Thursday, 30 July 2015

Hicks and the city

Occasionally, just occasionally, I get a mad urge to drive on a straight dual carriageway, eat a Pret a Manger sandwich or just lose myself in a maelstrom of strangers on a pedestrian street.  On other occasions, more pressing issues like eye tests and shoes for the kids force my hand and we make the (albeit modest) trek to the nearest city, Chester.  As a teenager growing up in North Wales, Chester oozed sophistication and urban promise, a mecca of shops and restaurants and *gasp* multi-storey car parks, and all this just over the border in England. Trips were planned months in advance, train tickets purchased, parental permission sought (sometimes) to go alone on our pilgrimage to the CITY.  Years later, from my vantage point in London, I’m ashamed to say I came to see Chester as a somewhat provincial little town, charming in its own right, but I rarely visited, passing by its city walls at speed en route to the see the folks. It comes as a bit of a shock therefore to find myself now properly dazed and slightly confused by its hustle and bustle and relative chaos after months being holed up in the hills. I fear that my naturalisation (in every sense of the word) to hickdom may be passing the point of no return…

Freaked out by the sprawling metropolis of Chester
This week, eager to demonstrate my wealth of local knowledge to some dear friends visiting from France, we headed into town, full of energy and enthusiasm for our day of sight-seeing ahead. Now it’s been a few months (eek, how can this be?!) since I was I was in a city proper, but it made me realise just how much I have started to take some things for granted that I was not even aware of. Take parking for example. How hard can it be to find a parking spot? Answer: VERY it would seem. It appeared that every gas guzzling, completely spotless 4x4 had descended on Chester the very same day, occupying at least two spaces in the once-fabled multi-storey car parks. Having become accustomed to parking just where the hell I like at home and never, ever giving it a second thought this came as a rude awakening. Then you have the tariff. How can they justify ten quid, TEN QUID, for 3 hours parking? And as if that wasn’t bad enough some tool in his wisdom decided that 7 minutes, yes just SEVEN minutes is apparently ample time for one to pay for the parking ticket at one of the elusive pay stations situated anywhere but on the floor you are parked and get out of the car park. Have you ever tried to exit a car park in seven minutes when you have to:

a)    Push a pram whilst simultaneously carrying a toddler up two storeys because she is too tired to walk anymore having trekked 3 miles to find the sodding pay station
b)      Speed feed a screaming baby claiming to be borderline malnourished after said trek
c)   Deal with a poo-nami from baby including a full change of clothes, balancing nappies and wipes on the steering wheel/dashboard
d)   Strip the toddler and fashion some sort of outfit from items left in the car over previous months after a ‘little accident’
e)      Finally wrestle all items from the glove box off the toddler and rugby tackle her back into her car seat.

All of the above takes, apparently, 24 minutes. I know this for sure because the parking Nazis quoted this back to me as they refused to let me leave the car park, leaving me stranded at the barrier with a queue of 12 irate drivers behind me. It was then that I uttered the magic words “breastfeeding” at the *male* parking attendant at which point he turned a bewildering shade of scarlet and could not open the barriers fast enough. Sayonara, losers!

Then you have the whole issue of toileting, a topic dear to my heart as we move towards the end of our first month of potty training. It takes a trip to a city to make you realise that rather than potty training your child in manner of polite, well-mannered little girl, you might have instead inadvertently succeeded in house-training your child, in manner of fluffy, obedient puppy. Oh dear. Days spent happily pottering about in the fields and veg patch, finding somewhere to squat whenever nature calls, do not translate well to the city streets. Try explaining that to a two year old. In fact, the need to be near (ish) to a toilet pretty much dominated my thoughts throughout the trip. Having to plan ahead and pre-empt tinkling disasters is exhausting! However, I do now have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every public convenience in Chester etched on my brain. Handy.

And do people wear a hell of a lot more make up and go to more effort than they used to? Or have I lost all sense of what it takes to be ‘presentable’ in public? Is it usual to look like you are heading out for a night on the town when you are just popping to the shops? These people look like they belong on the catwalk rather than the sidewalk… Or maybe it is just the sharp contrast to my own carefully perfected rustic chic look (you know the one where your hair is nonchalantly swept up behind you and your jeans are fashionably distressed that Vogue editors take hours to perfect but, in my case, is a genuine case of zero time and one pair of jeans that actually still fit me and hence are worn almost threadbare). It was only as I was strolling down Eastgate Street feeling slightly bewildered by all the people and the noise that I realised that I had twigs and leaves in my hair (I kid you not) from battling through the hedge on a short cut on my morning run. I then slowly became conscious that my kids’ coats were about fifty shades of grime from mucking about outside and my pram was about ten years out of date (a faithful hand-me-down now on it’s fourth child). But you know what, there is something quite nice about embracing your position as country bumpkin and actually not giving a toss what these strangers make of you. So much so in fact next time, if I actually have any time, I might start perfecting a look incorporating baling twine and a dandyish straw hat. See if I can really start turning some heads…

So it may not surprise you to learn that I lasted just three hours by which point all of my vague urban itches had been scratched and thoroughly dispelled (Pret sandwiches are really not all that). There is nothing nicer than seeing the concrete jungle disappearing in your rear view mirror as you drive back into our valley, the gentle, caressing bends of the road and the rolling hills acting like a balm to soothe city-weary eyes and ears. Not that our place has been a bower of bliss this week. Far from it in fact. We've had BT (in their van enticingly emblazoned with 'Superfast Fibre Optic Broadband' which we are told ends just 2 miles from the house and will never go any further - boo sucks) finally erecting a new telegraph pole in the field thus solving months of connectivity misery - hurrah!  We have also had Ifor chugging away happily on the digger and dumper truck all week and I am delighted to report that we now (apparently) have fully functioning drains. Bring on the rains and let’s see if they now actually work!

Digger and dumper action

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