After three days walking alone on the high moor, and two nights at a remote youth hostel, above which the silence and the immensity and brilliance of the universe were unnerving, I jumped in the car and drove down to the nearest centre of commerce and civilisation to reacquaint myself with humanity and get some more cash. The small market town was built on a reassuringly human scale and busy with shoppers. It had narrow streets with narrow pavements, and a one-way system and parking restrictions were in operation. The Marquis of Granby was open. So was the Spar and the post office and the charity shop. And, crucially from my point of view, there was a cashpoint machine. I parked the car between two mud-spattered Land Rovers. It was almost four on Friday afternoon and the school kids were just out of lessons and marauding through the town.
The cash machine had run out. Balance enquiries were available, said the screen; but enquiring about my balance was the last thing I wanted to do. Beside the cash machine, the door of the charity shop was propped open. It was one of the tiniest charity shops I’ve seen. A woman with long grey hair was sitting behind the counter watching the people go by. I went in and asked her if there was another cash machine in town.
She said there wasn’t, but the Spar did cashback. Perched uncomfortably on a small stool beside her, and partially obscured by a row of women’s coats, was a young man with a very tanned face and a mournful expression whom I hadn’t noticed immediately. His sad face looked from between the coats and said, ‘’Tis terrible how this place has gone downhill.’