Monday, March 1, 2010

Street walker 2 - The Continuing!

As I cross over the canal, I like to imagine it in it's hey day when, during the 1700s, it was a vital artery for the local wool industry, before becoming a popular tourist destination for narrow boats intent on exploring the Cotswold's. In the 1960s, the M5 motorway was built and cut it off, so now it lies like a very long, very thin lake, which has it's own attractions.

Now, it has grown lush with vegetation, sometimes leaving just a stream-like trickle between the encroaching banks, and this in turn attracts wildlife. In one short stretch, right under the road bridge, I see a family of swans, moorhens, coots, three species of ducks, screaming gulls, rats, yappy terriers and old ladies trying to brain them all with week-old bread.

It's like a David Attenborough production.

Of course, the growing vegetation, pleasing to the eye as it may be, has recently had an adverse effect on the living conditions of nearby residents. Instead of acting as a drain for excess water, as canals often do, it now acts as a river, swelling with the rains. Last year, for the first time in my estate's history, it finally overflowed and flooded out a lot of the houses round here.

I caught a baby perch by hand at the crossroads!

I recall this because, continuing my thoughts about community spirit, we were all up till about one in the morning bailing out the bungalows which got hit hardest, and walking elderly folk to their relatives cars so they could be taken away and dried out.

It was heart-warming, in a damp, inconvenient, and insurance heavy sort of way.

A few weeks later, the choking weeds were trimmed back following public outcry (a stern letter to the council from Les), and the canal has been retamed a little since.

I have to get to the Pet Shop for the bunny equivalent of crack, if I am to rest easy at night knowing our house rabbit won't jack my car and sell it for his habit, so I continue on.

The GPs surgery is busy, as per usual. Folk demanding antibiotics for their viruses and complaining that the doctors haven't cured their colds yet. I am rather taken with the sign on the front door which says, caringly, "If you have, or suspect that you have swine flu, please go home."

Onward past the very well established and rather expensive private school, which caters for teenagers from rich families across the globe, but particularly lots of boarding Japanese for some mysterious oriental reason. They huddle together as they walk, staring at the low rise buildings, grey skies and gaps of more than two metres between pedestrians, obviously wondering what sort of strange place their caring, rich, doting, rich and above all rich parents have banished sent them to.

The locals mutter as approaching herds of Nipponese fail to make way on the pavement for old, frail or pregnant people, not realising that they will, but only when the gap is much closer than the socially acceptable norms a small UK town expects. The Japanese seem to have a much smaller personal space than the average English person, which isn't surprising because anyone within the rough striking distance of a thrown cricket ball is considered getting a bit too cuddly for the average pasty gaijin round these parts.

As I'm on my own, I consider popping in to The Woolpack for a cheeky pint. Putting the word "cheeky" in front of it makes it sound like a positively good thing to be doing, like a little treat, and definitely not like drinking alone at lunchtime.

The thought depresses me, so I carry on. I'll be sensible and have a coffee with some brandy in it when I get home.

The uniquely named High Street is unusual in that it has a lot of shops which are owned by local people, including the hardware shop, the fruity seller, the chippy, the pizzeria, a couple of cafes and the butchers.

I like the butchers. It could be used as a template for butchers shops everywhere. Big, open window garnished with pieces of animals, all stainless steel surfaces inside, and the iron tang of blood as you pass. There are a couple of butchers inside. One is your classic ruddy-cheeked knife maestro, all thick forearms and barrel chest, a man who could probably reduce a cow to a neatly stacked pile of bones in the time a flock of pirhanas takes to sharpen their claws.

I totally do know what a pirhana is, actually.

The other butcher is not as butch as the butch butcher. I'm not sure why, and I don't want to be campist, but you don't expect butchers to be camp. Sort of the equivalent of having a hairdresser doing an elaborate bouffant whilst wearing oil-stained overalls. Just out of place.

Anyway, what he lacks up for in terms of classical butchering poise, he more than makes up for in his enthusiasm for double entendres.

Really bad double entendres, where he over enunciates the word with the sexual connotations, in case his bemused audience misses it, and accompanies each utterance with a strange, painful looking head wrench which may, just may, be some sort of friendly wink.

Examples include, after an old lady has asked for a small number of sausages for her tea; "What's that love, you want some of my SAUSAGE Eh?" Headwrenchheadwrenchheadwrench.

Or when someone orders some beef; "Eh? Good choice love. I've got the best MEAT in town!" Headwrenchheadwrenchheadwrench.

Or when someone buys absolutely anything else from the shop; "Would you like me to put my PENIS in your VAGINA, eh love? Eh? EH?" Headwrenchheadwrenchheadwrench.

I pass my favourite cafe. The owners opened it 6 years previously and continually produce great food from a tiny kitchen, from cupcakes to entire roast dinners. It has a loyal customer base and never fails to please.

As I pass, the owner, Heather, is evicting someone. No mean feat as she is small, delicate and almost pathologically averse to confrontation. The evictee is Cider Ron, and he is being kicked out because he's very . . . well, cidery.

There is a strong smell of booze, stale urine, and body odour which accompany a vast array of stains on what once might have been an expensive blazer, bought twenty years ago by a thinner man with some money and style.

He starts swearing and shouting about what he perceives as an injustice, not recalling his abysmal behaviour just a couple of days ago when Heather had to call the police to have him removed. At least we presume he's swearing, but it's all in fast german, so it's hard to tell. Wisely, Heather simply tells him she's not arguing and retreats, flushed but victorious, back behind the pretty bay windows of the cafe.

Tragically, Cider Ron used to be a linguistics expert, with a good job and associated income, until he discovered alcohol and learned that his favourite language of all was "Blaargh! Sharrap! Oof!"

A moment later, Ron has forgotten why he's standing there, remembers he's hungry and begins to walk back towards the cafe. He's turned around at the door by an exiting* customer who points him in the direction of the chippy, who will no doubt be grateful for the custom.

I eventually make it to the pet shop. Another locally owned premises, it is staffed by an amazingly knowledgeable and caring bunch of ladies who I would consult on matters of small animal husbandry before most qualified vets. They know us well, having sold us our rabbit in the first place and boarding him when we go on holiday, so I'm usually in there for a good twenty minutes, even for just the smallest item.

They let me play with some of the domesticated rats they have in stock, and I once again wonder what the wife would think if I came home with a couple of dozen. The forecast would be for ructions, a rapidly descending cold-front and withheld affections.

Sensibly, I decide that a junkie bunny is enough for the moment, and purchase two bags of rabbit treats before saying goodbye.

The door bell chimes behind me as I leave to go home. It's a short distance, but a journey nonetheless.

*That's 'exiting', not 'exciting'. Alhtough how cool would it be if an exciting customer came out of the cafe? Possibly with a jet pack and a pet bear. Oh yeah . . .


  1. It's remakable how similar but at the same time how very different is your place and mine. Of course OZ is populated mainly by people who escaped from the British Isles, and that was only a couple of hundred years ago but still we have a very different set of habits already. ..Rabbits however are the same demanding creatures everywhere!
    PS( We're not allowed to keep rabbits as pets, vermin you see!)

  2. *sigh* the downside of living in the suburbs of a small town, sugar, is that i no longer have the shops nearby! i really do miss living downtown. what a great wander in your little town y'all have shared today!

  3. So your neighborhood has the equivalent of Venice's Acua Alta?

    I like that you have several small shops and people to interact with. In the states, you arrive at one big shop that covers several thousand meters, then you drive to the next one if you don't find what you are looking for.

  4. I've never been attracted to long thin lakes. They make me feel fat.

    In an ideal world small yappy dogs would be annihilated. Fancy going out shooting this Saturday?

  5. Ah, the camp butcher is the best.

    Also, blargh sharrap oof.


  6. Tempo - I've heard that to see how similar Australians and British people are, put them in a room with an American! Mind you, I've met a lot of Yanks I've had more in common with than many of my compatriots.

    Savvy - It's getting more like that here, to tell the truth. New housing schemes popping up promising shops, schools and leisure centres, but failing to provide the last once the houses have all been sold due to "the current economic crisis". They'll be slums in ten years.

    Eric - Exactly like that, only hardly any of our cathedrals or ancient floor mosaics were damaged. We were lucky really.

    Mo - I'll bring the sandwiches. Do you like terrier?

    Soda and Candy - :-)

  7. "Would you like me to put my PENIS in your VAGINA, eh love? Eh? EH?"

    Funny, I've always imagined that's what my future husband will say to win me over. With the English accent, of course. Without it, no deal.

    I love this post.

  8. what is it with butchers? Nice, descriptive post...I liked it very much...

  9. I grew up in a small mountain town that had many of the same charms that you describe. I remember going to the local butcher for my mom and he would always make me a raw hamburger patty between 2 saltines, and we would enjoy our treat together.

  10. Surprised you've not been arrested for all that street walking. But at least it allows you to exercise your superb hunter-gatherer skills.


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