About Town: 172,800 seconds of summer…


If you accept the recurrent narrative – regurgitated without so much as a bated eyelid by everyone from office mates to cab drivers – summer out here lasts a mere 172,800 seconds; two days. Making my way home, by way of the ASDA superstore, it is not hard to accept that as fact, given there are scores of people milling about, or seated in the outdoor stalls the pubs on Castlegate – most notably Black Friars, Carltons and Sinatras – have managed to set up. The two recurring decimals are pints of golden brew and bare arms of all shapes and colours; the sun deigned to shine in all its glory today, and we its doting worshippers have come out to play.

At the store, I find myself stuck in a line which is only inching along slowly, even though it is a tad shorter than the others. When it is my turn, I find that the till keeper is not dressed in the normal green garb of the ASDA check out assistant, but rather in a pair of unofficial jeans and a t shirt. The cause of the delays soon come to light. It would appear that he is not someone who normally mans the tills, he has to receive guidance from the attendant in the booth next to his from time to time – a much younger kid than he is by all accounts. Shopping done and dusted, I leave wondering if I have just witnessed first hand the teething pains of re-skilling, or more likely the floor manager stepping in to help get the queue moving.

With time I am finding out that there is a certain method to the madness of banal conversation. Drilled down to the bare essentials it is largely about feigning just enough interest to appear engaged –  uhhms and ahhs inserted into the dialogue at the right times – whilst steering very well clear of any difficult subjects  that might break the thin veneer of enforced civility, the point being to ruffle as few feathers as possible. I suspect it is that acquired reflex that makes me – not entirely out of context – bring up the JayZ song, Hard Knock Life when our Friday afternoon office lunch time conversation segues into the far too serious territory of death, faith and the afterlife. It does achieve the intended effect as we are drawn from the brink of an entirely unnecessary conversation into the safer realms of an argument around who the credits for the line should go to. I eat humble pie in the end – blame my tv starved childhood- when wikipedia confirms that the refrain from what is universally accepted as JayZ’s seminal rap song – is actually a sample from Annie the Musical. So much for my pretensions to being cultured. The positives though are well taken – saved from the brink of another difficult conversation.

Baguette days



Given the decidedly appalling weather we have had out here, the very first signs of sunshine returning are enough to tempt people out of their various hiding places on to the public spaces again. Walking down my usual route back to work  – after a quick lunch hour detour into town – I notice the forecourt at the Square is a lot busier than usual. There are people seated on the wooden benches,  others standing in little groups and more , like me, passing through,  all united by the desire to soak up the rare sight of the noon day sun.

I make my way to my baguette place and order the usual – a freshly baked baguette stuffed full with plain chicken, crispy bacon and mozzarella cheese. I add a bag of potato chips and a coke and then join the queue slowly snaking its way towards the till. It is one of the regulars manning it today.

 – I think you not come anymore today, she says. She is Polish, speaks English in a decidedly belaboured manner, and smiles a little too enthusiastically at times.

 – Had things to do in town today. Totally forgot the time, I say shaking my head for emphasis.

 – No sauce for you?  Her tone is flat, almost listless, delivered in that half-question half-statement tone that masks resignation at the fact that I am short changing myself – or so she thinks.

Nah, I reply. You know I like it dry.

 – Your money, four pounds, she says.

I rummage in my wallet, find a five pound note and hand it over to her.  She unlocks the till, finds  two fifty pence coins and hands them over to me.

 – Tada.  That is the one Scottish quirk of language that is default out here. Even she, knows that.  I nod her my reply, grab my stuff and head out the door.

Outside I find a spot on a bench,  settle in to attack my greasy carb fest and soak in the sunshine. Knowing this city, there is no telling when the next opportunity will come.

Spring’s sprung…


Out here, spring is very much upon us at last. Across the land there is an almost sudden profusion of colour; purples, yellows, blues, reds and whites suddenly dot the landscape where a dull, depressing green was standard fare a scant few weeks ago. Standing in front of the door to my modest lodgings, flowers are all I see when I look up the road. Those who should know say the unseasonably warm weather beguiled the flowers into blooming early. The upside to it all is that my otherwise bland commute is now transformed into a celebration of colour, colour not restricted to flowers but extending to women. The warmth and the sunshine mean that around town the hemlines and necklines are coming together quickly, and a lot more skin is visible.

At work, I have been handed a new role – one that has seen me move from my position as team-member-at-large, loaning my expertise to whatever cause earns the company the most money, to one that put me back in an Operations support capacity. My slight disappointment in being saddled with the mundane tasks that come with the new role is tempered by the fact that I get a new office bang in the centre of town. The train station and what is ostensibly the biggest single mall in town are right next door – so much so that if I really fancied some Nigerian food I could, with a little effort, get it.

In the midst of work, and the many other things on my mind, I do try to maximise the sunshine while it lasts. Lunch typically is a snack alongside something to drink whilst sitting on one of the benches laid out in a horseshoe formation in front of the mall. I bask in the sun, my iPod streaming music into my ears, whilst I watch the city go by. Women dragging little children by the arm whilst clutching bags of shopping, men in suits and ties catching trains, young boys hanging around smoking, and the odd OAP who like me appears content to bask in the sunshine and ruminate.

Something about watching the crowds mill around is vaguely reassuring to me. Perhaps we are all alone, but not alone after all