Thursday 21 July 2011

Sutton’s Law - not*

We’d gone down to our little place in the country for the weekend, as we usually do during the summer. On the Saturday morning I motored the five miles or so into Bromyard to do some shopping. I needed to visit the ironmongers, and whilst there reckoned to extract some readies from the hole-in-the-wall at the local HSBC next door but one.

Bromyard, for a small country town, is well provided with ironmongers, having a pair of them, (or would a brace be more apt? ) both very much of the old-fashioned persuasion, that sell – no, they don’t – they purvey - just about everything you ‘d pay far more for at B&Q, let alone hundreds of useful things that that bean-counter run emporium can’t be bothered to stock any more. (Think “Fork ‘andles” but far more chaotic.) Their inventory management must be a nightmare, especially as the stub of a pencil and the back of an envelope is about as high-tech as they get.

Instead of tramping wearily around thousands of square feet of prime selling space, you merely ask the bloke in the grey overall behind the counter for whatever it is you might want, he metaphorically scratches his head in thought for a moment, goes squirreling down the back of the shop somewhere, and comes back clutching the necessary. During the course of the last year we’ve bought from him such varied items as Terry clips, wicker wastebaskets, a sledgehammer, some silk flowers, a gate latch and a stuffed Golliwog. (A few years ago they had a skirmish with the PC Thought Police for stocking these, but they employed the traditional two-fingered argument, which seems to have won the day, because they are still selling ‘em.)

In fact, the whole “shopping experience” (ugh!) in Bromyard is a bit like driving into a 1950s time warp. There are several superb butchers, a couple of greengrocers, (one of which, if you go through an archway at the back of the shop) morphs into quaint old ironmonger number two. Unorthodox, or what?

There’s a proper bakery, complete with olfactory stimuli, one of the best pie shops I’ve ever plundered, a pet shop, the statutory newsagents, a few pleasant pubs, (or at least, as pleasant as they get these days now that a puritan government has barred me from enjoying a pipe with my pint) a nice little continental style cafĂ©, in fact dozens of small individual retailers selling just about anything one might want, short of a combine harvester (although I wouldn’t put it past one of the ironmongers to dig one of those out from the back of the shop somewhere, should the need arise.) And, thank heavens, a bare minimum of those High Street ambiance killers, Estate Agents and Charity Shops. Moreover, walking down the High Street from end to end, popping into whatever shop takes your fancy, takes far less time than trolleying around Tesco’s and facing the interminable queue at the checkout.

You can even park easily and conveniently, ninety-nine times out of a hundred. (There are a minimum of yellow lines, of which nobody takes the slightest bit of notice, and I’ve never yet seen a Traffic Warden or a policeman.)

If we lived there full time I’d do an online job for all the boring or heavy stuff, and drive into town daily for all the goodies and perishables.

Anyway – so it was that, having finished my business with old Fork’Andles, I wandered next door to the bank. There were a couple of people waiting at the cash machine, standing the regulation four feet apart (it always gratifies me to see how well-mannered and patient the real English folk (particularly the rural English folk) are. And Bromyard is about as far from the urban multicultured nastinesses as you can get, not only in distance, but in attitude. I’d guess that most of them think that Muslim is a kind of trendy breakfast cereal.

I join the end of the queue.

Suddenly, just as it’s my turn at the ATM, I realise that I’m getting some very odd sort of wary looks, both from the queuers and various passers-by. Ignore it, Phil – they probably look at all non-locals like that. So I trousered the cash, and went to walk back to the car. The universal sigh of relief was palpable. Curiouser and curiouser.

It wasn’t until half way home that I puzzled out what it was about me that seemed to disturb the good citizens of Bromyard so.

I reckon that if I saw a bloke standing at a cash machine hefting a 3ft long iron crowbar, I’d be a bit concerned, too. Maybe, in retrospect, I should have gone to the bank first and the ironmongers afterwards. And thank heavens the local police presence is a bit sporadic, or else I’d probably have had my collar felt, to boot.

*Named after American bandit Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks, pointed out that “that’s where the money is.”