Today has been One of Those Days. Mostly I’ve written about Shrewsbury in a positive light, not because I’m trying to paint a false picture, but because it really is a lovely town and living in it is a privilege.
Today, however, everything has been different. Turned upside down somehow. It rained. So what, I hear you say. But the rain came every time I stepped out of my car, and stopped every time I got into it. I felt targeted. It was heavy rain. Shrewsbury didn’t look so pretty in the heavy rain. I took no photographs, so you’ll have to trust me on that.
Today was a day of car trips. There were items of furniture that needed moving and cleaning jobs that wouldn’t wait, involving the transporting of vacuum cleaner, mop, bucket, cleaning products and all the rest by car. Behind all this activity was a property to empty out before new tenants moved in. Decorating equipment had to be removed, and all other personal items. Then, when that was finished, Christmas pre-shopping in Morrisons needed to be done, and then a heaving car load of items needed unloading at my house, which involved parking in town and hoping the traffic wardens would recognize [which they don’t always, I’m sorry to say] the difference between a recklessly parked car and one that was part of a loading/unloading process.
In addition, back and forth a general braving of traffic needed to be done. Every entrance to the town [and in my travels today I tried them all] was clogged with traffic. It was One Of Those Days.
Finally all the contents of my car were stacked up in my hall and kitchen, making it hard to get from one to the other. I drove my car to its parking place ten minutes’ walk from my house. [You’ll know, if you live in a town centre yourselves, that you rarely can park outside your house.] I walked home, yes, in the rain. Shrewsbury did not look beautiful. I unlocked my front door. My hall did not look beautiful, neither did my kitchen when I staggered through into it. I’ve always thought I live in a rather elegant house, not only a house with a history, but one that’s a delight to live on a daily basis. But not on this day.
What would you have done next? I had two choices, it seemed to me. Either start unpacking and finding homes for everything – or go to the cinema. And that’s exactly what I did. It was a f***k it sort of day. Besides, ever since I started writing My Tonight From Shrewsbury I’ve been meaning to write about the town’s third ‘secret’ market hall - and the cinema is it.
Who’d think that a beautiful old market hall standing in the middle of a medieval square would house a cinema? It certainly doesn’t look like a cinema until you get close up and see the posters behind the glass. Shrewsbury’s Old Market Hall cinema surely has to be the oldest cinema in the country. I once visited a cinema in a tithe barn down in Dartington, Devon. But the Old Market Hall goes back earlier than that.
Enough of history, however. Today was enough for me – or at least switching off from it. I stomped down Pride Hill [in the rain], passing the Big Issue girl and the various buskers without a hint of a smile. The film was going to be half over, but I didn’t care. I didn’t know what film it was, but I didn’t care about that either. I would care, though, if it was sold out and I had to stomp back up the hill.
When I arrived, however, to my astonishment, given how late in the afternoon it was, the film was due to start in just five minutes. Not only that, but it was ‘Saving Mr Banks’ with Tom Hanks [never much cared for him] and Emma Thompson – a film I’d already told myself I wanted to see over the Christmas holidays because it was about the children’s writer, P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins.
Was the day turning? And my luck too [not that I've any time for luck]. I thought it just about might be until I sank into my seat and the film began and, just when I should have been relaxing and enjoying myself, the awful thought came to me that I had forgotten something in my diary, which I’d left at home. A date with somebody. An interview for My Tonight From Shrewsbury. Somebody was going to be knocking on my door, or sitting in a pub somewhere, and I had forgotten them. Not only that, but I’d left blackcurrant sorbet in one of my shopping bags when it should have gone straight into the freezer. When I got home it was going to have melted. How would I explain myself if anybody knew what I'd been up to? My behaviour today had been nothing short of eccentric. People were going to think [I was thinking] that I must be heading for dementia.
Weirdly, the sorbet worried my every bit as much as the forgotten interviewee. I hardly took in the film, except to notice that Tom Hanks gave a surprisingly good performance, and to wish I had it in me to be as ascerbic on occasions as Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers. It certainly got things done.
After the film, dragging my heels through the Old Market Hall’s lovely bar and coffee shop, then back up Pride Hill in yet another shower of rain, I fretted about arriving home, opening my diary, finding out, shock, horror, what I’d missed. When I did get home, the sorbet, astonishingly, had held its shape. And the diary was empty - as empty as it had been that morning when I’d checked to see what needed to be done.
I had ruined my cinema trip for nothing. It was around that time I discovered that this was Friday the 13th. I’m not normally a superstitious but I thought of course. Certainly it raised the second smile of the day.
The first smile, however - and the bigger one, came when I hit Castle Street and found that a new Shrewsbury Ark charity shop would soon be opening in one of the empty units just past H & M. I went into the Ark earlier this year and interviewed its manager, Tim Compton, for My Tonight From Shrewsbury. The work they’re doing there amongst the homeless and more vulnerable people in our town is second to none. I was thrilled to see the big empty shop with a Shrewsbury Ark sign up, and a Christmas tree in the window and a board telling me to watch this space. I would, I thought. Not only that, but I had a few spare belongings that I just might pass their way.