removal

Ambling down the main high street with open and sober eyes for the first time in a long time, I noted all the shop changes: the ubiquitous supermarket chains which had ceded banks in ornate corner buildings, the prime-located bar properties with boarded up windows, providing only an advertising platform for other entertainment, ongoing pedestrianisation construction work which was making an eyesore of one area.  Not much of it was pretty.

It was that dead time shortly after most office workers’ home time and before any revellers hit the town; human traffic was sparse and fleeting.  I turned right at the end of the road, past the castle and onto the main pedestrianised shopping street.  I glanced into travel agents at managers’ specials, yearning for heat, a break before starting this whole thing properly.

But it had started properly already.  I was all moved-in now and had finally completed my construction of Ikea furniture.  Hours and hours of sweat and strain and swearing.  It wasn’t all seamless but it stood up, didn’t buckle or collapse with its contents.  Or hadn’t yet.  Standing back to admire the books I’d placed on a newly assembled bookcase felt like a watershed adult moment: arrival of a kind.  Thirty years old in a few months.  Now I felt it, but suddenly it wasn’t all that bad.

I had moved myself from one capital to another, single-handed in one day, which wasn’t easy.    Much lifting and carrying led to the aching of muscles I was unaware I had and bleary after four separate three-hour drives.

The final journey from London to Cardiff was miserable.  Having cleaned, cleared and packed up my small flat, I looked back at its dark emptiness, still not wanting to go, and slumped onto my old small sofa one last time.  Much as I liked my new flat, its space and size and reasonable location, I liked London better than Cardiff.  It had more; more everything.  Things could have been different here if..  Too many ifs.  Things weren’t different.  I stood from the sofa and left the flat: 10.30pm on Saturday evening.  Trundling my way through West London towards the motorway I saw people done-up for their Saturday nights, young bottle blonde girls exhibiting a little too much flesh, a swaggering hopeful teen.  Traffic headlights blotched and blurred through watery eyes and mournful acoustic singer-songwriters whined: songs about endings, change, new starts.

*

I wandered on down the pedestrianised shopping street early yesterday evening, conscious of my headphones.  Their lurid blue and different design felt more ostentatious here, somehow.  I was paranoid and inaccurately exaggerating the parochialism of the place.  They probably did sell them here too.  They had chain shops and the internet; it was developed.  It just wasn’t London.  Less had changed on this street and the same stores had largely remained.

Did I want to sit down and have a pint?  I had an enjoyable book, the weather was overcast but perfectly ok to sit outside for half an hour.  Pints were cheaper here.  I shunned a rough Wetherspoons for a classier looking bar I half remembered.  For a second I considered the possibility of bumping into someone I knew from my time here before leaving five years ago.  Come on, it’s not THAT small a city, I dismissed myself and the idea.  The chance was slim.

The first section of the bar was practically dead, but for a table of young female office workers.  I glanced around a pillar as I approached the bar and saw a table of two guys my own age.  Our eyes connected and held.  We’d worked across a desk from each other for four months about seven years ago and hadn’t kept in touch.  Never matey, I always felt he didn’t like me but was never sure if he exuded that to most other guys; only a year older, there was a certain superior aloofness which was never quite aggressive enough to be arrogance.  It’s possible that he was threatened somehow, despite, or even because we were similar, with similar interests and skillsets, perhaps characters too.

For a second I dithered after saying hello, explaining my newbie situation.  He gave his own appraisal then said he had a similar pair of headphones to those which hung round my neck, except his were the next grade up.

Still a tosser then?  No, he didn’t say it in that one-upmanship way.  He was all right.

Was he all right?  Or was he a tosser?  I never had worked it out.

Did I want to impose anyway?  Yeah, go on, he’s probably decent enough really, maybe matured a bit, smart enough guy.  If he thinks I’m a tosser it doesn’t matter as I’ll probably never see him again anyway.  Steady on.  Smaller town, remember?  You can’t apply that as readily here as you could in London.

Ah, bollocks.

“Dyou mind if I join you?”  For a line which often requires a degree of boldness, it can also be difficult to say no to that: as if it contains its own inherently respectable power.  They affably agreed, moved their bags to make space, declined the offer of a drink and I got a pint.

I only stayed half an hour, a weak pint of bitter’s length.  We spoke of the university administration where he worked; public and private sector differences, careers, the directions our lives had taken over the last seven years.

He looked at his phone and said he should be going soon.  Keen not to encroach any further on their time, I gulped the last mouthful of bitter down the wrong pipe, obstructing the smoothness of my departure and damaging the up until then credible social performance I’d given.  Now momentarily reddened and spluttery, I shook hands and gave the business cards requested, donned my outdated headphones and found a new way home.

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