I’ve lived in my home city all my life. I didn’t mean to do this. I always meant to leave as soon as I possibly could and live an exciting life somewhere else. It’s funny how we think this as we’re growing up; that life will be more exciting somewhere else. Anyway, for one reason and another, this never happened and I’m still here. I don’t mind. I now realise that life is as exciting as you want to make it and it really doesn’t matter where you live.
Yesterday, I was on my way to my writing group. I’d taken the bus which is something I don’t do very often these days. I used to get the bus every day when I worked in the city centre. But that was well over a year ago, and now I very rarely go there.
If I’m honest, I’d rather not go on the bus. The waiting around, the fight for a seat, the heaters churning out hot air when it’s 20 degrees outside, the local crazy-person sitting next to you and talking about cheese are all things I can do without. But, it’s cheaper than the car park and, besides which, I do get a sense of well-being from thinking I’m helping the environment just a little bit.
The bus route I take is more or less the same as the one I’ve been taking since I was eleven years old. My parents moved back to the west of the city when I was a child and still live in the same house. My home is not too far away and my bus journey into the city centre covers a lot of the same route. You may think this is boring as hell – the same bus journey for thirty years. But, actually, I like looking out of the window and seeing all the changes that have happened to the city over time.
For instance, I’ve seen one long parade of shops and community go from being busy and bustling to being neglected and run down to being infused with a vibrant mix of Eastern European and Kurdish immigrants who have reinvigorated the area. I’ve seen the city go from having a few greasy-spoons and a handful of restaurants to adopting a café culture where you’re spoilt for choice of where to eat. I’ve seen big names shops open, where previously you had to travel an hour or so to another city to visit. In short, my home city in 2013 is nothing like my home city in the 1970s.
However, yesterday, I got a bit of a shock and a reality check. Because this is 2013 and the economy is in the doldrums. Many people are out of work or in lower paid jobs or have had their hours reduced and are struggling to make ends meet. We may have a shiny new shopping centre with its upmarket shops, cinema, theatre and plenty of places to eat but not everyone can afford to shop there these days.
The bus did its normal route of driving around the city centre before reaching the terminus. I did my normal thing of looking out the window to see what new shops or cafes I could see. And, on one particular road, I did see a lot of new shops that I don’t remember seeing in such a multitude before. The large chemist shop was still there, and the chocolate shop and the jewellers. But dotted in between where five pawnbrokers, four charity shops and three betting shops.
As a child, I don’t remember ever seeing a pawn-brokers. I’m sure they existed somewhere but as I don’t recall them there can’t have been many. I knew what they were. I’d read about them in books and seen them in dramas on TV but they seemed to be a relict from a previous age. Yet, here they are in 2013 enticing poor people not only to come in and pawn their valuables but to also take out short-term ‘payday loans’ at one squillion percent.
And I found it very sad that the poor and vulnerable of our society where being encouraged and enticed to borrow ridiculously small amounts of money (in the scheme of things) in order to make ends meet. They were being encouraged and enticed to take a little of this borrowed money and take a gamble on a horse or dog or football match because, let’s face it, when you’re desperate any chance to make a bit more money is a chance worth taking. And, when this fails and you have to try and find the money to pay back your loan, you could always visit one of the charity shops to replace your old, worn and threadbare clothes.