Saturday, 24 March 2012

Reminiscences on a walk in Banbury

Such a warm sunny day on Monday suggested that I take a walk in the town, the place of my birth and upbringing. Obviously I know the area very well but on each occasion that I come here I notice that old shops have closed in the meantime.  However though it is sad to see old businesses disappear, it is good to see that the town is thriving enough to encourage new shops to open.

The Castle Quay Shopping Mall is amazing I think and so full of customers all the time, though it’s sad as a result to see that the historic High Street is very quiet now and where the bustling business used to be when I was growing up as a boy is now kept alive only by banks, lots of estate agents and numerous charity shops. But it’s heartening to know that there are not that many empty shops to be seen anywhere in the town.

I sat for a while in the Sun on a bench in the ancient Market Place near the medieval Bishop of Lincoln’s palace and though the whole area has been recently resurfaced in the popular red paving bricks to remind motorists that it is for the use of pedestrians predominantly, the faces of the surrounding buildings are still the same as they were certainly well before I was born. The ancient shop fronts along the whole of the northern side of the square cleverly hide the very recent and ultra modern shopping mall behind. Well done the planners.

There were lots of people bustling about in the Market Place while I was there and it’s a favourite occupation of mine relaxing on a seat ‘people-watching’; I can be entertained for hours this way. Apart from the last three years when I have lived on ‘Futurest’, having had a home in the town means that I recognise so many people without actually knowing them. Over all the years as they have aged from childhood I have grown up with them and yet know nothing of their lives. They all remain characters to me even if they live very ordinary lives.

When I was a tiny child during the War we had our milk delivered from a beautiful dray horse and wooden covered four wheeled cart, briefly by the ‘Worried Milkman’, as we used to call him. A slight facial disfigurement made the unfortunate man look continuously sad even when he smiled. Over the intervening years since then I have regularly seen him about the town and on Monday again this week I saw my ‘Worried Milkman’, obviously retired now, complete with anxious countenance, but in fact not looking a day older than he did when he delivered the milk about sixty years ago. He must be getting on now though.

Then there is the lady that I went to school with, a contemporary of mine at five years old; Billie Cunliffe was her name. She had a brother there with her called Barry; I think they might have been twins in fact. I never see the latter around the town any more and often wonder whether my Barrie turned out to be the same person as the famous Oxford historian Professor Barrie Cunliffe, whose many books I have read.

The three of us were very good friends at St John’s Priory and again over the years since, I have grown older with a lady who always resembles the Billie that I went to school with. I have passed her by many times during this period and she has always smiled at me, which I have returned politely and on each occasion I have nearly said and wanted to say: “Excuse me. Are you Billie Cunliffe as was?” but I’ve never had the courage to do so in the end. A polite “Good morning!” is all I’ve ever murmured and perhaps two memories have passed again as ghosts.

However the sunshine was wonderful and now feeling in very thoughtful mood I decided to walk up to the Hardwick Hill Cemetery to visit my wife’s grave. It was a special day as it would have been her seventieth birthday had she lived just a little longer. So I bought some flowers at Freefields in the Market Place and walked the two miles arriving about an hour later.

I tidied up the area around the gravestone and displayed the flowers and they looked lovely in the bright sunshine. I am sure Miranda would have approved. I spent another half an hour sitting on a seat nearby thinking of old times before returning to the ship along the tow path via ‘The Tea Caddy’, a mobile kitchen caravan in the layby outside the cemetery. Here I enjoyed a delicious fried egg and bacon sandwich and a big mug of hot tea, while being entertained by the lady’s continuous happy chatter behind the counter.



All her favourite flowers



Inquisitive donkey



Trees in Spiceball Park



A  work of art or a child’s playground apparatus?



Miniature daffodils and hyacinth


Maffi said...

Hello Peter
There are several of those 'works of art'. It is part of the exercise trail around the park.

Old Salt said...

Thanks Maffi

I guessed they were really. Hope all is well with you on your voyage.