Just before the war started for real – in that phase I suppose when we look back in years to come will come to be known as the ‘phoney war’ – I was waiting for Mrs. Norman outside one of the major High Street stores that, just a few weeks before, was bleating how terrible it was that they were being forced to offer up to 70% off ticket prices in their non-food departments. The departments were failing as buyers turned away from expensive low-quality garments often made in China or some low wage Asian country, even it seems the oversupply of crass Christmas tat had not, this year, produced the sales bonanza as expected. Little did they imagine the food panic sales bonanza that was to follow in March.
As I stood with the dog watching the dozens of Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors gazing at the historic buildings, empty shops and street dwellers living in shop doorways (where have they all gone?), I wondered if the face masks, invariably worn in a variety of colours and styles, were to protect them or us. We know now, of course, but in those days, the new ‘terrifying’ threat of the ‘virus’ was still just talk (most of it contradictory) in chat rooms and cafes with the occasional mention in some of the less reliable tabloid press.
‘Whatever’ went the story doing the rounds; the government will have made plans for this, and anyway, it will be over in a few weeks and certainly by next Christmas. Older hands were more definite with their comments, “that will be a first then,” wrote one before adding, “I remember the ‘last lot.’ a total shambles it was at first, you see if I’m not right”.
A comment posted by some educated student from a ‘uni’ town in the midlands was forthright, “you gammons are all the same living in the past, that’s all you people do, you just want us to stop doing what we want, just as you ruined all our futures with Brexit and that.” It’s only the flu, so ‘’No worries mate no probs’ at all”, wrote another.
Just opposite from where I was standing was what was once an imposing building, above the hideous twenty-first-century shopfront, was a facade with an art deco look made from Black marble. It reminded me of another, at one time, prestige chain of gent’s tailors. I walked over, and there was a foundation stone with the inscription “laid by Montague Burton.” A prestigious name; indeed, a name synonymous to wartime service when missing or killed colleagues were said to have gone for “a Burton”. A time when a previous young generation had some respect for their elders.
Anyway, my musings were interrupted by a ‘thirty-something’ aiming a black prestige 4×4 complete with black tinted windows at the only parking space and bouncing off the kerb in the process scattering shocked pedestrian. Mrs Norman had joined me by now, and we left the scene with me agreeing that, in fact, the new acquisitions were a bargain not to be missed.
[To be continued tomorrow with Part 2]