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Date: 14/07/21

Down Town

I went into town this morning.

This would not in normal circumstances be considered a wantonly extravagant act, but the circumstances of the last year and a quarter could hardly be described as 'normal'. But I had last been in Wrexham town centre sometime in June of 2020, and that was just to the bus station to catch a connection home from Sainsbury's during one of those periods where the bus services were curtailed in terms of both frequency and routes.

Other than that, there had been no need for me to venture into town at all given that - when there was anything open at all - there was nothing on offer there which I couldn't get elsewhere or by other methods.

That included that fact that I badly needed a haircut. I couldn't be sure even after the loosening of restrictions latterly whether the barber on King Street to whom I had been giving this gargantuan commission for over twenty years - a good man - was open again, when he was open and what arrangements I would need to make to see him; I didn't have a phone number for him, for one thing. I wasn't going to spend 4.60 on a bus ticket down there only to find out that I couldn't get a trim.

By early June, it was apparent that Something Had To Be Done as I had come to resemble an Afghan hound, and any sudden lateral movement of my head was like being whisked away behind a set of curtains. There is a hair salon in the village however, and I managed to get in there the day before my birthday. The efficiency of the young lass facing the task of giving me an all-over Grade Three may be ascertained by the fact that I went into the salon at 11:57 looking like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family and emerged at 12:07 looking like Mr. Perplexed Peanut. I was sorely tempted to make sheep noises at one point during the shearing, but desisted for fear of being misunderstood. She did a grand job, and I might keep my hair this short from hereon in, even if it does highlight the fact that I've gone totally grey.

But I found myself having to go into town for financial reasons. Because the sum total of my taxable income for the year to 5 April 2021 was way below my personal allowance, I had been refunded the tax which had been deducted at source from it at the time. The repayment had been sent to me by Revenge And Cussedness as a cheque (what is technically-known as a 'Payable Order') because I don't have an online account with HMRC, knowing rather more than is good for me about what can happen at the other end of that process. So I would have to pay it into my bank's branch manually. This would also give me the chance to pay in 15-worth of 5p, 2p and 1p pieces which had been bagged up in a drawer since before The Plague struck, something which I had last done nearly five years ago, but something which I'm unlikely to have to do again because I have paid for things by cash no more than about three times since the middle of last year, so no change there (ho! ho!).

I have to admit to a certain degree of trepidation about the voyage; that uncertainty says an awful lot about the ways in which we have all become hypersensitised to the prospect of close proximity to other people in numbers. But there was nothing for it but to board the number 14 bus just before ten this morning and head off.

Alighting at the top of Lord Street, I made my way down the road (listing lightly again due to the weight of currency in my shopping bag), pausing to note that the large baker's and coffee shop which stood near the top of the street had closed completely (I later discovered that it had moved two streets down), and there were other casualties of either COVID or corporate capitalism further down. The bank was open however, and I stood outside for a couple of minutes before a cheerful young woman came out to see if I needed help (I always do, but you know what I mean). Once I had explained, she led me inside, showed me to a machine where I could deposit the coins and left to assist some other desperate customer.

I lifted the lid on the device, placed the first bag of coins on the grid-like top of the machine and closed the lid. There was a bit of whirring, and the screen above then told me that it had counted a grand total of...0.00p. Baffled, I lifted the lid, put another bag on and closed the cover. After more whirring, the same result. I stood there baffled. I then remembered the sage advice of the ages:

"When all else fails, read the instructions."

Doing so, I realised that I was supposed to pour the coins down the slots. I was so glad that the girl had abandoned me and was not standing behind me sniggering at the incompetence of the old fart who isn't as smart as he kids himself on to be.

So I started emptying the bags into the machine and watched the total mount up on the screen. Damn! One of the bags containing the 5p pieces - the smallest-sized of the denominations - had come undone in the carrier bag I had put them all in. I managed to corral them all and fed them in.

A number of the coins had to be re-inserted before the device would take them, and I ended up with two 2p pieces which it simply refused to accept. I could understand why, as they were battered to buggery. I went across to a service desk and explained, and the girl there - a different one - told me that they could sort that out at the main counter, where I could also pay in the cheque. The woman there told me that the coins wouldn't be accepted by whichever company handles these things for the bank, but that she would make up the shortfall out of her cash drawer. My receipt was stamped and I left, pleased with the customer service but mortified at my own incompetence.

It had started to get very warm by this time (I had settled on Wednesday for this trip as the temperatures are forecast to climb to 70°F and above for over a week thereafter), so I wasn't inclined to hang around down there. I walked down the bottom of Rhosddu Road, along Queen Street and then right up Hope Street.

It was comforting in a way that the place still looked as run-down as it had when I last encountered it. It's the Wrexham Way y'know, as described here. This has not stopped yet another attempt by the self-regarding incompetents and boodlers who form the majority on Wrexham County Borough Council to apply for 'city status'. Consider this: the Council's Children's Services department is in special measures; amenities are closed or left unmaintained; there are insufficient council properties to meet local need; the condition of any roads which are not arterial is shocking; and the town centre is full of empty shops. And to all the complaints, the Council (currently ruled by an alliance of Tories and soi-disant 'independents') responds that they can't do anything because There Isn't Any Money. And yet there they are again proposing to waste time and our money on another self-aggrandising campaign which will bring no tangible economic benefits to anyone...other than the councillors and officers who will no doubt tout for an increase in their remuneration packages because they would be representing a city, however risible such a designation would be.

Making my way onto Regent Street, I was pleased to see that the pound shop which occupies the space once filled by Woolworth's was still there, because it gave me the possibility of finding a pleasure which I had realised last night that I hadn't experienced for a long time.

Way back in the when, as a new recruit in what was then the Inland Revenue in Tŷ Maelor in Grosvenor Road, I had been introduced to that Great British Office Tradition known as 'the tea trolley'. This would come around twice in a working day, propelled by Maureen, whose cry of "Trolley!!" from the bottom end of the room was balm to the soul of the stiffs who were hard at work processing forms and letters.

It wasn't just tea and coffee which Maureen dispensed, however; there were biscuits and and other snacks, and one day I availed myself of a packet of cheese and onion crisps made by a firm I'd never heard of up to that point, Seabrook's of Bradford. One chomp and I was hooked, and a bag was essential every day thereafter.

After I had been moved to the new office on the edge of town, the trolley service there - provided by the hospital just up the road - seldom offered the option and I had to get my fix via a multipack bag from Sainsbury's once a week. Then the trolley service was withdrawn completely. Then Sainsbury's stopped stocking them as well, so I had to go to this particular shop on Regent Street for my supply. Except of course, this had not been possible either since early 2020.

I wandered to the far side of the shop and there they were! The sweet objects of my desire! I grabbed three six-pack bags and - along with a three-bar packet of Imperial Leather soap and a large bar of Galaxy chocolate - I paid and left the emporium with a mild sense of triumph.

(I ate a bag this afternoon and found that - for once - the essence of a product hadn't been changed; they still tasted as good as they had thirty years ago. I was troubled however to find that the brand is now owned by some sort of offshoot of a Japanese corporation, and that said offshoot's website describes the firm as being 'young and ambitious' twice in the space of three short paragraphs; some of us know too much as to how such self-descriptions tend to pan out).

I then moseyed up to where two shoe shops stand side by side next to the Methodist Church. I know that I'm going to need a new pair of shoes ere too long, and that the place I used to get them from has now departed from the realm of actual shops and is merely an online presence. I couldn't see what I wanted in either store, so wandered off up King Street for the final stop.

The Co-op store moved not so long ago from its long-held location on the site of the old British Gas showroom across the road to premises previously occupied by a bar. This transfer had taken place after our little invaders had arrived, so I hadn't been in there before. The previous shop had been very cramped and claustrophobic, but here they have had the opportunity to spread out far more and it's a much more pleasant experience now, even if you didn't need to get twitchy about people being too close. I bought my four-pack of Guinness and made my way to the (nine-minutes-late) bus, getting home at about a quarter to twelve.

It would be far too grand of me to state that I have a sense of achievement from so quotidian an enterprise as travelling four miles each way on a bus and walking around a small section of the town centre, but the effort had to be made.