Friday, February 10, 2012

Through a Morning in Time

It takes a while for me to realise how much it's changed, this city.

The new-ish train is silent, smooth, runs without a murmur, unlike the old.  When I arrived here twelve years ago the train to the city stank of diesel, seats with some cushions missing, stained, grubby, torn carpet.

The train station, when I arrive, is the same.  Same steps to run up, must hurry, always, up to the main concourse.  Same checked tickets on exit, across a large hall and out the sets of doors at one end into blinding early morning sunshine glinting off the glass windows and roofs of taxis lined up outside.

Cross the street, hurrying, past patches of brand-new construction mingled with torn-up lumps of discarded concrete.

After the rushed hour of making it to my timed appointment, finishing, leaving... no need to hurry anymore.  I slow down and look around me, at this city.

Once upon a time, over a decade ago now, I knew this place well.  Back then, public transport was cheap, even for me, and it cost a total of £1.80, return included, to travel in on the bus, and only ten pence more to take the train.

This morning I look at my ticket in surprise to read that it cost me £5 return.  Five pounds!  I'd barely glanced at the change in my hand after purchasing the ticket; running out to catch the train on time was more important.

Walking along the busy street that leads up to the square, the fountain [locally known as the floozy in the jacuzzi] and the art gallery, I note how so many familiar shops have disappeared.  The enormous shopping centre at the end of the street --the largest in the UK when it was finished nine years ago-- pulled the chain stores into its huge open arms and with a recession, most of them could no longer afford to keep two outlets open within a mile of each other.

I think about the indoor market, crowded with ethnic clothing, piercing and tattoo studios; smelling of pot and Doc Martens; the place where we used to shop.  Back when the city was mostly gritty and dirty, with no clean bright white concrete: then it was grey and broken and ugly.  All now covered in shiny metal and glass.

We began buying online.  Why spend the extra money to go into the city when we could stay at home?  Shops we did make use of also began to appear in our own town, so there was no need to travel. We even had a Starbucks to take the place of our long-gone Blue Cafe and the local vegetarian restaurant that never did take off in our pork scratching-loving town.

I think our regular trips to the city probably ended when our favourite bookshop closed down.  We would take a family day out to sit in the wide aisles, reading and visiting Starbucks, but then it was gone too.

Gone also, I think, is my fascination with the shiny lines and squares of the city.  I find myself wishing instead for the freshness of the outdoors and the smell of rain-scented trees, instead of the new clothing and perfume smells of shopping meccas.

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