Wales, feeling out of breath and unhappy. About three minutes ago, a train left for Shrewsbury. I was not on it, thanks to Tesco. They are building a new store nearby and the resulting roadworks have virtually gridlocked the main roads into and out of the town.

This delayed my delivery of a brand new Mercedes van to an energy company about a mile from here. One of the guys who worked there offered to give me a lift to the station, but the idea was abandoned by mutual consent when it became clear that I would be quicker walking, although not quite quick enough as it turns out, despite jogging the last five hundred yards. The next train is not for another two hours so I set off to find something to do here to distract myself from my perception of being the unluckiest man in the world ever.

Opposite the station is a Somerfield, and half a mile up the road is a Morrisons. Why is there such a need for a third supermarket that the whole town has to grind to a halt in order to facilitate its arrival?

I wander around for a while, through the town centre and then along the river Severn. In pathless corners of a large empty park I find a big old owl carved from a tree stump, its face now badly damaged,

newtown 2

and a stone circle centred around a raised slab of about the right size and elevation to sacrifice an animal on.


I then head back to investigate a department store I noticed earlier near the station - Pryce Jones - which describes itself as the largest department store in mid-Wales, and is housed in an old ornate brick building. I saw it as soon as I walked out of the station, but avoided going in. The problem is that even though I resent the increasing dominance of the chain stores, the more of them there are around the more the few remaining independent stores just seem strange and anachronistic - unknown quantities to be avoided.

But I still have an hour to spare and have now developed a principled desire to look inside the place. The interior is a strange mixture of forlorn, faded glamour and cheap, poundshop cheerfulness. On the ground floor they sell biscuits, crisps, pop, canned food, cd cases, clothing and any number of other odds and ends.  On one shelf are dvd players still in their original Woolworths boxes. In a space on the floor lies a pallet loaded up with bags of sugar and surrounded by a white dusting of spillage.

There is a cafe on the first floor and so I head up there. On the landing is a large stained glass window with a royal crest and an inscription saying that the store is patronised by her Majesty herself. I wonder how long it is since her last visit. A hole in the top corner of the glass has been crudely covered over with card. Almost all the customers now seem to be working class women.

I could probably find more things that I wanted or needed in a single aisle of Tesco, but I like the oddness of this place, and the way it has obviously re-invented itself to remove all traces of refinement and gentility.

The cafe is tucked away to the side of the furniture section and in contrast to the rest of the store is spotless. There is only one other guy there, who I recognise as having arrived at the station just after me, sprinting from his car only to find that his fate was the same as mine, for the same reason.

I like the small wooden flowers in vases on the cafe tables, and the smiling relaxed staff. I was intending to just have coffee, but feel that I ought to do something more to show my support for the place's continued existence. I end up ordering scrambled egg on toast and a cream cake as well, which is perhaps not the most overt or inspiring display of solidarity ever, but better than nothing.

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