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Date: 04/05/11

Aimlessly Wandering

I'm getting a bit fed up of all this, to be honest.

I went up to Chester today, recognising that - during the week off from work to which I would otherwise have looked forward - I needed to keep active. I'd done some gardening over the weekend, and had gone to Sainsbury's on Tuesday (yes, I live life in the bus lane, don't I?). Realising that the forecasts were agreed in showing Wednesday as being the last day we'd have good weather this week, and given that I had other things to do to occupy Thursday and Friday, today seemed the ideal day to take my first proper visit to old Deva for about three and half years.

So I set off on the 09:20 bus and, after it had done its usual circumnavigation of the Plas Coch Retail Park, I got off at Wrexham General station, bought my ticket and made my way to Platform 2 for the 10:02 Cardiff - Holyhead train.

This arrived bang on time, and by 10:20 I was walking away from Chester station.

I didn't have a set plan for where I was going to go, but I started by walking down Brook Street just to make sure that Grey & Pink Records was still there. I used to buy loads of old vinyl from there back in the day, but I haven't bought any bits of round, black plastic with a hole in the middle at all for some years.

Having made sure that my intended target for later was, indeed, still going, I joined the city walls just between the Cathedral and Deanery Field and headed anti-clockwise towards the North Gate. There had been a second-hand bookshop at wall level just before the Gate, and I'd bought a fair whack of stuff from there down the years, too, Wrexham having been completely devoid of second-hand book shops of the right sort for many years.

When I got there, it was obvious that the shop was still in existence - but it was shut. So that was one kick down.

I descended to street level and made my way past the cheese shop from which I used often to emerge with a very large lump of Farmhouse Lancashire in my shopping bag, and crossed the road in front of the Town Hall. At the time of my last visit, there had been much talk (and considerable brouhaha) about 'redeveloping' (planners' language for 'fucking up') Northgate Street. I was quite glad to see that the developers had not had their wicked way with the area just yet. So, I found that the Forum market hall was still open. This, however, like market halls in many another place, is about one-third empty. There used to be, in one of the lock-up shops at one end, a place called The Vinyl Grooveyard, and I used to buy a bit from there too. Now, I found a stall run by an elderly gent whose name - if the sign attached to the stall was correct - is Vinyl Dave.

Now, as a contributor to that wonderful resource for aficionados of seven-inch singles called 45Cat, I had intended to see if I could pick out some interesting examples which might amaze and impress my fellow members. But here's where I sensed that the day was heading south at some speed: much as I would once have revelled in the possibility of flicking through the racks, I suddenly found that my enthusiasm, rather than simply heading south, had obviously decided to stay on the train and was now probably somewhere near Colwyn Bay and heading for the sea. I picked robotically at the selection, wanting little more than to go back outside and more or less to get the whole day over with and return home.

So it was that I left the market after about twenty minutes and decided that I would briefly check out two other old haunts. First off was Waterstone's, which I had decided to visit to see if I could find a copy of a book which my dear chum Alex had recommended to me as a possible means of neutering the Black Dog. I found a copy (after some difficulty; there seemed to be no signage indicating what sort of books were to be found on which floor) and flicked through it, but it seemed to be laid out too much like something from an A-level psychology course, and so I put that idea on the back burner for a bit.

I then headed out and down the street to the local branch of HMV, and then discovered that the ground floor was now all DVDs and games and that the music was all upstairs. So I trudged (and by now, that was the operative word) up to the first floor and mooched around quite aimlessly for a few minutes.

It was here that I made my only purchase of the day; namely a CD of Neu!'s album Neu! '75. I paid seven quid over to a young lad who seemed to be held together entirely by tattoos, and headed back up the road.

(Incidentally, the next time you come across one of those posturing execs or lawyers from the record 'biz' telling you that 'illegal' downloading is 'killing music', tell him he's talking bollocks; I would almost certainly never have bought this album had I not been able to download a .torrent of it first to see if I liked it).

I doubled back a bit and went through the Grosvenor Shopping Precinct. The emphasis here being on the word through, as there was nothing in there which would have maintained my interest even if I'd have been in what passes for my right mind these days. In fact, several of the 'outlets' there seemed to be in the process of closing down.

I emerged on the other side, crossed Pepper Street and headed down Lower Bridge Street to the river. Turning right, I went and sat on a bench downstream of the Bridge Gate to have spot of lunch.

Desperately seeking a means of shaking myself out of my increasing distemper, I gazed across (not for the first time) at a strange outcrop of rock on Edgar's Field on the further bank, and resolved that I would investigate. I duly made my way towards the Grosvenor Bridge in order to cross the Dee, only to find that not only was the footpath some way below the level of the bridge, but the footpath itself was blocked, and progress at that level beyond the bridge was impossible.

The reason? It was Race Day at The Roodee, which I hadn't realised. That also explained why the Little Roodee car park was packed full of fairground trucks and caravans. And the fair itself, although this was not at work at the time.

Forced once again to retrace my steps to get back onto a viable route, I climbed up Castle Drive, where I took one of only two photographs I took during my entire visit: this one of a surviving part of Chester Castle:

Photograph of a wall of Chester Castle

Having reached the main road again, I thought "Arseholes to the outcrop!" (as you do), and turned right instead. I then got slightly lost for a few minutes before finding myself by the Roman amphitheatre on Little St John Street. Not even that could hold my interest for more than a few seconds, so I pressed on a little further (passing a group of strangely-garbed men doing mock sword-fighting at the entrance to St John's Church) and sat in Grosvenor Park for a few minutes to no great purpose, especially as I had realised that if I had wanted to follow the Walls back up towards the city centre I shouldn't have even come as far as the amphitheatre.

It was here that I availed myself of a small insight. I had been trolling around in a state of a sort of emotional disconnectedness from my surroundings for the previous hour or more. I mean, the weather was very pleasant (apart from a rather chilly airstream), I was in one of the places in the world which I like a great deal, and there were things I could profitably be doing. So why could I feel absolutely nothing, not even irritation with whole parties of sleek-looking bastards intent on enjoying the day's racing on someone else's expense account?

I then realised that a suitable metaphor for such a state would be that of a whole-body condom: nothing reaches you from the outside, and you can't make proper contact with anything from the inside. And, of course, you also end up feeling a complete prick.

Dragging myself off the bench, I then meandered up Love Street (and, as you might expect from its name, this thoroughfare was once noted for traffic other than that of the vehicular variety, where condoms of any variety would have been a good idea), before finding my route up St Oswald's Way and back onto Brook Street and calling into Grey & Pink as I'd promised myself I would.

Except that here, too, I found that any activity was scarcely worth the effort. Just as in the market earlier on, I found myself scanning the product in a desultory, listless fashion (perhaps it would have been better had I made a list, but that would have been asking too much at this stage). Once I had determined that they didn't have a copy of Living Room Suite, the only solo LP by Harry Chapin released during his lifetime which I don't have, then the last remaining potential interest had gone out of the day.

So, after a mere half an hour I headed out of what used to be a veritable Aladdin's Cave of possible discoveries, and found myself, shortly after 14:00, standing on Platform 4A on Chester station waiting for a train to Maesteg.

(Yes, Maesteg. I'd thought that the train I'd be waiting to come home on would be from Holyhead to Birmingham New Street, but it turned out - after I'd made a necessary enquiry - that it was running via Shrewsbury, Hereford and sundry other places only to end up in a small town in the arsehole of The Valleys).

The train arrived, I sat more than a little pensively on it back to Wrexham before catching a 13 bus back home, all the time wondering what had happened to my joie de vivre and when the hell I could expect it to come back.

Not, all in all, a good day.

Footnote: If you're interested in Chester, I can warmly recommend Steve Howe's Chester Virtual Stroll.