Straight out of the door, I bump into the man from five doors down with the 1970s sideburns and the beige slacks and the weatherworn tartan sports jacket, quickstepping with his trademark age-defying alacrity across the drizzle-dashed pavingstones on what would be his third visit of the afternoon to Corals the bookmaker or I’m the Archbishop of Canterbury. I consider myself on neighbourly terms with the man from five doors down with the 1970s sideburns and the beige slacks and the weatherwarn tartan sports jacket seeing as how several Sunday afternoons ago we exchanged brief pleasantries in the One Stop Shop concerning our respective (and in my case, vain) searches for a tine of chickpeas and a packet of icing sugar (‘you can never find bloody nowt in here can you’ was the exact nature of his closing pleasantry, if I recall correctly) so I messay a sort of half-grunt, half-nod of neighbourly recognition, which goes singularly unreturned, the man from five doors down with the 1970s sideburns and the beige slacks and the weatherworn tartan sports jacket being evidently too exercised by the odds on offer for the 3:15 at Newmarket to be bothered with niceties of any description.
On the front street and behind the first set of plateglass windows, a newly-minted team of wet-behind-the-ears shop assistants is being briefed by a stern-looking manageress in don't-mess-with-me-I'm-the-boss thick rimmed glasses. This is the latest development at the Spar Shop, which closed down unceremoniously the very day after we moved in and is due to re-open, if overheard gossip on the trainstation platform is anything to go by, as a Flagship Spar Shop no less, complete with fresh bread section, extensive selection of continental beers and wines, and (if some of the more outlandish rumours are to be believed) a vending machine dispensing Multinational High Street branded coffee in recyclable Styrofoam cups. A poster pasted across the newly exposed front window proclaims ‘Your New Store Opens Tomorrow at 3PM’, news which will be greeted with great excitement by Frankie, who in the last weeks has taken to heading out for neighbourhood bikerides on thin pretences, and returning from said bikerides with breathless updates on the minutae of the refit (‘The shelves are up!’; ‘There are men inside putting lights in!; They were throwing rubbish into a skip out the back!’).
In the soon-to-closed bakers shop a half dozen unsold meat and potato pies sag away their final hours within the hotglass chamber that has imprisoned them since midmorning, while in the soon-to-open chipshop a more sprightly-looking and newly-glazed selection of their cousins are lined up temptingly in shimmering individual tin encasements. Rather more optimistically, festive bunting adorns the adjacent two shopfronts, which host displays, respectively, of work uniforms (tabards made to measure) and sports trophies (centrestage: a giant replica of the FA Cup).
At the counter of the streetcorner cafe I proffer my loyalty card while concealing in my wallet equally well-stamped loyalty cards (fickleness cards?) for no less than three competing concerns, one of which is, according to possibly unfounded local hearsay, due to open an automatic vending concession in a nearby convenience store. The only other customers are a very sweet courting couple, perhaps 17 years old and clearly on a first date (‘have you told anyone you were coming out?’,the girl asks. ‘What did they say?’. From practiced eavesdropping of their nervous, teasing, affectionate exchanges I pick up that the girl’s family moved North recently from London to live near her grandmother, an alcoholic Cypriot with a heart of gold. The boy listens attentively then apologises for his own ancestry’s comparative ordinariness: ‘I’m dead boring, me. Not even got any Irish in me’.
After a long drawn out cappuccino the loved-up twosome depart leaving just me and the café guy. It’s late opening tonight as ‘there’s an ADHD group in’ so he says I can stay as long as I like.... but he’s busying himself around with a dustpan and brush so maybe it's actually time to leave. Over and out.