The queue at the department store Debenhams stretches along the display windows up Rampant Horse Street. The chain shop that will soon close (under current management at least) employs 12,000 staff around the UK. Customers keen for a deal in these straitened times just want to gather up any bargains while they can. Who knows what savings can be made by picking over the bones? The business was first established in 1778 as an upmarket drapery. Now it is finally on its downmarket knees the customers come, too late.
A friend of mine experienced something of a panic attack when in the store a few weeks ago. She found the environment so unnatural to her, so artificial to her spirit that she felt her body going through a process of sensory shutdown. She made it out in one piece, but shaken. She is someone who needs fresh air, natural light and open spaces. A sample of one person, but I must admit feeling a little disoriented on my only visit a few weeks ago too, when I could not find the way route down to the street from the upper sales floor.
As I walk past the shop I recall the scene opposite of an accident yesterday. Yesterday a delivery boy on a bicycle collided with a taxi. A bicycling paramedic was just hoving into view as I passed the concerned shoppers gathering around the bewildered looking youngster sitting on the pavement, his bike laid flat square on to the grill of the cab. The taxi driver looked shaken up as well. He was pacing back and forth beside his car looking a little grey.
I wonder how everyone is feeling about it today, the boy, the driver, the witnesses.
I was on my way to the architectural monstrosity that hides the city library and a café that has a broad open air terrace. I met a friend there for coffee and to handover a book of Pablo Neruda’s poetry. I was grateful for the time and opportunity to sit opposite the elegant tower of St Peter Mancroft with her and talk about poetry, language, family and life in Norwich.
The piazza between the café and the church was being used by a local car dealer to show a range of their latest cars. My friend was furious that this historic city centre was being despoiled by the vehicles and the sales banners. She sat with her back to the marketing display, collar pulled up, coat zipped up fast. her situation was as much in disgust at the presence of the repellant vehicles as a need to protect herself from the strong north-easterly wind and rain that swept in under the café’s parasol / umbrella.
When we parted I walked on to deliver a loaf of bread to my writing friend who always manages to engage me with a funny story, or at least a great way of telling unfunny stories in an amusing way. I think we both mine the same seam of dark humour. Although I stood at the doorstep of her apartment and felt a little cold, our brief exchange of up-dates and a couple of spontaneous laughs sent me on my way in a good mood.
As I walk back past Harry’s I notice that it’s stainless steel tables are stacked and chained up on the patio. This is a promising development for days of better weather, also indicating that service is beginning to return to normal.
During the mid-afternoon I join a small group online studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight. Coleridge was a radical thinker at the revolutionary end of the 18th Century who wrote some well known poems and many essays. He was a proponent of an outdoor, natural sciences method of educating children and this comes across strongly in Frost at Midnight.
It is a poem full of beautifully captured images, written in blank verse. It points to a hopeful future for his baby son. He hopes that his baby will be able to enjoy a better education than he endured at Westminster School by the Thames. Today we would probably call his ideal school a “forest school”. The benefits of mixing formal learning with immersion in the pastoral world seem obvious to me, but not the curriculum managers of the UK education system.
By way of diversion I am skipping through Truman Capote’s ‘Summer Crossing’. The young woman who is the focus of the story is presented as remarkably sophisticated, (as well as ridiculously wealthy and privileged). I am enjoying the lyrical style of the book very much, although uses of the N word by her lover early on underline the open racism of post-Second World War society, which even with historical context are now shocking to read.
Tomorrow is an anniversary of relatively recent memory. Not one I can share as I would have dreamed, but one of magic and surprise, that I still find magical and surprising in retrospect. I continue to count my blessings.
I have other writing to do before lights out, but as I have warm feet tonight I am happy.