The Antique Shop, Avebury.

The Antique Shop, Avebury

There is a single road that runs through Avebury, the A4361, which contracts into a little ‘S’ bend as it hits The Red Lion pub, and then stretches out again as it meanders towards Swindon, some fifteen miles away. On the right of this little bend is a small Antiques shop.

This morning, after attempting to reach Silbury Hill and failing (“Who put a moat there?”) I returned to the centre of Avebury and decided to try the Antiques shop. It was closed. I grooved over to the village shop (Avebury is the sort of place where you can groove and shimmy around without anyone thinking it strange), which is a quaint little affair that sold everything you could imagine, including tights.

“Good morning,” said the bearded man behind the counter, smiling jovially. I’ve noticed that most people in the small villages of Wiltshire smile jovially. A jovial smile is quite common around these parts. Not once have I encountered a grin of despair.
“Good morning,” I returned. I had a quick browse around and then took my items to the counter – a bottle of mead and some olive bread.
“You know that antique shop on the corner?” I began. I think that’s a welsh thing, beginning a sentence with ‘you know’.
“When does it open?”
The bearded man scratched his, well, beard.
“He opens most days but at different times. Try knocking on the door.”
We chatted a little while longer, exchanging small talk about Hitler and neo-fascism before I bid him a good day and walked out of the shop.

I knocked on the door of the antiques shop. There was no answer. I looked through the huge glass windows and saw the inside was just full of curiosities and paraphenalia. Isn’t that a great word – paraphenalia – it sounds like it should be a flavour of Angel Delight. Anyway, I stared through the glass windows and saw the door at the back move and an old man appeared. He looked at me solemnly. Or maybe he didn’t. It’s hard to judge the amount of solemness a person can emit from a distance but from where I stood, his solemnity was at least a 5, maybe a 6. Then he smiled, gestured to the door. I waited for him to unlock it and he invited me in.

“I don’t get many people here in March, so I locked up and was at the back, trying to keep warm.”
“Thanks for opening up for me,” I smiled. “I saw the comics and books through the window, and just wanted to have a look through them.”
“Go ahead,” he said, sitting at the counter.
He was old. God he was old. As old as the hills. Some hills are younger than others, I’ll give you that sunshine, but he definitely looked like the older type of hill.
“Are you passing through?” he enquired.
I told him I was living in Avebury for at least six months and had moved into a farm up the road.
“Oh yes, I know the one you mean. I was a farm hand there in the nineteen fifties. I’m seventy four and have had this shop for twenty eight years. It’s closing in April and I will be glad of it. I will retire to my cottage, just four doors down.”

He blurted out this information as if he had been waiting all his life to tell it to me. I think it’s the way it goes as you get older – you just start blurting. But his face was friendly and he had kindly eyes.

The shop really was full of curiosities. Dandy annuals from the 1970s, comics from the 1950s, old empty food tins from the 1940s – Coleman’s Mustard, Roses, Cadburys and so on. There were old coins in old jars, rusty looking penny whistles, vinyl albums, postcards, all arranged rather haphazardly in long room. He stood there, all seventy four years of him, and I wondered what sort of tales he had to tell. I chose a book and then another and asked him for the price.

“Oh, we will do a deal when you’re finished,” he said in a care free way.
I chose another two and took them to the counter. For the four books we negotiated a price and he handed me my purchases wrapped in brown paper.
‘He wraps them in brown paper!’ I thought happily. ‘I could be in a Will Hay movie!’
He looked at me again.
“I’ve always been interesed in the history here too,” he began. “Do you know there used to be nearly seven hundred stones in Avebury, circles within circles, surrounding the village. Now there are just the handful left, the big ones that attract the tourists…”

And he carried on talking and I listened. I don’t know how much time passed. He spoke of Avebury, his youth, his time owning the shop, and all the while he paced to and fro, standing by the window and looking out towards the fields, or returning to the counter and fiddling with the clutter on the desk as he spoke.

Eventually he said “It was great meeting you. Now I will lock the shop again and go to the back room to keep warm.”
At the door he told me his name, Brian, and followed that with “If ever you want to come and visit, even after the shop closes, I am just two doors down the road. I can tell you some more tales.”

And that was it. I left and walked slowly back to the farm, feeling curious about this old man I had met and looking forward to meeting him again in future.

Two 'Radio Fun' books that I bought from the delightful Antiques Shop this morning.

Two ‘Radio Fun’ books that I bought from the delightful Antiques Shop this morning.

My trip to the Isle of Man – Part 2

Yes, that was me in the hotel. I do look like that now. Once upon a time I used to look like this…

What I used to look like…

…and fed myself on a diet of Joni Mitchell, The Incredible String Band, Nick Drake and The Beatles. However, as you may have noticed from the video, on Tuesday 17th, my diet, nearly 25 years later, consisted of some Mr Kipling lemon cakes, spicy chicken wings, a tub of cous-cous and an orange Fanta.

Which I ate while listening to Lady Gaga.

The food I had grabbed as I walked past an outlet of Iceland on the way to the hotel. Now my stomach was full I was ready to brave the bad weather again and take a walk around the neighbourhood.

And that just about sums up my trip to the Isle of Man really. I’d love to say more, but today – 24th July 2012 – has been the hottest day of the year so far so I am going to sit out the back with a glass of cider now and watch my pussy chase flies.

Bye for now!

My trip to the Isle of Man – Part 1

A bench on the Isle of Man

Tuesday the 17th of July and I leave my small cottage in Calne on the adventure of a lifetime.  I had my small suitcase packed with everything I needed – snake venom antidote, a copy of Ray Mear’s ‘Essential Bushcraft’, a swiss army knife made in Wales, a compass made of adamantium, a signal mirror and a box set of the complete series of Lost.

Yes, you guessed it. I was going to the Isle of Man.

The opportunity came about via work and I was going there on business but I would have a few hours in the afternoon and evening of the 17th and 18th to explore part of the island.

However, first things first. Step one was getting a train from Chippenham to Bristol Temple Meads. Chippenham train station is quaint and full of charm. It reminds me a little of the train station that features in one of my favourite films, Oh, Mr Porter, starring Will Hay.

Oh, Mr Porter!

There is even an old Nestle chocolate machine tucked away in the corner, though sadly I don’t think it had been refilled for many years.

I love train journeys. I love sitting by the window, watching the fields roll by as I browse through a copy of Big Jugs, Mature Jugs, Granny D Cups, or some other antique collectables magazine. The journey to Bristol Temple Meads took just under half an hour and I departed the train exuberantly, whistling a specially prepared melody of Disney’s greatest hits as I passed through the turnstile and stepped outside the station.

Outside Bristol Temple Meads train station

The architecture of the station’s façade is reminiscent of a building I made with Lego when I was ten years old. A pointless coincidence it may seem, but that’s only because the meaninglessness of the banality of what I am saying is pathetic in its understatement.

I caught a bus to Bristol airport and checked in. I think this is the point where I reveal that I had never flown before. I had never, ever been on an aeroplane or any aircraft of any description. My life just hadn’t panned out that way. And the truth is, it had never interested me that much. For starters, lying on a sandy beach in Spain would be my idea of hell. I would be so bored. I would rather spend a week in Haworth in November, walking the moors and following in the footsteps of Emily Bronte, than a week in Spain in July, sipping enchiladas on the beach.

Or tequilas. Or whatever they are called.

I sat in the departure lounge, staring through the great glass windows at the planes that were departing. There were huge Easy-jet Boeing 757’s, with large jet engines and passenger cabins that could accommodate 250 people. There was a Virgin Airbus A340 with four impressive jet engines that could seat 350 passengers. I looked at my boarding pass. My plane was a Flybe Bombadier Dash. I wondered how many jet engines it would have and looked out of the window, searching for my plane. Ah, there it was!

There were crates of straw at the back where Indiana Jones was sleeping.

It looked liked something from an Indiana Jones movie. I was expecting Short Round to jump out, dragging the ark of the covenant behind him. Still, I was excited. I knew we would be going over Wales and I wondered if it would be able to climb high enough to avoid the Sugar Loaf mountain.

I navigated through security (Guard – ‘Take off your shoes please’. Me – ‘What shoes? These are Reeboks!’) and boarded the plane. It appears that not a huge amount of people wanted to go to the Isle of Man. My first clue was when I checked in and the lady behind the counter allocated me a seat but said “You can change it sir, once you are on board.” Basically, everyone was able to sit by a window which was perfect for me. I’ve always been a window person. That’s why I have six in my cottage and I’m planning to collect more. So anyway, I sat by the window. The plane taxied on to the runway and with an unexpected acceleration (nearly as good as my 125cc Piaggio Liberty) we took off.

This is an actual photo I actually took from the actual seat I was actually in on the actual plane.

The flight took just 55 minutes and I spent most of that time staring through the window, dreaming of new worlds, proletarian states and an end of the totalitarian regime in Porthcawl. We flew through the middle of Wales and turned left at Rhyl, touching down at the Isle of Man airport on schedule. A short bus ride later and I stepped out on to the promenade at Douglas.

The Promenade, Douglas, Isle of Man.

I had arrived !