With its mislabeled entrance and exits, limited space and unobstructed view of the local traveller encampment, the car park depresses upon arrival. Its surrounding flower beds contain no flowers but do provide refuge to an uncountable number of beer cans, fast food wrappers and fossilising dog poos. Someone even took the time to origami a Papa John’s pizza box into the shape of a demon. The traveller encampment strikes one as relatively quaint after catching sight of a smoke breaking Sainsburys butcher blowing wads of snot into the palm of his own hand.
After driving around in circles for half an hour I finally find my parking space. Just like the rest of the spaces, it's no wider than a poodle's penis. It takes a good ten minutes of fits and starts but my reversal into the spot is a success. Success I define as being honked at less than nine times and completing the maneuver with only one side mirror ending up on the concrete.
Experience has taught me to stretch out before these visits because getting up and down the pavements - pavements no wider or dryer than a slip-n-slide - will require sucking in my gut and doing a sort of sideways shimmy, trying, almost certainly without success, to avoid the oncoming brigade of prams and pensioners, the tattooed teens, the stumbling hobos and, more often than not, our parish clerk, knees pressed to kerb, vomiting last night's libations into an unpruned council shrub
It will come as no surprise to an experienced British High Street visitor that the post office is situated inside of a convenience store. Yes, squeezed into the far back corner, very near the Doritos and across from the maxi pads, a woman in a dumpling stained red Royal Mail shirt scrolls through her iPhone, avoiding potential customers by carefully positioning her head behind a bargain rack of DVD’s. Her response to ‘hello I’d like to buy some stamps’ is to rise up from her stool with an audible squish, place a lit cigarette between her lips and wordlessly exit through a side door
I pass a Kentucky Fried Chicken
A cash machine covered in pub sick
And arrive at the Oxfam Charity shop
Where just inside the entrance I find a legless garden gnome leaning against a pile of cigar stained pre-internet encyclopedias. How much for that kicked and cracked ceramic buddha? The one standing on those socks someone died in last week. Look - only nine pounds for these rectum scented granny slippers. I hope nobody has placed a hold on those Tracey Ullman masks. I would ask the nonagenarian woman behind the counter but with her white head resting on the cash register it appears that she’s asleep, perhaps even dead.
An abandoned Wimpy Burger
Sanjeev's Chip Shop
And I'm now standing outside Costa Coffee’s tiny Tudor times dwarf door. If I do somehow manage to get inside without bashing my head I'll be rewarded with last place in a queue twenty seven deep, all of us hunched forward, forced into a Parkinson's crouch by the medieval five foot ceiling, its decaying wood beams dropping the occasional sliver into somebody's eye. The loo? You mean the one with the toilet seat that hasn't stood upright since Labour was led, very briefly, by the long dead Michael Foot?
A plus size bridal shop
An ‘everything must go' Babies R Us
And I am back at the car park. Without stamps. Or coffee. Or my Sainsbury's roast. Standing in a long queue with a full bladder, wondering if this pay machine wants a credit card or debit card or exact change or wants me to pay by phone, in which case I'll be forced to stand here in the pissing down rain, shouting my number plate into the receiver - trying, and almost certainly failing, to be heard over the encampment drums and torrential winds - knowing that my phone, undoubtedly, will very soon slip from my hands and meet is violent end on the unweeded concrete, just like the last time, and the one before that. As I rummage around my pockets looking for change I know I don't have, I take a moment to reflect on another high street experience.
I've seen items that shouldn't come within a hundred miles of a price tag and toilets that prisoners would complain about. I walked through pools of piss and clouds of cigarette smoke and was knocked aside by a double wide pram and knocked back again by a souped up mobility scooter. A barista cough directly into an espresso cup. I stood before a Hamptons window and learned that somebody paid six hundred and fifty thousand pounds for a bed sit above the Vodafone.
A homeless woman suggested that I look like an overweight John Travolta
Will I be back?
Will I voluntarily expose myself to the physical wear and tear of the High Street? The mind numbing frustration, the emptiness, the mental anguish that each and every time drives me, without exaggeration, very close to suicide?
Of course I will be back
Because the beating heart of this nation is not to be found within Number 10
Or Lambeth Palace
Or even The Queen herself
The beating heart of this nation
The beating heart of this cold crap miserable nation
The artery clogged cholesterol filled barely beating heart of this once great nation
Is to be found right here
On the British High Street