There are two benches here right next to each other. But they’re not the same. Not at all. Different designs and that. So I can’t be counting them as part of the same installation. That wouldn’t be right, would it? I mean, if we don’t have rules about this kind of thing, where would we be? What kind of people would we have become?
It’s difference that signifies.
The neighbouring bench will just have to wait.
It’s a Sunday morning in early Summer. The pleasantest bit of the day, when it’s mostly bright sunshine but still cool outside. Early, but not troublingly so. Seven-ish. I’ve made preparations for my little wander, even though the Spar’s already open. But they don’t have a coffee machine, and I only live around the corner anyway.
I could have popped out with a mug, but I’ve brewed a pot and have got one of those insulated cup/flask hybrid things, so it’s off with that I go.
Bench 5. As the title to the post indicates, we’re on Castle Street. That’s the main road through Llangollen if you’re crossing the River Dee. Castle Street runs from the castle end of things through the town centre, up to the A5. Maybe four hundred yards in a straight line. If you look up in the right places you’ll see Castell Dinas Bran – Crow Castle, more or less – being all ruined and romantic on the skyline. We’ll get closer all in good time, so I’ll spare the details till then.
The bench is dedicated. They all are, after a fashion, but this one has a name plaque to prove it. This is in memory of Reginald and Megan Wrixon. The surname’s a new one on me. I like it. I like surnames. Part of the thing of being a writer is that sometimes you need a surname that’s unusual without being distracting. Common names are blank to the point of meaningless sometimes, and distinctive ones can be jarring. Ones that link to another cultural reference point can feel like borrowings or shout-outs. Wrixon. I might use that.
The bench backs onto a railing which in turn demarcates a ramp entrance to one of the town’s estate agency offices. In front, and partially blocking off the view of the street, there’s a community noticeboard. There’s a lot going on, and the notices are maintained well. No leftover entreaties to come to a Harvest Supper from the year before last here. The noticeboard is two-sided and there’s different stuff being advertised on both. Talks at the museum. Preachers in the chapels. The storytelling club that meets weekly. The fortnightly cinema club that shows precisely the respectable but not challenging kinda movies you’d entirely expect them to be showing. They do good stuff, in all fairness, and they get decent crowds; they meet in the Town Hall, which is part of the same building that the estate agency’s in.
Up front and straight opposite is the town’s last bank. Barclay’s is only open part time these days. Yes, it’s a shame, but when did you last need to go inside a branch? Mourn loss, not change, that’s what I reckon.
Besides, you can do the over-the-counter stuff in the post office (itself no longer a stand-alone concern, but a kiosk inside the mini-market attacked to Stan’s filling station). And there’s a mobile branch of the Nat West that pulls up in the Market Street car park for a couple of hours on Friday mornings.
There’s something underneath the bench. Two somethings. At first, I think that they’re both feathers, but turns out that one of them’s a comb. A brown nylon one. The kind with two sections: thick combing, fine combing. Someone’s sat here, sorted their quiff out, fumbled. Not fancied either a street-dirty comb, or else the reaching under the bench to find the bastard. Sod it. They’re only pennies. You can see the thinking even if you can’t really approve.
The usual early morning foot and cycle traffic. Dog-walkers and those taking a Spandex and jogging cure. A well-kitted out fella on the kind of bike that weighs as much as a paper aeroplane. There’s someone making an ingredients delivery to Fouzi’s Italian place to my left, over by the Royal Hotel. Trays of mushrooms and the like. I don;t see anyone letting him in, so maybe he’s got a key. Perhaps there’s a press-button entry system. One of those PIN locks you see on Air BnB flats. He’s in and out in five minutes.
I take the lid off my flask thing. The coffee’s still too hot (it’s black, no sugar) to dive into. I let it steam. I’ve got a bottle of orange juice. The little ones you get with a McDonald’s breakfast, though that’s not this one’s origin, officer. I shake it and have that while I’m waiting.
There’s a fella on the pavement opposite. He’s a big lad, of that there’s no doubt. Trainers, white socks, khaki shorts, an inadvisably tucked-in checked shirt. Button-down collar, short sleeves. A hat that’s more forage cap than baseball. Yes, there’s a bum bag. A fanny pack, if you will.
I can only assume he’s walked up from the Royal Hotel. He’s taking it slow. Not a young fella, plus he’s designed neither for the sunnier months nor the incline. He gets to the bank. There’s a cash machine; his target, it seems. He’s there a while. Then he looks around. It’s not exactly a plea for help. But it’s not anything else either.
I leave my coffee where it is and walk over.
Here’s the thing. In Wales, everything’s bilingual if it’s public, Street signs, notices, bank statements. And that includes the cash machines. If you’re not ready for it, and you’re working on autopilot – because who really reads the rubric on an ATM anyway? – it’s easy to miss that the first option you’re given is Welsh or English. The chap’s got himself lost in world of digital Welshness.
Anyway, I help him out. Backtrack him to the first screen, and then he can get about his English-language business. He’s grateful. And, as it turns out, chatty. He’s from Maine. He’s found that he likes cricket. Well, what he likes is the BBC’s radio coverage. Slow-paced, funny, statistical. He’s been listening to the Cricket World Cup while he and his wife have been on their tour of the UK. He’d like to get to a match, but he’s not sure if he can swing that.
He heads back to the hotel, and I go back to the Wrixon bench. My coffee’s as just right as Baby Bear’s porridge. There’s a bin adjacent, but I take the orange bottle home for recycling. I’m out of the house for maybe half an hour, forty minutes. Something like that.